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By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief, Digital Sports Desk
BOSTON – This weekend, the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being staged here in Boston once again. It tips-off a spring season of sports business seminars that focus on the latest trends in the sporting, sports business, sports technology and eSports industry. The agenda is packed with a sports media and business “Dream Team” panels and the topics of conversation, combined with the networking opportunities create one of the best labs in the industry.
Digital Sports Desk is proud to attend many of the conferences and report (+ Tweet) on the news generated from many of the panel discussions and presentations. All-in-all, there are no “bad” conferences or presentations, as you can certainly learn from everyone. That said, some are better than others, of course, and we’re going to list the sports business and marketing conferences that stand-out the most.
Our recommendations, forever to be known as “The DIGGIES” (De-Jeez):
The Gran-Daddy of ’em all? The annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston is the largest and most amazing of the many sports conferences held each year. Dubbed “Dork-A-Palooza” by some combination of Boston Sports Guy/gone ESPN gone/The Ringer Bill Simmons and/or Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban, the SSAC attracts “A-List” speakers and panelists, such as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – doing a popular “One-on-One,” dubbed “Silver on Silver with pundit Nate Silver. It will surely be compared to a memorable panel chaired by moderator of two years past (Malcolm Gladwell).
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Jessica Gelman, formerly of the New England Patriots, now running the Kraft Analytics Group (KAGR) as CEO, are the original organizers and hosts. They do a great job and attract team GMs, former players (Shane Battier on the roster this year and last) and a ton of others (see Nate Silver – but don’t ask him to handicap a horse race or an election.
ESPN has a considerable influence and its writers and talent are frequently on stage for the seminar, and that is almost always a good thing.
The location, here in Boston (at the Boston Hynes Convention Hall (Hynes is near Copley, as it’s not at the Seaport this year because of a golfing exhibit) is a tremendous site and easily accessible via Logan Airport or the Amtrak service to Back Bay). Note: It sells out quickly, so don’t wait.
A listing of our other faves:
Sports Business Journal: The talented and dedicated folks from the SBJ/SBD run a half-dozen or so of the best conferences on the planet, including the World Congress of Sports (April 19-20, 2017 in Dana Point, Calif) which coincides with the annual 40-Under-40 awards.
The two conferences where we learn and certainly always enjoy the most are these:
The Neulion Sports Media & Technology Conference (usually in NYC, but was held in Manhattan Beach, Calif in fall of 2016)
The Momentum Sports Marketing Symposium, held in NYC this past November 9-10.
We were unable to attend out in sunny Manhattan Beach but did make the trip to New York and covered one particularly great panel with retiring Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz and his agent, Alex Radetsky who were both wonderful, insightful and entertaining as they mapped out the past year (after Ortiz decided to retire) but paved the way many years ago, as Radetsky helped his client prepare for the future. Very refreshing.
SBJ also does conferences on the world of motorsports, the annual college fest, as noted above, a terrific “Game Changers” conference focusing the massive and growing impact of women in the sports industry, an AXS sports facilities and ticketing forum and their own “Grand Daddy” of ‘em all in the annual Sports Business Awards ceremony – the OSCARs of the sports world. (May 24, 2017).
SXSW: This event is all the rage and the SXSW Sports track is an agenda for everyone seeking insight from everything from the ancient and beautiful game to virtual reality trends. MLS Commissioner Don Garber and NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson are on the proposed agenda for the March 2017 gathering amidst the coolness of SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Leaders in Sport – This conference is also known as, just LEADERS, is European based but puts on a terrific conference in NYC, this year dubbed The Sports Business Summit and scheduled for the Times Center in Times Square, March 21-22, 2017. Prior to the big seminar, the group will stage an event in London on January 12, coinciding with the NBA London Games, They’ll also do a version in June 2017 in Beijing.
One of the new kids on the block is HASHTAG SPORTS, a conference that began last year at Brooklyn’s Expo Center with a special networking event at nearby Barclay’s Center. It will re-locate to Times Square in Manhattan from June 26-29th of 2017. The organizers are expecting some 1,500+ attendees. It’s worth a look. Visit: https://hashtagsports.com/#
Cynopsis Sports does a small but impactful sports business summit yearly in New York. From panel discussions on the future of sports, to content distribution, to keynotes by industry leaders, Cynopsis always does a great job on an interesting, forward-looking agenda in a small and congenial atmosphere.
