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What to watch for at the Masters: Can Tiger Woods bounce back at Augusta? – Sportsnet.ca

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The concept of time is no more prevalent than it is at the Masters. It feels pretty much the same, although the years keep passing.

The golf course looks as it always has, but it’s gone through a lot of changes. There was Bobby Jones, then Arnold Palmer, then Jack Nicklaus, and now Tiger Woods. He made his Masters debut 25 years ago.

In a year where nothing looks the same, including its spot on the schedule, the Masters still does.

While many Canadians have pivoted to decorating their homes for the upcoming holiday season, a spring tradition will enter our lives once again. And for that, we should be thankful.

Thankful that in a year of uncertainties, heartbreak, and loss, the Masters is still the Masters. A Green Jacket will be awarded. Time passes, but Augusta National stays right where it’s supposed to be.

In a year unlike any other, here are five things to watch at the tradition unlike any other.

TIGER TALES

During his pre-tournament press conference, Tiger Woods got emotional talking about what his 2019 victory at the Masters meant to him and his family.

It’s something to see: A guy in mid-40s, hairline thinning, but a smile still as bright as ever, who has won 82 times on the PGA Tour including 15 majors, talking about his latest big win like it was his first. “I’m getting chills just thinking about it,” said Woods.

Woods is defending his Masters title in 2020, but he’s played, in a word, poorly this year. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open. In January he finished T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open, but hasn’t finished better than T37 since, battling a wonky body, and admitting he was trying to be safe with COVID-19 ranging on through the U.S.

Heading into the 2019 Masters, Woods had three top-20 finishes in five events, so there’s no real momentum to speak of.

Still, Woods said Tuesday that his “body is feeling better than (it) did last year.” And we all know what happened then. Woods has always felt Augusta National is his happy place – he came here in 2010 as his first tournament back after his scandal broke, and finished T4, for example – and he alluded to past winners like Bernard Langer and Fred Couples, who despite reaching their 60’s (in age, not score) who remain competitive at Augusta National as pillars for his own longevity.

Woods may not ever win another Masters, but he should always be considered someone to watch – this year included.

BRYSON BOMBING IT

At the tournament practice area Wednesday, Nick Faldo – a three-time Masters winner and now broadcaster with CBS – took a video of Bryson DeChambeau ripping driver. He hit 200 mph of ball speed, and carried his drive, in a light November rain, 368 yards.

Faldo has a rooting interest in how far DeChambeau, who comes into the Masters as the reigning U.S. Open champion, is hitting his drives. He said that if DeChambeau drives the first green, some 455 yards away, he’d run around the golf course naked.

DeChambeau is the talk of the town this week, and has managed to keep his clothes on.

During the COVID-19 break he put on upwards of 40 pounds and has tested the limit of both the human body and golf-equipment technology. He’s toying with putting a 48-inch driver in the bag for the tournament – the maximum legal limit for club length. His swing speed is hovering around 144 mph. Average for a PGA Tour golfer is about 120 mph.

Credit to him – he said he was going to do something, and he did it.

“Every day I’m trying to get faster and stronger and I’m trying to hit it as far as possible,” said DeChambeau on Tuesday of Masters week.

“It’s a substantially easier golf course for him than it is for everybody else,” said Justin Thomas, who played a practice round with Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, and DeChambeau on Monday.

DeChambeau, who has won seven times on the PGA Tour, can hit it as far as he wants but he still needs to make putts to compete. And at Augusta National that has been his weak spot since turning pro: he’s last, over the last three years (according to golf data guru Justin Ray of The 15th Club), in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Drive for show, putt for dough indeed.

COURSE CHANGES

Augusta National’s week in the sports’ spotlight usually comes at the end of its season. April marks the wrapping-up of play at the iconic Georgia course before it gets too hot through the summer.

This year the biggest change is that the grass the best golfers in the world are playing on was only planted 6 weeks ago.

It took, according to aerial photos taken by Eureka Earth Plus, about 10 days for Augusta National to turn from an almost offensive brown to brilliant green. Expect the fairways to play slow (there is also supposed to be a lot of rain in the forecast through Thursday) while the greens, thanks to Augusta National’s Sub Air system (essentially a vacuum underground that cost upwards of $30,000 per green) will still run quick.

Jordan Spieth said the greens, as of Tuesday, were firmed up already. This, he said, was in anticipation of the wet weather set to arrive later in the week.

The grass is a little chewier in spots, especially around the greens, which will cause players to hit different shots than they’re used to.

“There is a lot of Bermuda around the greens and the golf course in general. The rye is a little spotty in places and the ball is settling down a little bit. Generally around the greens we have the ability to play bump and runs or play more spinning golf shots. That’s going to be a little different this year,” said Tiger Woods.

The rain that’s in the forecast will make a soft course play softer – giving the longer golfers in the field more of an advantage – but the limited daylight will also impact the ending of the tournament.

NOTABLE NAMES

Augusta National is the kind of place where the biggest names in the sport thrive. Here are some to keep an eye on, and why.

Rory McIlroy: The new dad is going for the career grand slam (again) this week, but it is arguably one of the least-talked about stories of the week. No fans, no big expectations with Woods and DeChambeau stealing the headlines, plus a game that is built for the kinds of conditions to be expected this week (he won his other four majors in wet weather) – it might be McIlroy’s time.

