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After close call after close call, Tony Finau proves he can close at Northern Trust – Golf Channel

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – One thousand, nine-hundred and seventy-five days. That’s how long Tony Finau wandered the winless abyss. But to the 31-year-old with the boyish smile, it felt so much longer.

Between the 2016 Puerto Rico Open and Monday’s finish at the weather-plagued Northern Trust, Finau evolved into a solid Ryder Cup player, a perennial contender and one of the game’s preeminent dilemmas. In terms of raw talent, few have accomplished less with more in their careers, but in Finau’s defense, nothing has ever come easy.

It took longer than one would have expected to shed the yoke of the mini-tours and he’ll be the first to talk of the toil of the last five years.

“I’ve worked extremely hard, not only on my game – on my body, to put myself in these type of positions, and eventually I knew it was going to happen,” he said Monday at a soggy Liberty National. “It’s hard losing and it’s hard losing in front of the world. I’ve done it already a couple times this year; in playoffs it’s happened to me. That made me more hungry.”

Since his breakthrough in ’16, a theme quietly emerged. There were whispers in Tour circles, in hushed tones – Tony couldn’t close. It was unfair, prisoner-of-the-moment, hot-take nonsense, but after a half-decade the nonsense starts to become the narrative.


Full-field scores from The Northern Trust


In more recent terms, this was evident in January at The American Express. He started the final round in Palm Springs, California tied for the lead and closed with a 68 to finish four shots behind champion Si Woo Kim. In the immediate aftermath, Finau sought out the silver lining.

“Usually when I walk off the 72nd hole I have a pretty good sense of how long it’s going to sting. I’m pretty encouraged right now,” he said. “I’ve been working on some things in my golf swing and I was able to hit a lot of good shots this week and so I know I’m heading in the right direction.”

He was close the following week at Torrey Pines, where he finished a distant runner-up, and again at the Genesis Invitational, where he lost a playoff to Max Homa. Again, Finau said all the right things, checked all the right boxes, clung to all the familiar cliches.

“I’m disappointed,” he conceded at Riveria. “But, man, I shot 64 today on a day where I needed to just get into the playoff. As I look back on the week, in the next couple days there’s going to be a lot to grow from.”

It was the classic competitive cat-and-mouse game – did he lose in Palm Springs and San Diego and Los Angeles, or was he beaten? In truth, it was probably a combination of both.


Finau: ‘I proved I have what it takes to win’


But as the dog days wore on, those opportunities became rare. He posted just two top-10 finishes between February and Monday on the Jersey shore, and when he began the final round at the final Northern Trust – the first playoff stop will relocate to the warmer climes of Memphis starting next year – he was two shots behind a seemingly unstoppable Jon Rahm.

With the weight of 1,975 days weighing on him at a Hurricane Henri-delayed playoff event, he defied every ounce of pressure Tour golf can offer and did what he hadn’t been able to for the last five years, five months.

He closed.

He birdied No. 12, eagled No. 13 and birdied the No. 14 – eight strokes in three holes to jockey with Jon Rahm for the lead. Playing in the group ahead, Finau completed a two-stroke swing with another birdie at the 16th hole, combined with Rahm’s bogey at No. 15, to take outright possession of the lead for the first time.

“I made a great birdie on 12 and I knew 13 was downwind and I was going to, with a good drive, I was going to have a look for eagle,” said Finau, who closed with a day’s best 65 for a 20-under total. “I didn’t want to shy away from that pin and I flushed it and then I was kind of on my way.”

For the player who had been questioned so many times it was his performance on the 18th hole, with the Hudson River looming right and non-native grass and manufactured mounds poised left, where he delivered – twice. First in regulation as he clung to a one-stroke lead with a perfect drive into the left-center of the fairway and again in overtime to beat Cameron Smith. There were no more distinctions – did he win the biggest event of his career, did Smith lose? – just a singular outcome after so many painful near-misses.

Here’s a look at the players who moved in and moved out in the FedExCup playoffs after the first event.

“I have an extreme belief in myself, and I have to. This game is hard as it is,” Finau explained. “These guys are so good as it is. If you can’t believe you can beat them, man, it’s just an uphill battle, and I just continue to believe.”

That belief was tested over the last five years; it had to be. No amount of self-confidence can sustain unnourished for that long.