Lastly, a rather impromptu sports panel crept up on us this past year, and it was scheduled perfectly adjacent to the SBJs Sports Marketing symposium last November, that being the National Sports Marketing’s “Reaching Millennials Through Sports” panel which included a presentation by Simon Wardle of Octagon. The event was held at the Paley Center in NYC and was incredibly succinct and informative. I noted to its organizers that it was the best panel of the year. Visit: http://sportsmarketingnetwork.com/chapters/nyc.shtml
The National Scouting Combine is an annual invitation-only event where 300-plus prospects are put through a grueling job interview process that tests them both physical and mentally.
The Combine can be broken down into four separate categories: verified measurements, medical evaluations, interviews and on-field drills.
The Combine was originally created as an organized event for participating teams to perform medical checks, instead of prospects having to travel from city to city, going through the same exams. Team interviews are also a crucial aspect of the Combine as each franchise can schedule up to 60 15-minute formal interviews.
The medicals and interviews are the two most important steps at the Combine, but the athletic tests allow NFL teams to match quantitative data with a player’s tape. The on-field drills help provide context with each prospect participating on the same field, in the same setting and under the same circumstances (unlike campus pro days). Notable results in these tests won’t independently elevate a player’s draft grade, but it helps reaffirm what the tape says. And if the results don’t match, evaluators go back to study the tape and figure out what was missed.
Some label the Combine as nothing more than the “Underwear Olympics,” but as legendary NFL scout C.O. Brocato, who invented the three-cone drill, once told me: “Those who don’t value the Combine, don’t know how to properly use it.”
So for the National Scouting Combine novices, this is a step-by-step breakdown of each agility test, including an example of how a prospect’s performance can help or hurt his final draft grade and what NFL scouts think about each drill.
This test is used to measure vertical speed and acceleration.
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. Player starts in a 3-point stance.
2. After player hears, “You can go” from Director, he must hold for a 2-count before running.
3. No rolling starts. No quick starts.
4. Timer will start watch when player’s down-hand separates from the surface.
5. Player will run the 40-yard dash twice.
6. After running the 40-yard dash, players return to player holding area near starting line.
A year ago, Notre Dame wideout Will Fuller tipped the scales at only 186 pounds and measured a disappointing 8 1/4-inch hands. But his best asset and the main reason he was drafted 21st overall in the 2016 draft class by the Houston Texans is his speed. And he showed off his wheels in the 40-yard dash, blazing a 4.32 time, the second-fastest in the class. New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple (4.40), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (4.37) and Indianapolis Colts defensive back T.J. Green (4.34) also helped boost their draft grades with this drill.
On the flipside, poor 40-yard dash times can also hurt a prospect like Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins. The talented wideout entered the combine with speed questions and his 4.64 40-yard dash confirmed those concerns. Would a sub-4.5 40-yard dash have put him in the top-100 picks? Possibly. But instead Higgins was selected in the fifth round, No. 172 overall by the Cleveland Browns.
Scout’s take: “For certain position, this drill matters greatly. It’s important for wide receivers and cornerbacks, not so much for linemen and quarterbacks. Our league is about speed and this test helps attach some speed numbers to players. It’s not as important as people think, but it’s not as overrated as people think either.”
The first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash, this test is used to measure initial quickness and burst. Steps are the same as the 40-yard dash.
Among last year’s pass rushers, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State’s Carl Nassib were both drafted by the Cleveland Browns. They also turned in two of the most impressive 10-yard split results and boosted their draft profile in Indianapolis. At 273 pounds, Ogbah registered a 1.58, which was identical to cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and wide receiver Josh Doctson, who both landed in the first round. Nassib recorded a 1.62, which bested several players drafted before him like Joey Bosa (1.68), Shaq Lawson (1.63) and Kevin Dodd (1.69).
Scout’s Take: “I know a few colleagues around the league who value the results in this category more than any other here. I still haven’t seen any verified data that backs that up, but I get it. Initial burst and quickness is obviously important.”
20-YARD SHORT SHUTTLE
This test is used to measure agility and lateral movement.
