If there’s one thing the Masters is about, it’s invoking emotion – even from someone as laid back as Dustin Johnson.
Johnson won the Masters by five shots Sunday thanks to a record-setting 20-under par score. On 18, when he tapped in for par, his brother and caddie, Austin, was choked up. The elder Johnson didn’t even mark his ball to savour the moment – just putted out and won.
This, coming just minutes after the TV cameras missed him hitting his approach to the 72nd hole because of how quickly he was playing.
But finally, in a post-round interview on the practice green at Augusta National, with the green jacket now on his shoulders – given to him in Butler Cabin by Tiger Woods, an idol of the teenaged Johnson, who grew up just 75 miles from the very golf course he dominated over the last four days – he couldn’t do it.
The enormity of the moment, and all he accomplished this week, finally hit him.
“It’s a dream come true. As a kid you always dream about being a Masters champion,” said Johnson. The tears were coming. “It’s hard to talk. But, you know, it’s just incredible.”
It wasn’t like 2019, where the lasting image was the father (Woods) hugging the son, just like in 1997 when we had the same picture, but Woods himself was the son. Johnson, you thought, would have that casual gait – treating this win like he just won $20 off his soon-to-be-father-in-law Wayne Gretzky. But it was special, even for someone as calm and collected as Johnson has been through 23 PGA Tour victories.
“I’ve never had this much trouble gathering myself,” said Johnson. “I can’t even talk.”
Johnson didn’t really need to talk, however, as his game did it all for him this week.
His 20-under total clipped the previous Masters mark by two shots (held jointly by Woods and Jordan Spieth). He was the first player to even get to 20-under in competition. Cameron Smith, who finished tied for second, was the first golfer in the history of the Masters to have four rounds in the 60s – and he lost by five.
Historically, Johnson’s 20-under mark also tied the lowest score (in relation to par) in major championship history with Henrik Stenson (2016 Open Championship) and Jason Day (2015 PGA Championship). This is his 20th top-10 finish at a major and his second victory, alongside the 2016 U.S. Open.
The victory, though, seemed both inevitable and surprising.
Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 last month and spent 11 days in a hotel room in Las Vegas. He shot 80-80 at the Memorial in July and then shot 78 in the first round of the 3M Open the very next week before withdrawing.
Since then, however, he went T12-T2-1-2-1-T6-T2 and then nabbed the Green Jacket this week. He ascended to No.1 in the world. And his entire game was impressive and unbeatable this week.
He was top-10 in driving and putting at the Masters. He also hit 60 greens out of 72 this week – no one else hit more than 56. He had only one three-putt in 72 holes. He made 20 birdies (and two eagles). And at no point did it look difficult.
“He got off to a good start Thursday and I knew he was feeling it,” Canadian Corey Conners told Sportsnet by phone from Augusta. “Just with the conditions and his type of game and ball-striking ability I knew he was going to be tough to beat for sure.
“It was a pretty amazing performance. Really impressive.”
For all the deserving celebration around Johnson’s winning effort this week, Conners put in an all-time Masters by a Canadian.
In his second round, he shot 65, the lowest mark ever recorded by a Canadian at the Masters. His tie for 10th was the first top-10 at the Masters by a Canadian since Mike Weir in 2005. And on account of finishing in the top-12 on the leaderboard, he earned a spot in the 2021 Masters in April – just 144 days away.
“If you’re qualified for the Masters you’ve done something really well, and I was kind of running out of chances to qualify otherwise,” Conners said. “I definitely am happy with how I played and how I battled back after the first round and it’s pretty sweet – I’m excited to be going back.”
Conners missed a five-footer on 14 for par and a 10-footer on 15 for birdie, which briefly moved him outside the top-12. But he ripped a laser off the tee on the par-three 16th and rolled in that birdie. He also added a bonus birdie from 23 feet on 17.
He said he was “pretty disappointed” missing the putt on 14. He called the tee shot on 16 one of the better iron shots of the day and was nice to convert the putt, as it was about the same length as the one he just missed the hole prior.
“Pretty much no doubt as soon as I hit it I knew it was going to be really good,” said Conners.
Nick Taylor and Mike Weir also wrapped up really good weeks for the Canadian contingent.
Taylor, in his Masters debut, finished at three-under, and got to play with Weir during the third round.
“Overall it was an amazing experience. I loved every second of it,” said Taylor. “There are so many special areas out here. You look around and pinch yourself… I tried to soak it up as much as I could.”
