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Rory started his opening round shocking

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland’s native son and a big favorite this week, started his opening round in shocking fashion – a quadruple bogey on the par-4 first.

McIlroy, who famously shot a course-record 61 at age 16 on the previous Royal Portrush layout, received a huge ovation when he was announced on the tee. But then his tee shot sailed out-of-bounds left. After his two playing partners – reigning U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland and Paul Casey – teed off, McIlroy had to re-tee, and his next tee shot found the rough.

He two-putted for the quadruple bogey, tying for his worst score in a single hole in his major championship career.

McIlroy followed by failing to birdie the par-5 second hole, then bogeyed the par-3 third when he missed the green with his tee shot. That left him 5 over through three holes.

It was a nightmare start for the man who carries the weight of so many expectations from his countrymen this week.

MEANWHILE, IN OTHER IRISH NEWS: Shane Lowry shot 3 under through his first nine holes and then birdied the 10th, giving him a share of the early lead at 4 under.

Portrush native Graeme McDowell, whose home club of Rathmore is just outside the ticketed grounds, birdied the second hole and was 1 under through six.

Royal Portrush member and Northern Ireland native Darren Clarke opened the tournament – Northern Ireland’s first Open in 68 years – by hitting the first tee shot and birdied three of his first five holes. He encountered trouble on the back nine, though and was even par through 17 holes.

Amateur James Sugrue from Ireland, one of Clarke’s playing partners, also started well, 2 under through six holes and was even par through 17.

Irishman Padraig Harrington was 2 under through five but fell back with four bogeys in his next 6 holes.

GRILLO’S ACE: Emiliano Grillo aced the 194-yard par-3 13th. It’s the 33rd ace on the PGA TOUR this season. Also, it’s the first time since 2004 that at least one ace has been recorded at each of the majors and THE PLAYERS Championship.

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Don Cherry fired over controversial comment

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Don Cherry says he has been fired from Hockey Night in Canada by Sportsnet.

And the legendary star of Coach’s Corner says he will not walk back what he said on Saturday.

“I have just learned I’ve been fired by Sportsnet for comments made on Coach’s Corner Nov. 9,” Cherry told me in a phone interview. “No problem.”

Cherry added: “I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers.”

And Cherry said his words were not racial or bigoted but patriotic and respectful of our troops.

Still, these comments prompted Sportsnet to axe  Cherry.

Sportsnet already apologized on Sunday for Cherry’s comment about how new immigrants fail to wear poppies — and as a result, don’t support veterans. His Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean also issued an apology.

“Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” Rogers said in a statement on Monday. “During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”

Cherry said he was just expressing how he feels about the lack of people donning poppies.

“I speak the truth and I walk the walk,” he said. “I have visited the bases of the troops, been to Afghanistan with our brave soldiers at Christmas, been to cemeteries of our fallen around the world and honoured our fallen troops on Coach’s Corner.”

And it has been an honour to back the fighting men and women in uniform, he added.

Cherry said he would change none of it.

“To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot,” said Cherry.

Still, he admits, being fired on Remembrance Day does hurt “because I would have liked to continue doing Coach’s Corner. The problem is if I have to watch everything I say, it isn’t Coach’s Corner.”

As he reflects on what just transpired, added Cherry, he won’t forget any part of his decades on the air.

“I want to thank everyone who has watched Coach’s Corner over the last 35 years,” he said.

But he does have one message he would like people to take from his situation:

“Remember to wear your poppy to honour our fallen soldiers … Thumbs up.”

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Maple Leafs place goalie Michael Hutchinson on waivers

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CHICAGO – The backup goaltending carousel with the Maple Leafs continues.

After another subpar performance from Michael Hutchinson, the Leafs on Monday placed the netminder on waivers.

Hutchinson struggled against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, allowing three goals on the Hawks’ first six shots in what eventually became a 5-4 Leafs loss.