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. While facing the Drill Director, player starts in a 3-point stance with legs straddling the line equally.
2. Player must have hand squarely on the start line and hold the position for two seconds.
3. After player hears, “You can go” from Director he may start drill.
4. Player will run to the right line five yards away and touch the line with right hand. Player will then sprint 10 yards to the left and touch the line with left hand.
5. After the last line touch, player will sprint through the finish line, which is the starting point of the drill.
6. All players will complete one run to the right and one run to the left. (two attempts)
7. Down hand is same as running direction. Left hand to the Left — Right hand to the Right.
8. It is the responsibility of the player not to slip and adjust to the surface.
Only five players in the 2016 class finished under four seconds in the short shuttle last year — all defensive backs. But safety Justin Simmons was the only prospect to register a sub-3.9 second time, posting a 3.85 short shuttle, easily the best at last year’s Scouting Combine. He was drafted 98th overall by the Denver Broncos, earlier than most anticipated at this time last year.
Scout’s Take: “Love this drill. Stiff athletes can’t escape the shuttles with good times. Burst, bend and lateral range are tested. Tightness is exposed.”
This test is used to measure lower body explosion and leaping ability.
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. Director will measure 18 and/or 24 inches down from the bottom marker on the Vertec and place a piece of tape at each mark.
2. Player will stand with his right side (ankle, hip, shoulder; left side if left handed) against the Vertec and extend his arm upward as far as possible.
3. Director will extend the Vertec to the top of the players’ extended hand at the top edge of tape and tighten in place. The bottom marker will represent 18 or 24 inches for that player.
4. Player starts jump with both feet planted on the ground.
5. Player may swing arms and dip knees.
6. Players may not shuffle feet before take-off as this will result in a scratch and jump will not count.
7. Player attempts 2 jumps touching the highest slat-marker on the Vertec from the floor.
8. That mark represents the players’ vertical jump.
Defensive back Jalen Ramsey was already considered one of the best athletes in last year’s draft class prior to the Combine. But his 41.5-inch vertical leap helped confirm it, making his status as a top-five pick a near-lock.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, running back Alex Collins managed only 28.5-inches in the vertical jump, a well-below average number for the position and the only running back to fall short of 30-inches. His poor time in this drill was not the main reason he fell to pick No. 171, but it certainly helped contribute.
Scout’s Take: “Higher you can jump, the better. But it’s more of a threshold drill. As long as you jump at a certain level depending on position, you’re fine. The best numbers in this drill don’t tell me much.”
This test is used to measure lower body explosion and balance.
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. Each player receives two attempts at the Standing Broad Jump.
2. Players must start with both feet/toes totally behind start line for valid jump.
3. Players may swing arms and bend knees prior to jumping.
4. Upon landing, player must maintain control, landing balanced with both feet planted.
5. Upon landing player may also fall forward, but not backwards.
6. Jumps are measured from heal of the foot nearest to the initial jump line.
7. Jumps are measured to the nearest whole inch.
8. Results are recorded in feet and inches jumped.
Six players in last year’s class hit the 11-feet mark in the broad jump. And of the six, three were drafted in the top-25 picks: defensive back Jalen Ramsey (11-feet-3), linebacker Darron Lee (11-feet-1) and safety Keanu Neal (11-feet). The Combine record (and possibly the world record) is held by Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones (12-feet-3).
Like the vertical jump, this drill is more of a threshold drill — better times are nice, but NFL teams are looking for certain marks at different positions. Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland was one of the bottom performers in the drill with 7-feet-10 in the broad jump. He went undrafted, but after several weeks on the practice squad, Kirkland emerged as a valuable contributor for the Raiders jumbo package this past season.
Scout’s Take: “It’s an overrated drill. Helps gauge lower body muscles and twitch I suppose, but you can’t convince me it necessarily translates to you being a better football player. I don’t care about it.”
This test is used to measure agility, flexibility and change of direction.
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. Cones are set five yards apart forming an “L” shape.
2. Player will start the drill in a 3-point stance.
3. With player in start position Drill Director will release player by saying “You can go”.
4. Director will start the stopwatch the instant the player’s hand separates from the surface.
5. The player will sprint forward 5 yards touching the line and returning to the start line touching that line before running around the cones.