Weir, meanwhile, struggled Saturday and finished two-over for the tournament, but he made his first cut at the Masters since 2006. He also embraced his role as being the elder statesman of the Canadian foursome at the Masters. It was the first time there were more than two golfers under Weir’s wing during Masters week.
“Those guys are going to do great things and are already doing great things. It was a fun week,” said Weir, who thinks another major championship title is coming north of the border sooner rather than later.
“I think one of these guys can knock one of these off – if not the Masters than one of the other majors, and we’ve got the talent to do it now.”
In order to win one of those majors, however, the Canadians will have to knock off the likes of the world No. 1, who shows no signs of slowing down.
In a year with so much uncertainty, Johnson, this week, was as close to a sure thing as there was.
“I know 2020 has been a strange year,” said Johnson, “but it’s been good to me.”
Knicks Only Had Interest In Russell Westbrook If Rockets Attached Assets – RealGM.com
Russell Westbrook was an All-NBA selection in 19-20, but he received very little trade interest as he sought a trade from the Houston Rockets.
“There. Was. No. Market. For. Russell. Westbrook,” said Zach Lowe on his podcast one day after the trade. “I kept saying this over and over again. The Clippers were not interested. The Knicks were not interested unless they were incentivized. I don’t know where the Hornets noise came from. Maybe it was credible. All I can say is from the people I know there, I never heard they were interested. There was, to my knowledge, nothing.”
Westbrook has $132 million remaining on his contract over three seasons and has fit issues.
NHLPA weighing options if NHL cancels season – TSN
The NHL Players’ Association’s lawyers are investigating whether to file an unfair labour practice complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or pursue a grievance with an arbitrator if the NHL decides to cancel the upcoming season, two people familiar with the matter told TSN.
If the league decides against playing the 2020-21 season, a complaint to either the NLRB or an arbitrator would be the process the NHLPA would follow to try to get players paid.
The season hangs in the balance of talks between the NHL and NHLPA – most notably the financial burden players will shoulder this season and the remaining five years of a collective bargaining agreement extended in July through 2025-26.
The NHLPA declined to comment when asked how it would respond to a cancelled season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday in an interview during a virtual sports business conference that the NHL wants to play the 2020-21 season. But Bettman and NHL team owners want players to agree to raise the cap on salary escrow this year and also to defer the payment of more of their salaries.
The NHLPA wants the NHL to live up to the collective labour agreement the two sides agreed on in July. The NHL and NHLPA agreed in the deal to keep the salary cap at $81.5 million through the 2020-21 season. Ten per cent of player salaries are to be deferred and 20 per cent placed in escrow – an increase of more than 50 per cent from escrow payments during the 2019-20 season, which was delayed and shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bettman on Wednesday said the NHL is “not seeking to renegotiate,” the six-year labour agreement that was ratified unanimously by NHL team owners.
“We’re not actually having negotiations and we’re not seeking to renegotiate,” Bettman told FOX Business host Liz Claman. “We made a number of assumptions collectively over the summer, most of which are not applicable anymore.”
In an effort to force the NHL to pay the salaries of its players even if games are not held, several labour lawyers said in interviews with TSN that the NHLPA could either file a complaint with the U.S. NLRB (players on Canadian franchises would be included in such a filing) or file a grievance with an arbitrator. Both moves have their advantages, the lawyers said.
“Clearly this would be a high-stakes case,” said Jim Quinn, a New York sports lawyer who has worked for the NFL and NBA players’ associations. “The stakes don’t get any higher.”
Both the NHL and NHLPA could argue that the language in the CBA favours its side.
Article 5 of the CBA says the league is within its rights, “to determine when, where, how and under what circumstances it wishes to operate, suspend. …” a season.
Article 7, however, says the NHL cannot lock out players.
“Neither the league nor any club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this agreement,” the CBA says.
In his interview on Wednesday, Bettman was asked about the possibility that the 2020-21 season could be cancelled over the financial impasse.
“There are letters in the agreement, which we don’t have to get into, that were put in for our benefit in the event things got out of control as well. And so we each have rights which we could adhere to,” he said.
Jodi Balsam, a former NFL lawyer who now teaches sports law at Brooklyn Law School in New York, said NHL players would seem to have a strong legal case to pursue if the league cancels the season.
