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Dustin Johnson plays like No. 1 and seizes control at the Masters – TSN

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Dustin Johnson began his assault on Augusta National with a 5-iron for a tap-in eagle, and he never relented until he matched the 54-hole record at the Masters and built a four-shot lead to put himself in prime position for another major.

Johnson has been in this position before, and he plans to lean on his experience.

Not from the 82 he shot at Pebble Beach in the 2010 U.S. Open. Not the three-putt from 12 feet on a bumpy 18th green that cost him at Chambers Bay. Not even the one-shot lead he lost three months ago at Harding Park. They were among four times he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major without converting.

He’s talking about the last three days at Augusta National. It’s been a masterful performance.

“If I can play like I did today, I think it will break that streak,” Johnson said Saturday. “Tomorrow, it’s just 18 holes of golf. I need to go out and play solid. I feel like I’m swinging really well. If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I’ll have a good day.”

A third round that began with 10 players separated by one shot turned into a one-man show.

The No. 1 player in the world looked every bit the part with a 7-under 65, pulling away with the eagle and two birdies in the opening four holes, nearly holing a wedge from the seventh fairway, handling the par 5s on the back nine with two-putt birdies and going the last 30 holes without a bogey.

He was at 16-under 200, matching the 54-hole record Jordan Spieth set in 2015 when he won the Masters by four shots over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.

The cast of challengers are not nearly as experienced.

Two of them are Masters rookies. Sungjae Im, the supreme ball-striker from South Korea who won his first PGA Tour title two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf in the spring, birdied the last hole for 68. Abraham Ancer of Mexico saved par on the 18th for a 69.

Joining them at 12-under 204 was Cameron Smith of Australia, who had 12 straight pars before running off three straight birdies and then closing with three scrambling pars for a 69.

“He’s been there before multiple times, and No. 1 in the world,” Ancer said. “I think he’s right where he wants to be. We know that we have to go low, and that’s it. It’s very simple. If DJ goes out there and plays really solid like today, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to catch him. Whatever has to be done out there has to be pretty special.”

Still, there is enormous pressure on Johnson because of his history. He has not converted two 54-hole leads, nor has he won at two majors where he shared the 54-hole lead. His only major was the 2016 U.S. Open when he rallied from four shots behind at Oakmont.

“Anyone with a four-shot lead is expected to win,” Smith said. “There’s going to be plenty of boys firing tomorrow.”

Attacking flags is what Augusta National has allowed in November, with rain earlier in the week and warm, calm conditions that have kept the turf soft and vulnerable.

Johnson, who had to sit out two tournaments after testing positive for the coronavirus a month ago, still came into the Masters having won twice, finishing runner-up three times and tying for sixth in the U.S. Open.

“I’m very comfortable with having the lead going into tomorrow. I’ve been in this situation a lot of times,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s still going to be a tough day. I’m going to have to play well if I want to get it done.”

Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm had their chances only to make untimely mistakes. Rahm nearly topped his second shot on the par-5 eighth, which he attributed to mud on his golf ball, and hit his next one off a tree and into the bushes on his way to a double bogey.

Thomas sailed his second shot over the 15th green and into the water, making bogey on a par 5 where he was hoping to make up ground. Both bogeyed the 18th hole. Thomas shot 71, Rahm had a 72.

Asked to describe his day, Rahm didn’t mince words.

“Seriously? How would I describe? Pretty awful,” he said.

Starting times for the final round have been moved up to finish by 3 p.m. so CBS can honour its NFL contract, and it will be threesomes off both tees. And just like all week, and all year, there will be no roars to add to the pressure.

“Unfortunately for all of us chasing DJ is there’s no fans or nothing to make that moment even harder, to have the buzz, to have the adrenaline, to have a little bit more pressure put on him that won’t be there this year,” Thomas said.

Defending champion Tiger Woods will stick around Sunday to present the green jacket, and he’ll have to leave his at Augusta National until he returns.