6. Player must touch lines with Right Hand.
7. When running around the cones, the player will maintain outside leverage until the last cone. On the last cone, the player will circle around the cone before returning to the finish line.
8. The player will again maintain outside leverage while running around the cones on his way back to the finish line.
9. Player may not touch cone or place hand on surface when making turn around a cone.
Before he turned heads as arguably the top rookie receiver in the NFL last season, New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas turned heads with a 6.80 time in the 3-cone drill — a number much better than scouts predicted. Measuring under 5-10 and 200 pounds, cornerback Cyrus Jones needed positive numbers during his workouts to possibly secure a spot in the top-100 picks. And he didn’t disappoint with a 6.71 3-cone time. The New England Patriots used the 60th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to pick him up.
Scout’s Take: “The single most important drill at the Combine, plain and simple. Regardless of position, I want to know how the player performs in space and this helps show change of direction, explosiveness and overall athleticism. There is validity to this test translating to the football field.”
This test is used to measure upper body strength (bench press strength, not functional strength)
Steps as explained by the National Scouting Combine handbook:
1. Warm up at 185lb bench or pushups if desired
2. Keep both feet on the ground
3. Keep buttocks on the bench.
4. Fully extend arms on every repetition.
5. DO NOT bounce the bar off their chest
6. DO NOT short-arm the repetition.
7. Fouls will result in the deduction of a repetition
8. Director counts the player’s repetitions.
9. Total number of repetitions is recorded, minus deducted repetitions, if any
Target reps depend by position, but general rule of thumb: 25+ is above average, 15-25 is good, 15 or less is below average.
For many evaluators, the bench press is a chance to see prospects show off their strength, but the results mean very little. And it is tough to disagree considering the historical data. At last year’s NFL Combine, offensive lineman Cody Whitehair managed only 16 reps on the bench press, a shockingly low result and the worst number among all offensive linemen in attendance. However, his functional strength wasn’t an issue on tape and he showed that as a rookie for the Chicago Bears, grading as one of the best first-year players in the league.
Tight end Hunter Henry put the bar up only 13 times, which was the worst number among all tight ends last year. Yet, the former Arkansas product was the first tight end drafted and scored eight touchdowns as a rookie for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Scout’s Take: “If we forgot to do this drill at the Combine, no one would miss it. Overrated and useless. If a player has a low number of reps, he’s not a weight room guy. But we already knew that.”
NEW YORK – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The NFL salary cap will be $167 million per team for the 2017 season, an increase of $12 million over last year. The upcoming season will be the fourth consecutive year the cap has risen at least $10 million, and since 2012 it has been increased by about $47 million. The first cap in 1994 was $34.6 million.
The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans are among the teams with the most cap space when free agency begins March 9.
According to Overthecap.com, here is the available cap space for each NFL team as of Wednesday (in millions).
Cleveland $102.352, San Francisco $76.97, Jacksonville $70.98, Tampa Bay $66.14, Tennessee $61.39, New England $59.67, Indianapolis $53.24, Chicago $51.37, Oakland $42.93, Denver $42.06, Cincinnati $42.0, Miami $41.05, Green Bay $40.0, Minnesota $37.95, Carolina $36.59, L.A. Rams $36.39, Washington $34.48, Detroit $31.8, New Orleans $27.35, N.Y. Jets $26.28, Seattle $25.93, Pittsburgh $23.62, Houston $23.4, Buffalo $18.19, Atlanta $17.87, Arizona $17.07, Baltimore $13.81, N.Y. Giants $13.28, Kansas City $9.59, Philadelphia $8.69, L.A. Chargers $5.19, Dallas $3.31.
PALM BEACH GARDEN – A pair of PGA Tour rookies, Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan, each opened with 6-under-par 64s to share the first-round lead at the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Bryan, who was in the mix last week at the Genesis Open before finishing tied for fourth, kept up the momentum Thursday morning on the Champion Course at PGA National.
“Just kind of picking up where I left off,” Bryan said. “I was able to get the ball in the fairway with some of the tougher driving holes out there, and set up a couple good birdie opportunities. … The putter was hot and (I was) able to roll a few in.”
Heading into the Honda Classic, Bryan was ranked 96th in the world and Gribble was 197th.
The 26-year-old Bryan has three career wins on the Web.com Tour but has yet to taste victory on the PGA Tour.