At Liberty National, the athlete did his thing. The 6-foot-4 former high school basketball star was second in the field in driving distance, behind only major-champion-turned-long-drive-competitor Bryson DeChambeau. But this was a testament to Finau’s iron play (first in the field in proximity to the hole) and a sublime short game that delivered at the most crucial moment, when he missed the 72nd green and needed to convert a 6-footer for par.

It was, by any definition, a fearless performance at a crucial moment. Not only did the victory pad Finau’s position on the FedExCup postseason list, it also likely secured him a spot on captain Steve Stricker’s Ryder Cup team later this year – one way or the other.

But more importantly, it ended one of the game’s most inexplicable title droughts and quieted any whispers about Finau’s ability to close. On Monday those whispers turned to cheers – even with little on-course fanfare – for a truly clutch performance.

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Oilers power play still a fright for opposing teams – Edmonton Sun

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Over the last two seasons, the Oilers have a 28.6 success rate on the power play, almost five percent higher than Boston, St. Louis and Carolina at 23.8

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While the Edmonton Oilers have Zack Kassian and Darnell Nurse to shoo the flies away from the stars, they really beat teams up on their power play with 107 goals in 127 games over the last two seasons—with Boston Bruins a distant second at 92.

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The Oilers are up a goal before the first face-off. And they’re doing it, even though 10 teams including Arizona and Ottawa, have somehow drawn more than their 374 power plays. Yes, the Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Over the last two seasons, the Oilers have a 28.6 success rate on the power play, almost five percent higher than Boston, St. Louis and Carolina at 23.8.

Assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who looks after the scariest power play, trotted out his new wrinkle first unit Monday at practice with free-agent signee Zach Hyman in the Alex Chiasson/James Neal role as the net-front. Chiasson is on a PTO in Vancouver, Neal on a tryout in St. Louis right now.

The guts of the power play remain — McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie on the point from the PP — along with the former Maple Leafs winger. The second unit, which might rotate in for the last 15-30 seconds, has Jesse Puljujarvi as big-body net-front, with Nurse on the blueline and Kailer Yamamoto in Nugent-Hopkins’ spot. Evan Bouchard may play with Nurse on the point. Maybe Kyle Turris as the other forward

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“We know Hymes (Hyman) game (from Toronto). He’s going to get a lot of pucks back for us (after shots),” said Nugent-Hopkins, as the team prepares for the expansion Seattle Kraken Tuesday at Rogers Place. “His presence in front, his hard work … what he’s good at is entering the zone and holding onto the puck, too.”

“A good power play is a tool that can have an impact on a game. Say you’re up 2-1 and you score a third that way, that puts the hammer down,” said Oiler coach Dave Tippett. “We have structure there, but also we have some road hockey to it.”

With the NHL cracking down on cross-checking, and inevitably calling a raft of those penalties in the early going of the season, we’ll see if the Oilers get more calls.

AUDITION TIME

Darnell Nurse is healthy and wealthy, signing that eight-year $74 million contract, which got everybody’s attention around the NHL, now he also has to catch the eye of the selectors for Canada’s Olympic team blueline.

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“As a player, you want to compete for the Stanley Cup but as a kid watching those big moments in history at the Olympics … you hope one day you can be a part of that,” said the Edmonton Oilers defenceman, who finished seventh in Norris trophy voting in his breakout last season. “For me, that’s (Olympics) always going to be a thought in the back of my head but most importantly we have to take care of business here. If we don’t do that, those other dreams are out the window.”

The right side of the Canadian defence probably has two givens; Alex Pietrangelo and Dougie Hamilton (Jersey) amongst the four to be picked but the left is more wide-open with Shea Thedore, Pietrangelo’s Vegas teammate, Adam Pelech (Islanders), Jakob Chychrun (Arizona), Morgan Rielly (Leafs) and Thomas Chabot (Ottawa) all in the mix along with Nurse.

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TEAMMATE AND MENTOR

Nurse admits he’s been watching how three-time Cup champion and two-time Norris trophy winner Duncan Keith played the game since the Oilers No. 1 D-man was the horse on the Soo Greyhounds’ blue line, with current Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe behind the bench.

