National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Woods dealing with end of dominant days

Yes, I was surprised when Tiger Woods made his “Very similar to what Phil does,” comments about Rory McIlroy over the weekend at the British Open. I was not at all surprised that Woods feels that McIlroy’s game so far might resemble Phil Mickelson’s more than his own. That’s a fair observation. I was not surprised by the points he made about McIlroy’s inconsistency – the points seemed pretty sensible.

No, the shocking part was this: Tiger Woods said it.

In case you missed it, Woods was asked a little bit about Rory McIlroy as he blitzed the field and won the British Open. McIlroy became the third-youngest player to win three out of the four grand slam events behind Jack Nicklaus and, of course, Woods. There was a lot of history in the air.

The actual question to Woods was: “What is it like to see Rory dominate in a way that only you have in a major like this?” The question was, as we say in the business, a bit loaded. I suspect it was just a kinder way of asking, “How does it feel to see, as the old king of golf, the new king?”

Woods, I suspect, knew exactly what was being asked.

And his answer was plain: “Well, as you can see, the way he plays is pretty aggressively. When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It’s one or the other. If you look at his results, he’s kind of that way. Very similar to what Phil does. He has his hot weeks, and he has his weeks where he's off. And that’s just the nature of how he plays the game – it’s no right way or wrong way.”

The answer was, as we say in the business, a bit loaded. It sure seems like what Woods was saying was: Look, Rory can get hot. Good for him. But don’t go comparing him to me now. My game at its best was pure consistency. I won four major championships in a row. I won nine majors out of 30. His game is like Mickelson’s – brilliant some weeks, dreadful other weeks. That’s all well and good for him. But that’s NOT how I played golf.

Like I say, it was a perfectly fair point. And it was refreshingly honest from a guy who doesn’t often say what’s on his mind. And it was also stunning because Tiger Woods in his prime NEVER talked honestly about other golfers. Not in public. It seems to me this answer says a little bit about Rory McIlroy. And it says a lot about Tiger Woods.

Before we get into all that, let’s break down Rory and Tiger a little bit.

When Woods was 21 years old, he won the Masters with a record score.

When McIlroy was 22 years old, he won the U.S. Open with a record score.

OK, similar. What happened next? Woods made the cut at his next 10 major championships but he did not win any of them. He was in the process of rebuilding his swing so that it could take him to the next level, which is one of the more remarkable decisions in sports history. At a time when almost every golfer would have just let it ride – after all, Woods was hitting it longer than anyone, higher than anyone, and he putted better than anyone – he decided that he needed to be more consistent if he wanted to achieve his huge goals. Woods did not intend to win three major championships or five or even eight like Tom Watson did. No, he wanted 19. He wanted Jack.

In his 11th grand slam after the record-setting Masters, Woods finally won the PGA Championship. After that he contended at Augusta, then pulled off one of the most extraordinary feats in golf history by winning four grand slams in a row.

Now, what about McIlroy? After the U.S. Open, he was basically dreadful in his next five grand slams. He missed one cut and did not finish better than 25th in any of them. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he ran away with the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by eight shots. He followed that up with six more rather forgettable major tournaments (two back-ended top 10 finishes and one missed cut included) and then this past week he routed the field wire-to-wire to win the British Open.

So, on the one hand, Woods is right: McIlroy has been all over the place.

On the other hand, McIlroy has played 13 major championship since his breakthrough at the U.S. Open, and he won two of them. Woods, in the 13 major championships after his Masters breakthrough, won, yes, two of them. So, in the end, didn’t they really accomplish the same thing?

Well, not exactly the same. What’s different is those tournaments they did not win. Woods was so much more present – he had six Top 10 finishes aside from his victories and McIlroy had two. Woods did not come close to missing a cut, and McIlroy missed two. This is the consistency piece that Woods is talking about. Even before he raised his game to previously unseen heights, Woods proved that he was going to be there time and again, that was the defining essence of his golf. He did not HAVE bad weeks.

McIlroy’s game, like Woods said, is so much mercurial. There’s absolutely no way to know what will happen at the PGA Championship coming up. McIlroy might win by six shots. And he might miss the cut. Woods, not surprisingly, does not have much use for that kind of game.