Gribble missed the cut in his previous four PGA Tour events after coming in 14th place at the SBS Tournament of Champions. Gribble won the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Miss., last October, taking home $756,000 for the title.
On Thursday, Gribble hit all 18 greens in regulation, and according to Justin Ray of the Golf Channel, he is the first player in Honda Classic history to do so.
Sitting in second place at 65 after the first round are India’s Anirban Lahiri and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
Kaymer is playing in his first PGA Tour event since October. He hit 15 of 18 greens and had only one hiccup when he bogeyed the 14th hole.
Seven players — Ben Crane, Sean O’Hair, Ricky Fowler, Ryan Palmer, Canada’s Graham DeLaet, Taiwan’s C.T. Pan and England’s Ian Poulter — share fifth place at 66.
Adam Scott of Australia is defending champion. He is tied for 24th at 68. He salvaged an up-and-down round by birdieing two of his final four holes.
Scott Stallings hit the shot of the day, scoring a hole-in-one on No. 15 with an 8-iron shot from 184 yards. Up until that shot, Stallings was 1 over through 14 holes, but the ace sparked him to finish the round with eagle, birdie, par, birdie to finish at 67, three shots back.
A number of top players, including Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, are sitting out the Honda Classic
Ten golfers to watch during this weekend’s PGA Tour event:
1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — After winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in his previous start for his 30th victory as a pro, Garcia made the long flight to the West Coast of the United States for the Genesis Open. He might have felt the effects of jet lag and the numerous weather delays and postponements at Riviera, because although he looked sharp in a second-round 4-under-par 67, he was right around par the rest of the week and finished in a tie for 49th. Garcia should be a little more ready this week at PGA National, where he has played six times previously. He tied for eighth in 2014, and last year he opened with a 65 and was tied for the lead with Adam Scott heading into the final round. However, the Spaniard fell back with two late bogeys before sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole to finish one shot behind Scott after a 71.
2. Adam Scott, United States — The Aussie captured the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship to start the Florida swing last year and reached 29 victories in his career, including 13 on the PGA Tour, but he hasn’t won anywhere since. This will be his fifth start at PGA National, and last year he moved in a tie for the lead with Garcia by playing the middle rounds in 65-66 before closing with a 70 to hold off the Spaniard by one stroke. He took the lead for good with a birdie on the 12th hole, where he hit his approach shot from 149 yards to within two feet. Scott has finished in the top 10 only seven times in the last year, including four in a row during the FedExCup playoffs late last season, and a tie for ninth earlier this month in the Singapore Open. In his first event on the PGA Tour this season, he posted a tie for 11th last week in the Genesis Open.
3. Rickie Fowler, United States — Even though he grew up in California, Fowler skipped the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Genesis Open after he tied for fourth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, finishing two strokes behind winner Hideki Matsuyama of Japan after he closed with a 65. He has played three times in the 2016-17 season, also tying for sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China during the early portion of the schedule before he missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open in his first event of the new year on the PGA Tour. Fowler will tee it up in the Honda Classic for the eighth time, and last year he posted his best result at PGA National when he took the lead by starting with 66-66, but played the weekend in 74-71 and slid to a tie for sixth. His only other top-10 result on the Champion Course was a tie for seventh in 2012, when he finished with 67-66.
4. Justin Thomas, United States — Having cooled off a bit after sweeping through Hawaii with victories on consecutive weeks in the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii, Thomas will try to get back on track this week when he makes his third start in the Honda Classic. The 23-year old missed the cut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and tied for 39th in the Genesis Open in his last two starts, but with three victories and five top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, he is second in the FedExCup rankings and has risen to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Thomas shot 71-76 — 147 to miss the cut by three strokes in his first appearance at PGA National two years ago, but took a liking to the Champion Course last year by posting four scores in the 60s on his way to a tie for third, four strokes behind winner Adam Scott.