Woods was 4 under through 10 holes to start the Masters, and he picked up only one more shot over the next 44 holes. He finished off a 71 in the second round Saturday morning, had a 72 in the third round and was 11 shots behind.

U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau was more dizzy than sore. He felt so odd on Thursday night that he had another COVID-19 test to be sure — it came back negative — and the betting favourite of this Masters was in the middle of the pack, 13 shots behind.

The scoring has been low all week. The 36-hole cut Saturday morning was at even-par 144, the lowest in Masters history, another update to the club’s record book.

Still in front of Johnson is a chance to set the 72-hole record. All he cares about is a green jacket, and given his past experience, he knows better than to look ahead.

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Don’t assume Raptors have taken step back despite disappointing free agency – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors have traditionally weathered the absence of elite talent quite well.

For example: During the season of Kawhi, those paying attention might have been tweaked to exactly how serious a championship threat the Raptors were by how well they did when Leonard wasn’t playing.

With Leonard nicked up or simply being load-managed for more than a quarter of the season, the rest of the Raptors simply kept rolling, putting up a 17-5 mark — a better winning percentage than they had with Leonard in the lineup — and provided a preview of how good a team that relied on the likes of Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet or Norm Powell might be.

Last season, with Leonard gone to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors got better. Even in a year when Marc Gasol missed 28 of 72 games, Serge Ibaka 17 and six of the top seven players in the Raptors’ rotation — excluding OG Anunoby — missed 18 games on average.

It didn’t seem to matter who dressed at times as the Raptors ended up playing at what would have been a 60-win pace in a regular year and finished with the second-best record in the NBA, sans Kawhi and while lurching from game to game with a different lineup due to injury.

Having bought into a ball-sharing, ball-hounding philosophy espoused by head coach Nick Nurse, the plug-n-play Raptors kept chugging along, picking up Ws and belatedly getting credit for it.

That characteristic — the ability to adapt and compete with a revolving door of sometimes unlikely personnel — is best to be kept in mind as the dust settles on what seems like a disappointing weekend of free agency.

The high point — clearly — was retaining VanVleet, the homegrown point guard who proved he was ready for primetime in his first year as a starter a season ago. Inking VanVleet was the Raptors’ stated first priority and they got it done quickly and efficiently and at a number — $85 million for four years — that works for both sides.

But losing the centre tandem of Ibaka — who signed with the Los Angeles Clippers on late Saturday night — and Gasol — who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday — in a matter of 18 hours was a blow.

It’s hard to spin it any other way. It’s not necessarily a fatal blow to the Raptors’ chances of being a competitive factor in the East, but are they still realistic contenders?

The Raptors may adapt and adjust and find a way to compete and surprise the NBA again, but it seems like a less-than-ideal approach to getting the most out of Kyle Lowry’s final year under contract.

They have now lost four of their top six rotation pieces from their championship team in 18 months.

Eventually, it would seem, something has to give.

Ibaka was a positive locker room presence who put up 20 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 39 per cent from three on a high volume and contributing meaningfully on defence as well.

Gasol’s boxscore line wasn’t impressive — 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds to go along with 3.3 assists — and his offence slid further down the cliff after the hiatus. But his positional defence and rapid-fire ball movement meant the Raptors starters were plus-12.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, even when he considered his own scoring an afterthought.

Replacing 23 years of combined experience and a combined 338 playoff games doesn’t happen with a finger snap.

Still, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is the last person to show his cards at moments like this. He’s not prone to puddling when things get difficult.

“We’ll be OK,” he said via text message after Ibaka signed for two years and $19 million, trumping the Raptors’ reported offer of one year for $12 million.

“It’s how these things work,” was his message after Gasol signed a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum — the Raptors wouldn’t offer a second year — to chase a ring with the defending champion Lakers just after dinner hour Sunday.

By then the market for free-agent centres had dried up considerably.