But that’s the easy part of all this – we know that McIlroy has not figured out how to harness his great talent tournament after tournament. Maybe he will become like Mickelson – not that’s there’s anything wrong with having a Hall of Fame career like Phil’s. But that’s also not a fair comparison, and Woods knows it. Mickelson did not win his first major championship until he was 34, and that age is still almost a decade away for McIlroy. Mickelson did not win the third leg of the grand slam until he was 43. McIlroy has more major championships at 25 than Tom Watson did, than Arnold Palmer did, more than Gary Player and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead combined. His inconsistency may be a lasting part of his game. Then again, it might not. He might just be figuring things out. I’d bet on his future.

Meanwhile, there’s Tiger Woods, closing fast on his 39th birthday, coming off his worst weekend finish ever at a major. He barely made the cut and then played dreadfully over the weekend; 64-year-old Tom Watson not only beat him but beat him by five shots. Of course, this was just Woods’ second tournament back after a three-month layoff to recover from a pretty serious back injury. There were a few promising signs (like his solid first round) and so there are reasons to not put too much stock into the performance. Still, in golf, the scoreboard does not equivocate: Woods: 69th place.

And his subtle jab at McIlroy (and his longtime nemesis Mickelson) does say something. According to those who have found themselves close to Woods, his disdain for Mickelson’s sporadic game and boisterous personality has always been there. But he would never have said anything about it publicly … because to say something publicly would be acknowledge that he actually THOUGHT about Phil Mickelson. And this was something Tiger Woods could not acknowledge.

See, Tiger Woods at his peak was unreachable. He was untouchable. His only rival was himself. Whatever he did in the first or second round of a major, he always said: “I feel like I’m in good position.” No matter how many shots back he was, he always just wanted to “play my game.” The only thing that mattered to Woods about other golfers was that if you put enough pressure on them, they would eventually crack.

Of course, he did not say that. He did not have to say that or anything else. He knew. They knew. And, as the old line goes, he knew they knew. And they knew he knew they knew.

I’m convinced the young Tiger Woods would have brushed off the Rory McIlroy question. He would have said something like, “He’s a great young player and he’s having a great week,” and left it at that. He would not have wanted to make any points about McIlroy’s inconsistency. He certainly would not have felt it necessary to drudge up Phil Mickelson’s inconsistency.

So why did he do it? Two thoughts come to mine. One thought is simply that Woods, at age 38, is beginning to embrace his role as the face of golf. Arnold Palmer … Gary Player … Jack Nicklaus … Tom Watson … Nick Faldo … these guys were asked a million questions about every golf thing you could imagine. These included questions about the promise of every young player who came along and questions about every rival who was trying to take their place at the top of the world. Woods never cared much for those questions. More than that, he never seemed they were appropriate.

This time, though, he answered the question. He gave an honest assessment of McIlroy’s erratic game. He was careful to say he wasn’t judging (“it’s no right way or wrong way”) but he was willing to say what he thought needed to be said: When McIlroy’s good, he’s good; but that’s not everything.

The second thought is that Woods is beginning to understand what has become impossible to ignore: He’s not going to ever dominate the golf world again. He will win again, he will probably win a major again, but the Tiger Woods who separated himself from the world, who played in his own stratosphere, that golfer is not coming back. The injuries, the scars, the years will not let him come back.

Rory McIlroy is a better golfer than Tiger Woods now. He hits the ball longer, he hits it higher, he hits it straighter. Woods has more experience and a magical short game, but the experience gap shrinks and the best pressure putting stroke since Nicklaus begins to shake slightly. Woods’ used to intimidate golfers who believed him to be unwavering … but they’ve seen waver. Woods used to take leads into Sundays and slam the door … but the Sunday leads are tougher to build.

And all these things, I imagine, are difficult for a one-of-a-kind athlete to process. It has been more than six years since Tiger Woods won a major championship. Rory McIlroy was not there in 2008 when Woods won the U.S. Open on one leg. McIlroy was a 19-year-old kid just starting as a professional. He has lived a lot of life in those six years. And when someone asked Woods about Rory McIlroy dominating the way he dominated, Woods offered a stunningly personal response. Hey, Rory’s inconsistent. Hey Rory’s like Phil. I wasn’t like that.

Here’s what I think he was saying: Don’t write me off yet.

Witness: Sterling needs Clippers sale to pay debts

LOS ANGELES (AP) The chief financial officer of Donald Sterling's properties said Monday that the billionaire may be forced to sell a large portion of his real estate empire to cover $500 million in loans if he persists in refusing to sell the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

Darren Schield, who oversees the finances of The Sterling Family Trust, testified Monday that three banks are ready to recall their loans to Sterling because of his decision to dissolve the trust. His move was designed to rescind his signed agreement for the sale of the Clippers, a team he bought for $12 million.