5. Russell Knox, Scotland — The Scot, who has claimed his first two victories on the PGA Tour in the last two years, has quietly gotten off to another good start this season and don’t be surprised to see him on the leaderboard again this week in the Honda Classic. Knox was in the hunt at PGA National in 2014 and 2015 before slipping last year to a tie for 26th. Three years ago, he jumped into contention by shooting 63-68 in the middle rounds and closed with a 71 before losing when Russell Henley took the title with a birdie on the first playoff hole. The following year, he was in the top 10 all the way to the finish, shooting 68 in the final round to tie for third, one shot out of the playoff in which Padraig Harrington of Ireland beat Daniel Berger. Knox has three top-10 results and five in the top 25 this season, and ranks 16th in the FedEx Cup standings.
6. Thomas Pieters, Belgium — By tying for second in the Genesis Open last week, closing with an 8-under-par 63 at Riviera, Pieters earned the equivalent of nearly half the FedExCup points he needs to wrap up special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. That would virtually ensure his playing privileges on the circuit for 2018, although he said he will also continue playing the European Tour, on which he has claimed three victories in the last two years. The 25-year-old Pieters posted a 3-1 record including a singles victory over J.B. Holmes as a Captain’s Pick in the Ryder Cup last year at Hazeltine and also finished fourth in the Olympics. He will make his first start in the Honda Classic this week. Pieters started the year by missing the cut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and tying for 23rd in the Dubai Desert Classic, and says he plays to play in the U.S. until May before returning to the Euro Tour.
7. Brandan Steele, United States — With three finishes in the top 10 this season, including his second PGA Tour victory in the Safeway Open, Steele enters the Honda Classic at No. 5 in the FedExCup standings. He is playing at PGA National for the seventh consecutive year and after failing to crack the top 30 in his first four attempts, he finally started to get the hang of the Champion Course the last two years. Steele opened with 66-69 two years ago and was near the lead but cooled a bit to 71-72 and tied for 11th. Last year, he shot 68 in the second and last rounds to wind up in a tie for 14th. After starting this year with four consecutive finishes in the top 20, including ties for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii, he will be looking to bounce back after tying for 39th last week in the Genesis Open.
8. Luke Donald, England — It’s been a long road for the former No. 1 player in the world, and he’s not all the way back yet, but Donald posted solid finishes with a tie for 23rd in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and a tie for 17th in the Genesis Open in the last two stops on the West Coast Swing. He seemed very close last year when he tied for second in the RBC Heritage and finished solo second in the Wyndham Championship. This will be Donald’s 10th appearance in the Honda Classic, and he claimed one of his five PGA Tour titles in 2006 at Mirasol a year before the event moved to PGA National, finishing 67-68-69 to beat Geoff Ogilvy by two strokes. Two years later, he opened with 66 and held the lead after a third-round 66, but close with a 71 and finished one stroke behind winner Ernie Els, before tying for eighth in 2014 and tying for seventh a year later.
9. Daniel Berger, United States — The 2015 Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour is coming off a tie for seventh in the Waste Management Phoenix Open in his last start and he also tied for second in the WGC-HSBC Champions early in the wrap-around season, so he arrives in Florida at No. 15 in the FedEx Cup point standings. Berger, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory last year in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, will tee it up this week for the third time in the Honda Classic and he came close to winning the tournament two years ago. He closed with a 6-under-par 64 to chase down Padraig Harrington, but lost out on the second hole of a playoff when he hit into the water to make a double bogey while the Irishman won with a par. Then Berger shot 73-72 — 145 to miss the cut by two strokes last year at PGA National.
10. Padraig Harrington, Ireland — The 45-year-old Harrington, a three-time major champion, has been wildly inconsistent in recent years, but showed he has something left when he captured the Portugal Masters late last year for his 31st pro victory. He missed the cut in his first three events this season on the PGA Tour before tying 39th last week in the Genesis Open after opening with a 4-under-par 67. Paddy claimed two of his six PGA Tour victories in the Honda Classic, both in playoffs, and is playing in the tournament for the ninth time. In 2005, Harrington closed with a 9-under-par 63, then beat Vijay Singh and Joe Ogilvie with a par on the second extra hole. Two years ago, he came from four shots behind on the back nine, forcing a playoff with Daniel Berger by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole of a 70 and winning with a par on the second extra hole when Berger hit into the water
VILLANOVA, Penn – (Staff Report from Official News Release) – It was a wild Wednesday in the BIG EAST.