“They signed this CBA in July 2020 and that was hardly a promising month,” Balsam said. “The pandemic had subsided, but every source of medical and scientific knowledge was predicting a resurgence in the fall. And if the NHL failed to prepare for that in the latest CBA then that’s on them. The big question is whether the NHL players stay unified and insist the NHL follow through with the deal they bargained for.”
Players are set to receive 72 per cent of their salaries during the 2020-21 season. Twenty per cent of player salaries are being given back to owners to repay their revenue shortfall from 2019-20’s paused season. A further 10 per cent is to be deferred and paid out over three seasons.
The NHL is asking players to defer another 16 per cent in 2020-21 and has also asked to raise limits on escrow in future years of the CBA.
Balsam said if the NHLPA wanted a clear-cut decision that the league must pay players their 2020-21 salaries regardless of whether there are games, then the union would be better off pursuing a claim with the NLRB.
“Arbitrators tend to want to look for leeway to find a compromise solution,” she said. “They’re incentivized to find a solution because they can be fired by either the league or union.”
The NLRB was created in 1935. While it has a mandate to protect the rights of employees and to improve their wages and working conditions, Balsam said under U.S. president Donald Trump it has made decisions that favour employers.
Balsam said making that argument would be a “long shot” for the NHL, and noted that even though the NLRB has four of its five board member slots filled with three Republicans and one Democrat, president-elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to name a Democrat chair of the board immediately following his Jan. 20 inauguration. (Trump appointed current NLRB chair Peter Robb in September 2017, eight months after his inauguration.)
Quinn, who has worked in the past for players associations in hockey, basketball and football, said he would advise the NHLPA to consider taking their complaint to an arbitrator.
Unlike the courts, or even the NLRB, arbitration cases can be decided quickly. Rules for introducing evidence in arbitration are not as strict. While there are exceptions, such as when an arbitrator in 2018 forced NHL player Dennis Wideman to produce text messages in his dispute with an NHL referee who Wideman had hit on the ice, the parties tend to have less power to demand the production of emails and other documents from the other side, and rules for conduct can be fashioned to suit the case.
“The NLRB is very slow, and it’s going to take ages to get a decision out of them,” Quinn said. “You may get an injunction quickly but if you’re pursuing damages, like the players’ salaries for a season, that could take five years for the board to resolve.”
Currently, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on three arbitrators to decide on disputes: Richard Levie, a retired U.S. District Court judge in Washington who also works for the NBA and NBPA to resolve differences related to players and agents; Katherine Forrest, a former U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York who was hired by NHL and NHLPA last year; and Shyam Das, who has decided player discipline-related cases.
If it proceeds with an arbitration complaint, the NHLPA chooses which arbitrator will take its complaint. Forrest, who has yet to oversee an NHL/NHLPA arbitration, would be a strong candidate to hear a prospective case, a person familiar with the matter said.
Michael Lotito, a San Francisco-based labour-law attorney at Littler Mendelson who represents employers before the NLRB, said he can envision the NHLPA both filing a complaint with the board and also pursuing a complaint through a grievance.
“We’re a country of messaging not fact,” he said. “For the union, this may be an opportunity to send a message to players that, ‘We’re fighting for you every way we can.’”
Lotito said that while the NLRB tends to handle broad complaints, arbitrators are more likely to consider the “nitty gritty” of CBA negotiations.
“An arbitrator can look at the notes both sides might produce showing details on the back-and-forth talks leading up to the CBA being signed,” Lotito said. “Maybe those notes would show clearly that an issue like ‘no fans in arenas’ was clearly on the table and discussed as a possibility before a deal was done.”
James Harden Preferred Playing With John Wall Over Russell Westbrook – RealGM.com
James Harden preferred to become teammates with John Wall rather than run it back with Russell Westbrook. Harden still wants to be traded by the Rockets either way.
“He had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook,” said Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN Thursday morning. “Although in the last couple of years, Harden has moved teammates in and out. Brought Chris Paul in, moved him out. Same with Russell Westbrook now.
“Whether that’s going to be enough to convince him to want to be there long-term, the Rockets aren’t sure about that. They do have a cushion to work with. Remember, James Harden is under contract for two more years. So they’re going to start the season with Harden and Wall, and they’re hopeful that John Wall can get back to that All-Star form. A five-time All-Star, a former No. 1 overall pick. If they can get John Wall back playing at a high level, they’re hopeful that will help to make a case to James Harden.”
Harden and Westbrook were also teammates previously with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Both point guards wanted to go to the other team,” said Wojnarowski of Wall and Westbrook..
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