Still, the Raptors recovered nicely by signing Phoenix Suns centre Aron Baynes to a two-year deal (the second year a team option) for a reported $14.7 million and then giving Chris Boucher a two-year deal (again, with a team option for 2021-22) for $13.5 million, a nice payday for the rail-thin Montrealer whose slog to NBA security has been long and uphill.

So, the Raptors have a centre tandem, but the question is if they’re any better than they were on Friday?

The only proper answer is “we’ll see,” but at the very least that’s a lot of name recognition to replace.

Baynes is a nice pick-up. He’s a bruising but surprisingly quick-footed New Zealander who looks like he’s played his share of rugby in his time. The six-foot-10, 260-pounder will be 34 when the season starts, but has extended his career by adding a three-point shot to his game over the past two seasons. He shot a respectable 35 per cent from deep for the Suns last season on four attempts a game and will be appreciated for his screen setting.

The Raptors were hoping to have Baynes complement Ibaka or Gasol, I’m guessing, but not so much that they were willing to offer a second year of term to either.

Instead, the Raptors will be providing a significant opportunity to Boucher who has shown he can be wildly productive in small samples — he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes last season — and will now get the chance to show he can do it over longer stretches.

And if Baynes or Boucher seem to be well-compensated given their profile, chances are they got a premium for being willing to accept deals where they don’t have a second-year guaranteed. As well, if the opportunity for a significant trade arises, the reality is you need some beefy contracts for salary-matching purposes.

And even with the signings (plus the addition of former Atlanta Hawks bench piece DeAndre’ Bembry) the Raptors remain about $5 million under the luxury-tax threshold, so nothing is lost there.

The Raptors’ focus in all of their business has included keeping flexibility for the summer of 2021 — right now it looks like they’ll be able to carve out enough room under the salary cap to either sign or trade for a max salary player — and clearly telegraphs what their priorities were in this off-season.

How that translates into this coming season is the more pressing question.

The temptation is to look at a team that has lost two key pieces of a championship roster and a 60-win team and assume they’ve taken a step back.

They might have. But the Raptors have in the past proven they can find a way to be competitive and to silence doubters.

Who is to say that if Anunoby takes another big step forward, Siakam grows a little more comfortable as a primary option and Powell remains as productive as he was for long stretches when healthy last season, the Raptors don’t continue steaming along?

Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have earned that level of trust.

But they’ve left themselves plenty of wiggle room too, with short-term deals and escape hatches all around if things don’t quite pan out.

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Mahomes leads late winning drive as Chiefs hold off Raiders – TSN

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LAS VEGAS — Even after Jason Witten‘s touchdown put the Las Vegas Raiders ahead with 1:43 to play, the mood on the Kansas City Chiefs’ sideline was calm and cool.

Not much can stop the Super Bowl champs lately. Not when they have the quarterback who makes everything go.

“We’ve got Patrick Mahomes,” running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said. “I’m not worried about anything.”

Mahomes threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce with 28 seconds to play, and the Chiefs avenged their only loss in the last 12 months with a 35-31 victory over the Raiders on Sunday night.

Mahomes passed for 348 yards and led two go-ahead scoring drives in the frantic fourth quarter for the Chiefs (9-1), who split their season series with Las Vegas (6-4) in dramatic fashion. Kansas City also took firm control of the race for its fifth straight AFC West title with an assertive comeback in its closest rivals’ home building.

“I’d take him over everybody,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Mahomes. “And I’m lucky to have him, as we are as a football team, as we are as a city. When you’re behind, he can make things happen.”

The Chiefs’ supreme confidence in their Super Bowl MVP wasn’t shaken when they lost 40-32 at home to Las Vegas last month, prompting the Raiders to take a celebratory victory lap around Arrowhead Stadium in their buses.

Kansas City also didn’t worry when Mahomes threw only his second interception of the season late in the first half of the rematch.

And when Derek Carr found Witten for the Raiders’ go-ahead score, Mahomes said he knew what would happen next.

“We’re going to score,” Mahomes said. “I just didn’t know if it was going to be overtime, or we were going to win it.”