Butler went to The Pavilion and ended Villanova’s 48-game winning streak on campus by snatching a 74-66 victory. The No. 22/22 Bulldogs (22-6, 11-5) were led by Kelan Martin, who posted 22 points and eight rebounds. Kamar Baldwin added 15 points. Jalen Brunson scored 24 points and Josh Hart had 18 for the No. 2/2 Wildcats (26-3, 13-3). Butler also beat Villanova 66-58 on Jan. 4.
Providence and DePaul picked up road wins by overcoming double-figure deficits. The Friars (17-11, 7-8) trailed 39-26 at Creighton before rallying to grab a 68-66 victory when Kyron Cartwright nailed a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left. Cartwright finished with 13 points, 10 assists and only one turnover. Rodney Bullock had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Marcus Foster led the Bluejays (22-6, 9-6) with 18 points.
DePaul was down 27-13 at Georgetown before putting together a 30-9 run that put the Blue Demons in position for a win. Billy Garrett Jr.’s two free throws with 0.2 seconds left gave DePaul (9-19, 2-13) a 67-65 victory. Garrett Jr. finished with 15 points and reserve R.J. Curington added a season-high 14 points. Jessie Govan led the Hoyas (14-14, 5-10) with 18 points.
Xavier got Trevon Bluiett back in the lineup after a two-game absence, but could not get a win at Seton Hall. Bluiett finished with 14 points in 38 minutes. The Pirates’ Angel Delgado led all players with 25 points and 13 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the year in a 71-64 win against the Musketeers (18-10, 8-7). Desi Rodriguez helped Seton Hall (17-10, 7-8) with 22 points. J.P. Macura led Xavier with 22 points.
BIG EAST play continues on Saturday with a four-game slate: Creighton at Villanova, Georgetown at St. John’s, Seton Hall at DePaul and Marquette at Providence.
Where: The Pavilion, Villanova, Penn
VILLANOVA, Penn – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Butler’s formula for sweeping Villanova and ending its 48-game home winning streak was simple.”Our guys got in a rhythm and made some open shots,” said Butler coach Chris Holtmann after a stunning 74-66 victory Wednesday night at The Pavilion.
Kelan Martin had 22 points and eight rebounds, Kamar Baldwin added 15 and No. 22 Butler upset second-ranked Villanova. Avery Woodson contributed 13 points for the Bulldogs (22-6, 11-5 Big East). Andrew Chrabascz also had a terrific all-around game with four points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Butler shot 27 of 53 (50.9 percent) and knocked down 7 of 13 from beyond the arc in the second half for a rare sweep against the defending national champions.
“I thought our guys played loose and free,” Holtmann said. “We were able to make shots.”
The victory also temporarily halted the Wildcats’ chance of clinching a fourth consecutive Big East championship, at least temporarily. Butler won its third game in a row and also was victorious for the first time in four career attempts at The Pavilion.
“I came to Butler for games like this,” said Woodson, a senior who transferred from Memphis. “I had a special vibe this morning when I woke up.”
Jalen Brunson led Villanova (26-3, 13-3) with 24 points while Josh Hart scored 18. Villanova played without senior forward Darryl Reynolds, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a rib injury. Senior sharpshooter Kris Jenkins was held to eight points on 1-of-8 from the field. The senior class of Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds had never lost in this arena.
“Right now, this stings,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and go to work.”
The Wildcats went with a six-man rotation for the most part with deep reserve Dylan Painter playing sparingly.
Villanova had its seven-game winning streak snapped and dropped a game in The Pavilion for the first time since a three-point loss to Providence on Feb. 3, 2013.
“When you lose, it’s a tough pill to swallow no matter what,” Hart said. “It always stings a little bit. It’s over now. All we can do now is learn from it.”
Villanova pulled ahead 46-39 on a layup by Mikal Bridges with 12:08 remaining.
The Bulldogs battled back in a large way to take a 51-49 advantage on a layup by Savage with 7:14 left. On their next possession, Chrabascz hit a short bank shot for a 53-49 lead.
After Donte DiVincenzo missed a layup, Nate Fowler’s basket then extended the lead to six and Martin followed with a layup for a 57-49 advantage. Martin would hit a long 3-pointer to cap an amazing 18-0 run for a 60-49 lead.
It was enough to propel Butler to the stunning road win despite a late flurry from the Wildcats to make it close.