“I followed Duncan when I was in junior … he was the man. Every time you turned on TV, he was in the finals. I would watch Duncan going up and down the ice. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer some day but it’s not just what he does on the ice. You also see how he takes care of his body, how he comes to the rink prepared every night. He’s got things we can all pick from him,” said Nurse.

Keith will be on the ice Friday after finishing his two-week quarantine.

HURRY UP AND WAIT

The unvaxxed Josh Archibald still isn’t a participant at Oiler practices, five days after he left quarantine. The fast, fourth-line aggressive winger who has been Oilers top penalty-killing forward, isn’t helping himself with his Covid stance. But there’s no message-sending from the team. Sources confirms he isn’t feeling right physically.

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This ‘n that: The Oilers will salute the late Joey Moss Tuesday with a locker-room announcement at the Seattle game … Tippett worked for Seattle as a consultant, one of their first hires as they prepped for their expansion season, before coming to the Oilers in 2019. “I was there three years ago now, and I saw the work they were putting in. It’s going to be a fantastic franchise, there’s a ton of excitement in Seattle for that team. They’re doing everything right there,” said Tippett … Judging by the work of the big guns on the PP at practice Monday, McDavid and Draisaitl may both play against Kraken … Defenceman Kris Russell (neck issue) was back with the experienced Oiler group Monday.

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Prescott helps Cowboys crush Eagles in first home game since injury on Monday Night Football – TSN

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott ran toward the tunnel, raising his arms to the fans and tossing them souvenirs after the Dallas Cowboys manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles in prime time.

The scene was a stark contrast to almost a year earlier, when the star quarterback was in tears as he rode on a cart through the same spot after the gruesome ankle injury that ended his season.

Prescott threw for three touchdowns in his first home game since the injury, Trevon Diggs returned an interception 59 yards for a score and the Cowboys beat the Eagles 41-21 on Monday night.

“Just thankful for everything that I’ve been through, all of the hard work that made me account for just to be back out here doing what I love,” Prescott said. “It’s the greatest place to play football.”

Ezekiel Elliott ran for a season-high 95 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Dalton Schultz had the first two-TD game of his career.

Except for a fumble in the end zone that gave the Eagles (1-2) their first touchdown, Prescott was efficient, going 21 of 26 for 238 yards without an interception in the first NFC East game for both teams.

Prescott’s first game at AT&T Stadium since the season-ending compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in Week 5 last year against the New York Giants was also the return to full capacity after the pandemic-imposed limits last season. There were 93,267 fans inside with the retractable roof open at the $1.2 billion facility.

“A guy like Dak, he’s going to be psyched regardless,” Elliott said. “There’s not any extra he can get besides just the competitor he is, the player he is.”

The Cowboys (2-1) had a 19-1 edge in first downs late in the first half, but the Eagles were down just 20-7 at the break. After Javon Hargrave forced Prescott’s fumble and caught the ball for the score, the Eagles stuffed the QB on a fourth-down sneak at the other end.

Diggs stepped in front of a pass from Hurts to the sideline on the third play of the second half and ran untouched for his first career TD while becoming the first Dallas player with a pick in each of the first three games since Everson Walls in 1985.

Diggs and Cincinnati’s Logan Wilson share the NFL lead with three interceptions.

Hurts had completions of 41 yards to Quez Watkins, 38 yards to tight end Dallas Goedert and 27 yards to tight end Zach Ertz while finishing 25 of 39 for 326 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. Plenty of the Texas native’s passing yards, and the second TD, came with the game out of reach.

“I didn’t do a good enough job of leading,” Hurts said. “I didn’t do a good enough of running our offense, doing the things I need to do. This one’s on me.”

Prescott’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Schultz put the Cowboys ahead for good at 14-7 late in the first quarter, and a 2-yarder to Cedrick Wilson on fourth down essentially put the game away at 34-14 early in the fourth.

Any doubt was erased when rookies Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa shared a sack of Hurts on a desperation try on fourth-and-9 midway through the fourth quarter. Odighizuwa had his first career sack in the first half, dropping Hurts for an 11-yard loss.

Schultz, who led Dallas with 80 yards receiving, scored again on a 22-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Tony Pollard added 60 yards rushing on 11 carries as the Cowboys finished with 160 yards on the ground against the NFL’s No. 2 run defense.

“They had a good game plan to run the ball, we were second and 4, second and 3,” Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “One thing we’re known for is stopping the run. We couldn’t get off the field.”