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) scores against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson (30) during the third period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY

 

One could win an argument that the Leafs have played poorly in the second game of back-to-back sets, going 0-4-1, but it’s also true that Hutchinson has not provided the kind of goaltending any team requires from the backup position.

In six games, Hutchinson has a .879 save percentage and a 4.44 goals-against average and has not recorded a win.

If Hutchinson clears, we expect he would be sent to the Toronto Marlies, with Kasimir Kaskisuo being recalled.

Kaskisuo has been excellent for the Marlies, going 6-1-1 with a .928 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average.

The contracts are a wash. Hutchinson, who is an unrestricted free agent next season, carries an annual average value of US$700,000 while Kaskisuo’s AAV is $675,000.

After the Leafs lost on Sunday, we asked coach Mike Babcock where his confidence level stood with Hutchinson.

“I think the big thing to do always after a game instead of me commenting a whole bunch, I always try to watch the game and see where it’s at and go through every situation,” Babcock said. “There was a couple, on the power-play goal (by Jonathan Toews), we left the net, there was another we left the net. I put those on us, not on the goaltender, but we will have a look at it.”

Auston Matthews, meanwhile, said twice after the game that the Leafs “hung (Hutchinson) out to dry.”

Of his own performance, Hutchinson said: “Five goals (against), never great. First period, they made some good plays, they had some high-end chances, some high-end skilled players, first one was a little bit of an unlucky bounce, from there the fifth goal, looking back on that, that one stings a bit. A big save in the third period you would like to come up with knowing how well the guys are pushing. That’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to make that save to give us a chance to come away with at least a point.”

The Leafs have been unsettled at the backup spot after losing Curtis McElhinney on waivers to Carolina at the start of last season. Garret Sparks was inconsistent and outspoken through 2018-19, eventually being removed from the team before he was traded to Vegas in the off-season.

And now Hutchinson, who apparently will get a chance to find his game with the Marlies.

IN A GROOVE

As Mitch Marner takes at least the next four weeks to recover from a sprained right ankle, an injury suffered against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and identified in an MRI on Sunday, the Leafs’ top performers have to keep doing what they have been doing.

Matthews and William Nylander have found their stride on what has become the Leafs’ top line, with Matthews recording nine points in his past four games to move into the top six in National Hockey League scoring prior to games on Monday, and Nylander recording six points in his past four games.

Matthews, named the NHL’s second star of the week, has put his playmaking skills to good use with seven assists in those four games, and what’s further encouraging is Nylander’s goal-a-game pace in the past four. In total, Nylander has seven goals in 19 games, equalling the output he had in 54 games last season after signing on Dec. 1.

“Right now, (Nylander) is battling way harder so he has the puck way more,” Babcock said. “And you end up with more shots and then you score a bit and you get more confidence and now you are hitting your spot because you take the time you need to hit your spot.”

Indeed. Nylander’s shot is difficult for goalies to stop — when it’s not being fired high or wide.

“He’s hitting the net,” Matthews said. “That’s always a start. He has a great shot. Really nice release, he can make plays, can pass the puck, but he has a really underrated shot. When he is skating and moving, he is really good in transition.”

LOOSE LEAFS

When the Leafs return to practice on Tuesday at the Ford Performance Centre after a day off on Monday, we should have a clearer idea on the status of Zach Hyman, who could make his season debut on Wednesday in New York against the Islanders after recovering from knee surgery. “His consistency, the work ethic and detail he plays with and his skill set, what he does extremely well on the forecheck, in and around the net, defensively on the penalty kill, he’s a huge part of our team,” captain John Tavares said. “(From) a leadership standpoint too, the presence he brings, very calm, he has a headiness to him.” One bonus (if we can call it that) with the Marner injury is Hyman can be activated off long-term injured reserve and Marner placed on it, without further roster implications … Toronto’s 57 shots on goal against Chicago represented its most in a game since Nov. 23, 2009, when it tied the franchise record with 61 against the Islanders.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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Maple Leafs lose despite season-high 57 shots on goal

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CHICAGO — Michael Hutchinson has to stop the puck.