“It’s a significant regular-season win for our program to beat a top two team on the road,” Holtmann said.
Villanova started slow, missed its first six shots and trailed 8-0. Even after misfiring on 11 of their first 13 shots, the Wildcats only fell behind, 11-7. As it has all season, Villanova played strong defense and managed to tie the game at 24 on a putback by DiVincenzo. Brunson’s driving layup in the waning seconds actually gave the Wildcats a 29-28 lead heading into the locker room. Brunson led all scorers with 14 points while Baldwin paced Butler with 11. Villanova led at halftime even without Jenkins or Bridges scoring and 10 costly turnovers.
NOTES: Butler had never defeated Villanova until this season. … The Wildcats can still capture the Big East title with a win over Creighton on Saturday at The Pavilion. … Butler will remain on the road with another difficult matchup Sunday at Xavier. … The Bulldogs improved to 6-2 against ranked teams this season.
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
J.P. Macura scored 22 points and Trevon Bluiett added 14 as the Musketeers (18-10, 8-7) dropped their fourth straight.
Macura hit a 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining in the first half to give Xavier a 31-29 lead. A Delgado free throw with 46 seconds left cut the Musketeers’ halftime edge to 31-30.
Xavier extended the lead to 38-32 early in the second half, but Seton Hall replied with an 11-3 run for a 43-41 lead after a Delgado layup with 14:35 showing.
The Pirates led 53-47 with under 10 minutes to play before the Musketeers crept back to within 55-53 after a pair of Bluiett free throws with 7:26 showing.
That was a close as Xavier got, as Seton Hall scored 10 unanswered points and led 63-53 with 3:17 to play. The Musketeers trimmed the margin to seven in the final minute.
NOTES: Xavier dropped out of this week’s Top 25 after being ranked for 14 consecutive weeks. … Musketeers G Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer, returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. The ailment snapped his streak of 72 consecutive starts. … The Musketeers resume Big East play on Saturday at DePaul. … Seton Hall nabbed two Big East honors this week as G Khadeen Carrington was named player of the week after averaging 31.5 points in two games while F Angel Delgado had two double-doubles to average 18 points and 14.5 rebounds to land on the honor roll. … The Pirates are back in action on Sunday at home against No. 24 Butler.
Where: Honda Center, Anaheim
ANAHEIM – A change behind the bench has dramatically reversed the fortunes of the Boston Bruins and not even the NHL’s dreaded bye week could slow the momentum. The resurgent Bruins look to remain perfect under interim coach Bruce Cassidy when they continue their four-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night.
Boston extended its winning streak to four with a 2-1 overtime victory at Pacific Division-leading San Jose on Sunday and in the process became only the fourth team out of 20 to earn a win coming out of a bye. “Obviously it’s been well documented that teams coming out of the break haven’t been winning, so it was good to get this one,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said. While Boston is on a roll, the Ducks are going in the other direction, dropping to 3-5-1 in February following a 3-2 setback at lowly Arizona on Monday. Anaheim has dominated the series against the Bruins with six consecutive victories, including a 4-3 victory at Boston on Dec. 15.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, NESN (Boston), Prime Ticket (Anaheim)
ABOUT THE BRUINS (30-23-6): Brad Marchand delivered in overtime against the Sharks to continue a hot streak that has seen him register eight goals and six assists over the past nine games. The trio of Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes has also become an offensive force under Cassidy, combining for nine points over the past three games. Tuukka Rask has stopped 54 of 55 shots in his last two games, but he is 1-4-1 with a 3.48 goals-against average versus Anaheim.
ABOUT THE DUCKS (31-20-10): Anaheim has been limited to two goals or fewer seven times in nine games and has scored five goals in the past four contests. A newly reconfigured line of captain Ryan Getzlaf centering Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase has had a hand in all three goals over the past two games, with Getzlaf setting up the lone tally against Los Angeles before scoring twice in Arizona. Kase had four shots on goal versus the Kings, a number matched by Ritchie against the Coyotes.
1. Ducks G John Gibson, who had two shutouts in his last three starts, has never faced Boston.
2. Krug has one goal and five assists during a five-game point streak.
3. Ducks F Antoine Vermette’s will have a hearing Thursday to appeal his 10-game suspension for slashing a linesman.