HALL OF FAME RINGS

Jimmy Johnson, who coached the Cowboys to a pair of Super Bowl titles in the 1990s, made a rare appearance on their home field when he was presented his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at halftime along with safety Cliff Harris and receiver Drew Pearson. All three were inducted this summer.

Johnson started his speech by thanking owner Jerry Jones and ended it with the famous line he first shouted after an NFC championship game win over San Francisco during the 1992 season: “How ’bout them Cowboys!” Johnson and Jones split acrimoniously after another Super Bowl title to finish the 1993 season. The two hugged before Jones put the ring on Johnson.

INJURIES

Eagles: LG Isaac Seumalo was taken off on a cart after injuring his right foot in the fourth quarter. The Eagles were already without LT Jordan Mailata (knee) and RG Brandon Brooks (chest strain). S K’Von Wallace injured his left shoulder in the first quarter trying to tackle Elliott and didn’t return.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Defending AFC champion Kansas City visits Sunday with the Chiefs coming off consecutive losses for the first time since October 2019.

Cowboys: Carolina visits Sunday with the Panthers seeking their first 4-0 start since the 2015 season, when they started 14-0 and lost to Denver in the Super Bowl.

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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5 Maple Leafs notes: Marner willing to try ‘something new’ on power play – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – And now for something completely different.

Mitch Marner is a versatile, adaptable sort of star player.

Over the course of his hockey life, he’s played centre and wing. He’s driven offence and been tasked with shutting down some of the toughest forwards in the business. He has run the power play and volunteered to assume a prominent position on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ penalty kill.

So, it’s noteworthy that Marner is now trying something he’s never done at any level: move from the flank to the slot on the power play.

“I’ve never played it, to be honest, so it’s definitely something new to me,” Marner said Monday, before jetting to Montreal for the Leafs’ 5-2 preseason loss.

“I love to try new things, so I’m excited to give that give it a shot. Hopefully, I get used to it pretty fast.”

The rearrangement of Toronto’s beleaguered top power-play crew is no small storyline heading into 2021-22.

Despite loading their 5-on-4 unit with more than $40 million worth of talent, the 2020-21 Leafs’ power-play tumbled to 16th overall (20 per cent) in the regular season, then converted on only 13 per cent of those opportunities in their seven-game collapse to Montreal. (Among all playoff teams, only Vegas and Nashville’s power plays were less effective.)

Coach Sheldon Keefe watched his high-powered superstars go just plus-2 in 23 power-play chances in a series in which the Leafs lost three one-goal games.

Yep. Power-plays matter.

The PP’s ineffectiveness turned to ugly when Marner vehemently shot down an unverified rumour that he had refused to accept a coaching staff request to move off the half-wall last season.

“It’s a complete lie,” said Marner after the season, visibly upset by the idea. “It sucks that stuff like that’s being said, but I’m not surprised either.

“I think everyone can see I’ll try and play any role I can to help this team win.”

So disastrous was Toronto’s 2021 power play that it cost assistant coach Manny Malhotra his primary responsibility.

Keefe has flipped the PP to new assistant Spencer Carbery’s purview, and changes are already underway.

“Tough conversation, you know, because [Malhotra] was brought here to do a job. But Manny’s a team guy, and he’s still very much involved in everything that we’re doing off the ice, including the power play,” Keefe said.

“Spencer’s a great coach. He’s got a good vision and a good plan and has that perspective as a head coach [with the Hershey Bears] in terms of how things play out.

“The biggest thing is just fresh voice, fresh eyes, good ideas. And just like it seems a good fit for us, given what we went through last season.”

Marner scored 20 goals last season, all even-strength.

Even though he saw more PP minutes (3:08 per game) than any Leaf not named Auston Matthews, and even though he’s striving to develop into a dual shooting threat, Marner never scored once on the man-advantage.

Yet despite cries from the outside to adjust the formation and try William Nylander on the flank, Marner stayed put.

That changes under Carbery.

The assistant’s first look at Nylander on the flank resulted in a power-play goal Saturday in exhibition, as John Tavares tipped a Nylander shot 10 seconds into a PP.

“It’s not really a big deal. I like to play whatever,” Nylander said. “As long as you’re on the powerplay, it’s fun.”