His Maple Leafs teammates have to be better in front of him.

Somewhere in there rests a solution to the way the Leafs perform in the second game of back-to-back sets.

There has to be. This team can’t afford to throw points away, not that any team in the National Hockey League can.

Hutchinson and the Leafs fell to 0-4-1 in the second game of back to backs on Sunday night, losing 5-4 to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

The Leafs needed to be strong in the third period to give themselves a shot at winning, but it was not enough after Hutchinson allowed three goals on the first six Chicago shots of the game.

“Five goals (against), never great,” said Hutchinson, whose save percentage dropped to .879. “First period, they made some good plays, they had some high-end chances, first one was a little bit of an unlucky bounce.

“The fifth goal, that one stings a bit. A big save in the third period you would like to come up with knowing how well the guys are pushing. That’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to make that save to give us a chance to come away with at least a point.”

True. After the Leafs scored twice in the third to close the Chicago lead to 4-3, Brandon Saad scored on a pass from Jonathan Toews on two-on-one with 31/2 minutes to play. In the final minute, Andreas Johnsson scored on a Toronto power play.

“It’s not good enough,” captain John Tavares said of the way the game began. “Starts with myself. Leaving our goalie out to dry, one of the best players in the league coming down the slot (Patrick Kane), uncovered untouched, and made it too easy for them.

“The rest of the game we played hard, we competed, structure was much better and we gave ourselves a great opportunity. We just can’t start like we did.”

The Leafs wound up with a season-high 57 shots on goal, led by Auston Matthews, who had a career-high 10 shots on goal. But Toronto was done in by subpar goaltending and subpar defence against an inferior Hawks team that also played on Saturday night, in Pittsburgh.

We asked coach Mike Babcock where his confidence level is regarding Hutchinson.

“I think the big thing to do always after a game instead of me commenting a whole bunch, I always try to watch the game (the next day) and see where it’s at and go through every situation,” Babcock said. “There was a couple, on the power-play goal (by Toews in the first period), we left the net, there was another we left the net. I put those on us, not on the goaltender, but we will have a look at it.”

While it might seem drastic, few would blame the club if Kasimir Kaskisuo got a shot. Kaskisuo has been great for the Toronto Marlies and his contract would be close to a wash with Hutchinson’s.

GAME ON

For the third time this season, the Leafs gave up four goals in one period, the most painful dagger coming when Kirby Dach and Kane scored 10 seconds apart, 12 minutes into the game, to give the home side a 3-0 lead. Babcock called a timeout, and though William Nylander scored the next goal, the Hawks got it back 59 seconds later from Toews … Nylander and Matthews are in synch. The former had two goals and the latter a career-high four assists … “I think everybody in the locker room is frustrated (with the woes in back to backs),” Matthews said. “We have to figure this out quick.” … Tavares got the Leafs to within one goal when he scored on a power play with just over seven minutes remaining … With Mitch Marner out with an ankle injury, Jason Spezza drew back in and started on the third line with centre Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev. That didn’t last long, as Babcock went into blender mode in the second period with the Leafs trailing by three. The lone trio that stayed intact for the Leafs was Matthews between Johnsson and Nylander … Cody Ceci has had, at best, an uneven start to his tenure with the Leafs, and that continued early in the first period. Before a crowd of 21,598, Kane opened the scoring at 5:18 when his shot — or attempted pass — hit the stick of Ceci and eluded Hutchinson, going in between the netminder’s legs. As it was, Ceci was out of position … Trevor Moore was slow to contain Dach on Chicago’s second goal, while Kane had more than enough time to beat Hutchinson with a backhand for the third goal after the Leafs backed in on their goalie … Before Nylander slipped the puck between the legs of Robin Lehner to cut the Chicago lead to 3-1, Mikheyev and Matthews had good looks on previous shifts … Matthews beat Toews on a faceoff, leading to Nylander’s first of the game. Nylander got the Leafs’ second goal early in the third period and when walked out from the corner and beat Lehner.

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