Justin Thomas: Thomas is certainly picking the right people to befriend when it comes to Augusta National – having played practice rounds the last couple of seasons with both Woods and Couples. He’s improved at the Masters every year since his debut in 2016 (T39-T22-T17-T12) and the former world No. 1 is one of the best ball-strikers on the planet.

Dustin Johnson: The current world No. 1 and reigning FedExCup champion was on the sidelines for the last few weeks due to a positive COVID-19 test, but prior to that Johnson’s record was a stout T2-T6-1-2-1-T2. He finished runner-up at the Masters in 2019 and his length will definitely make him a threat.

OVER THE HUMP

Some of the best players in the world have still never won a major. Is this the week for these guys?

Jon Rahm: Rahm has already made headlines this week as he skipped a ball across the pond on Augusta National’s 16th hole and into the cup (the video of which has 22-million views on Twitter alone, and counting). But he’s also a former world No.1 and has six wins around the world since finishing T9 at last year’s Masters.

Xander Schauffele: Schauffele has done everything but win a major in his career. He’s notched top-10 results in six of the last 10 majors played and the four-time PGA Tour winner, who boasts world-class ball striking, has only one finish outside the top-25 since January.

Tony Finau: Finau was in the final group Sunday with Woods a year ago and has top-10 finishes at both majors this year (plus a T10-T5 record in his two Masters starts). One of the longest hitters in the game, it’s wild Finau has won only once in his career as he’s been ranked as high as ninth in the world.

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Report: Rogers Centre could be demolished for new downtown Toronto stadium – Sportsnet.ca

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The possibility of a new home stadium is emerging for the Toronto Blue Jays, though nothing’s final at this stage with discussions still ongoing.

According to the Globe and Mail, Rogers Communications Inc., the parent company of the Blue Jays as well as Sportsnet, and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. are working with city, provincial and federal officials on a plan to demolish the Rogers Centre, effectively turning half of the downtown Toronto property into a new, baseball-first stadium at the south end and the other portion into residential towers, office buildings, stores and public space.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were exploring options for the stadium but through this year our primary focus has been keeping our customers connected and employees safe, so there is no update on the Rogers Centre to share at this time,” said Andrew Garas, director of communications at Rogers.

Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro has previously expressed the need to take a wide-scale refurbishment of Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays’ home since 1989. If plans for a new downtown stadium fall through, per the Globe, Rogers is also said to be considering building a new stadium on a lakefront site, potentially the 12-acre Quayside property where Google’s Sidewalk Labs had planned to house its now-abandoned smart-city project.

The multibillion-dollar plan would be funded by Rogers and Brookfield, but needs government approvals to move forward. While Rogers owns the stadium, the federal government owns the land.

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NBA Free Agency Report: Raptors waive Dewan Hernandez – RaptorsHQ

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In a surprising turn, the Raptors officially announced this afternoon that they are waiving centre Dewan Hernandez in advance of the 2020-21 season. The soon-to-be 24-year-old big man would have once again been the Raptors 14th or 15th man for the coming season, but it still comes as something of a shock given Toronto’s usual regard for their own draft picks as of late — and their ability to develop them into useful NBA players.

The thinking here from Toronto may have more to do with roster management and salary cap thinking than potential. Though, due to things he could and couldn’t control, Hernandez didn’t do much to prove he could stick in the NBA.

Hernandez joined the Raptors for the 2019-20 season as the 59th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. There’s usually no reason to believe a player picked in that range will hang on in the league, but Hernandez is a lithe 6’10”, 235 pounds, and showed he had some of the mobility and shooting range needed to be a new-age frontcourt player in the NBA. He still had a ways to go, particularly on the defensive end and appeared in just six games during last season for the Raptors. Unfortunately a serious ankle injury kept him off the floor for the 905 in the G League as well, which surely hurt his development — and his chances of staying with the Raptors.

After adding two new rookies in the 2020 NBA Draft — Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris — and then signing a pair of established centres in Aron Baynes and Alex Len, it was clear the Raptors were about to run into a bit of a roster crunch. As reviewed here: with Hernandez on the roster, the team was at 16 players — and that’s before adding Len as the team’s backup centre, and before addressing what to do with their other two-way contract slot, which may go to rookie Harris or a returning Oshae Brissett (who is still on the restricted free agent market). There’s also Terence Davis to consider, but we’ll leave that for now.

In truth, Toronto just did not have a lot to lose by letting Hernandez go. Some team could — and likely will — pick him up to become their 15th man or to solidify their G League roster at some point in the future. But with no timetable for a G League return and roster needs now shifting elsewhere for Toronto (e.g. it’s hard to teams to justify carrying three centres), releasing Hernandez saves the team a few bucks in the short term and presumably opens the way for the return of Brissett or some other forward option.

Here’s hoping Hernandez can regain his footing in the NBA soon because, I’ll be honest, he flashed some funky skills at times and I hope he gets a chance to ply his trade for real in the league. Best of luck, Dewan.

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Report: Ravens close facility until next week; game vs. Steelers in jeopardy – Sportsnet.ca

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The Baltimore Ravens are closing their training facility until Monday at the earliest due to the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers — which was originally scheduled for the Thanksgiving primetime slot on Thursday — figures to be in jeopardy, though it has not yet been postponed.

Five additional Ravens tests came back positive on Thursday, with four players and one staff member contracting the coronavirus. Linebacker Pernell McPhee, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins and defensive tackle Brandon Williams had previously been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

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