Marner’s teammates believe he’ll adapt fine to the bumper spot, and Carbery has been showing him video of Brayden Point’s slot work on Tampa Bay’s deadly PP as an example.

From the middle, Marner can feed Matthews or Nylander for one-timers — or fire the puck on net himself to create havoc and loose pucks for a net-front guy, like Nick Ritchie, to bang home.

“He’s just so smart, he can play anywhere. I think he just wants to be productive, be helpful. He wants to be in the middle of the ice, wants to get lots of puck touches, and he’s very good at that,” Morgan Rielly said.

“Being the middle, I think he’s gonna get lots of action. I mean, he’ll go wherever anybody tells him to go. He just wants to help the team.”

Kase set to be Keefe’s Swiss army knife

While Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting appear to have penciled themselves in as Toronto’s brand-new top-six wingers, Ondrej Kase has all the tools and experience to steal some of that ice time in event of injury or underperformance.

Keefe believes Kase’s troubled injury history has lessened the level of hype he’s gotten so far in Toronto, but the coach is excited to see what he can contribute in a variety of roles.

“He’s got a really good skillset, both offensively — the ability to make plays and finish plays — but also he’s tenacious on the puck. So, I think he can move up and down our lineup and play anywhere we feel we need him,” Keefe said.

“It’s evident when you watch him that he’s an NHL player.”

Kase finished off a beauty pass by Rielly Monday and tied a game-high with four shots on net during his first peek in a Leafs sweater.

A 20-goal man for Anaheim in 2017-18, Kase could potentially slide onto the Leafs’ second power-play unit. But Keefe is also going to try him out on the penalty kill, as the coach searches for the best winger to take up some of Zach Hyman’s PK minutes.

“[Kase] hasn’t had a great deal of time on the penalty kill in his career, but I’m hoping to get him some looks there,” Keefe said. “From a skillset standpoint, in terms of how he skates, his anticipation, he’s hungry on the puck — those are all the things we want on our penalty kill. He seems to have those traits.”

Make-or-break season for Liljegren?

Time flies.

Although it seems like yesterday Timothy Liljegren garnered headlines as a promising first-round draft pick in this city — a right-shot defenceman, finally! — the prospect reminded us Monday that he’s now spent the bulk of four seasons with the Marlies.

Rare is the player who breaks through and establishes himself as a bona fide after that many tours on the minor league circuit. (Justin Holl, for example, is the exception, not the rule.) At some point, the potential needs to pop.

So… where does that leave the 22-year-old Swede heading into a training camp where he’s clearly the seventh-best D-man?

“Tough to tell. Going into my fifth year, I need to play good,” Liljegren said. “It’s my fifth year. I need to get things done, you know.

“I gotta fight for my spot on the roster. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

That means cleaning up turnovers, playing sound positional hockey, and chipping in offence when he spots a chance.

Liljegren believes he “grew a lot as a person” from a tumultuous 2020-21 campaign that saw him jostling from the AHL to the taxi squad and eventually sneaking into a pair of late-season NHL games.

Keefe has paired Liljegren with the laid-back Jake Muzzin in camp, hoping the veteran’s wisdom and calming presence rubs off.

And yet, barring an injury to a member of the top six, we don’t see Liljegren suiting up on Opening Night.

“I can’t focus on other things,” Liljegren said. “I just have to focus on playing a good game.”

Nylander impressed by Fernandez’s U.S. Open run

William Nylander tends to keep his public commentary concise.

So, after 16 months passed without an original tweet, the star forward was compelled to break his silence while taking in September’s incredible U.S. Open women’s final between Britain’s Emma Raducanu and Canada’s Leylah Fernandez.

Both unseeded. Both entering the tournament as teenagers.

“I thought it was amazing. Both young women doing an unbelievable job,” said Nylander, an avid tennis player himself.

“I can just imagine for both girls, they probably didn’t think they were going to be in the final. And all of a sudden, they’re there — 20,000 fans, and the entire world’s watching on TV. I mean, it’s pretty cool to see what they were able to do.”

Maple Leafs lineup for preseason Game 2

Ritchie-Brooks-Marner
Gusev-Kämpf-Kase
Mikheyev-Semyonov-Simmonds
Seney-Der-Arguchintsev-Anderson

Rielly-Dermott
Dahlström-Holl
Rubins-Menell

Campbell
Mrazek

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