The Chiefs didn’t need a tying field goal: They only needed 75 seconds to march 75 yards, with Mahomes going 6 of 7 on the drive.

Kelce, who caught eight passes for 127 yards, slipped free of Las Vegas’ safeties for the easy winning catch and then went back to the sideline to give a joking shoulder massage to Reid. The Chiefs can laugh at fourth-quarter tension, thanks to the man behind centre.

“He turns it up when it matters the most, and he was out there showing out tonight,” Kelce said about Mahomes.

Carr passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns, but the Raiders couldn’t match their offensive excellence in Kansas City last month. The Chiefs have won five straight since that defeat, and the Raiders made just enough minor mistakes to prevent them from getting out of reach of Mahomes’ comeback ability.

“It’s as good as you can play,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said of Carr. “He had four or five balls that were magnificent throws that we could have caught that we didn’t make the play on. He played tremendous tonight. He played almost flawless.”

The Raiders led 24-21 on Darren Waller’s TD catch on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Mahomes led a 91-yard scoring drive midway through the period capped by Le’Veon Bell‘s first TD for Kansas City on a 6-yard pitch.

Carr and the Raiders replied with a crisp drive ending on Witten’s 1-yard catch just inside the goal line for his second TD with the Raiders and the 74th of his career.

“You’re really excited,” Carr said. “(But) they’re a real good offence, too. They go down the field, they score. The wave, the range of emotion — you try your best to stay even-keeled. You try your best not to get frustrated.”

That’s not easy when your counterpart is Mahomes.

Daniel Sorensen picked off a heave to midfield by Carr with 19 seconds left, and the Chiefs kneeled out their 18th win in the last 19 games since Nov. 10, 2019.

Nelson Agholor caught a TD pass and Josh Jacobs rushed for a score for the Raiders, who dropped to 2-3 at Allegiant Stadium in their new hometown.

Tyreek Hill caught an early touchdown pass for the Chiefs, and Edwards-Helaire rushed for 69 yards and two TDs in a fierce rivalry game. These teams’ mutual distaste was obvious, with plenty of confrontations and yapping after whistles. Kelce and Johnathan Abram had particularly active mouths.

“The rivalry between the Raiders and the Chiefs, I think, is a great thing for football,” said Reid, who improved to 19-3 after his bye week. “It’s great to be a part of it. I look forward to more future challenges like the ones they presented against us.”

The teams traded touchdown drives on the opening four possessions. Agholor made an exceptional toe-tap 17-yard TD catch to end the first quarter, but Edwards-Helaire’s first TD evened it at 14.

RARE PICK

Mahomes drove the Chiefs deep into Raiders territory right before halftime, but Trayvon Mullen snared a pass intended for Demarcus Robinson at the Raiders 3 to preserve Vegas’ 17-14 lead. Mahomes had matched Drew Brees’ NFL record by throwing 26 touchdown passes this season before his second interception.

SHORT-HANDED

Las Vegas’ defence hung in against the high-powered Chiefs despite having nine players on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week, essentially preventing the defence from practicing for its toughest opponent. Six of those players returned for the game, but the Raiders still played without starters Cory Littleton and Clelin Ferrell.

INJURIES

Chiefs: WR Byron Pringle hurt his ankle, but returned to the game.

Raiders: RT Sam Young missed the game with a knee injury, forcing Vegas to use its seventh offensive line combination in 10 games. … DL David Irving injured his knee.

UP NEXT

Chiefs: Visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday.

Raiders: Visit the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday.

___

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

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Report: F1 champ Hamilton to be knighted – TSN

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Recent seven-time Formula 1 Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton will be awarded a knighthood in the United Kingdom, as first reported by The Sun.

Hamilton will receive the knighthood in the New Year’s Honours list.

Aside from Hamilton’s dominance on the race track, the 35-year-old has also notably been a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After his record-tying seventh World Drivers’ Championship, Hamilton was congratulated by the Queen of England via the Royal Family’s Twitter account.

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