Schield said if Sterling has to dump $500 million worth of apartment buildings he could destabilize the Los Angeles real estate market.

Sterling attorney Maxwell Blecher suggested that Sterling could take the company public in order to raise funds.

But Shelly Sterling's lawyer, Pierce O'Donnell asked if it would be easy to go public "with Donald Sterling's reputation."

Schield responded: "There's huge reputation issues. I don't know if anyone would want to go into partnership with him."

The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life for making racist statements after the release of recorded conversations. Sterling has denied he is a racist from the witness stand.

Schield testified in the probate trial that if Sterling's loans go into default and he needs to refinance, banks would be reluctant to give him that much money at the low rate he has now.

"I know the bank looks at this as a higher credit risk with all this going on," he said. "The rate would go up considerably."

Sterling, the volatile owner of the team, agreed to the sale but then dissolved the family trust in an effort to stop it.

Schield, testifying at the trial that will decide the future of a $2 billion deal to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said he warned Sterling not to revoke the trust last month.

"I told him a revocation of the trust would be a breach of the loan covenants and would result in defaults," Schield said.

He said he also discussed it with Sterling's lawyer, Bobby Samini.

"I told him this revocation would open up a Pandora's box and trigger defaults," Schield said.

"Does the company have $500 million to pay off the loans?" asked O'Donnell.

"We do not," Schield answered.

Asked what the recourse would be, he said, "We would have to start selling real estate. If we have to sell $500 million in apartment buildings, it would have an impact on the Los Angeles real estate market. "

Donald Sterling's lawyers who had said they planned to call six witnesses Monday produced none of them and court was recessed early.

Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's wife who had been listed as a witness, was in court but was not called to the stand. She was scheduled to return Tuesday.

Her lawyers said their witnesses on Tuesday will include Richard Parsons, CEO of the Clippers. Outside court, Ballmer's lawyer, Adam Streisand, said he believes the judge will rule in favor of Shelly Sterling.

"Do I think the trust will be reinstated after that?" he said. "You bet it will."

If the sale doesn't go through by Sept. 15, the NBA can seize the team and sell it at auction, Streisand said.

Donald Sterling has vowed he'll never sell the team. He claims he is the victim of illegally recorded conversations that invaded his privacy.

Ryu helps Dodgers become 1st with 3 11-game winners

PITTSBURGH (AP) Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven strong innings, Adrian Gonzalez reached base five times and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Monday night.

Ryu (11-5) joined Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in making the Dodgers the first team in the majors with three 11-game winners. The left-hander allowed two runs and five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

Justin Turner had two RBIs and scored twice for the Dodgers, who snapped Pittsburgh's six-game home winning streak. Pirates starter Edinson Volquez (8-7) had won four straight starts, tying his career high.

Los Angeles played without right fielder Yasiel Puig (left hand) and shortstop Hanley Ramirez (left wrist) after both were injured when they were hit by pitches last weekend in St. Louis.

Puig and Ramirez had X-rays in Pittsburgh that came back negative Monday.

Dream coach, Laker great Cooper has tongue cancer

ATLANTA (AP) Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper has early stage tongue cancer and has taken a leave from the WNBA team.

He will have surgery this week at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta and a full recovery is expected, the Dream said Monday.

The 58-year-old coach is expected to miss about two weeks, with assistant coach Karleen Thompson filling in. Atlanta plays at Minnesota on Tuesday.

"I'm fortunate that my condition was diagnosed early, and this episode illustrates the importance of screening and early detection," Cooper said. "I know the team will be in good hands with coach Thompson at the helm during my absence, and I look forward to returning to the court soon."

Cooper is in his first season with Atlanta. His team leads the Eastern Conference with a 15-6 record. He coached the East to a 125-124 overtime victory at the WNBA All-Star game Saturday.

Cooper won five NBA titles as a shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers during the "Showtime" era from 1978-90. As a coach, he won two WNBA titles with the Los Angeles Sparks and one NBA Development League championships with Albuquerque.

After his second run with the Sparks, Cooper was hired as the women's coach at Southern California. He resigned in March following an 11-20 season, his first losing mark in four seasons.

Big 12 commish issues dire warning about pending change

DALLAS (AP) Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a dire warning Monday for anyone who likes intercollegiate athletics the way they are now.

"You're going to hate it going forward," Bowlsby said. "There's a lot of change coming."

During his opening address at Big 12 football media days, Bowlsby talked about growing financial constraints athletic programs face going forward and the "strange environment" that exists with class-action lawsuits against the NCAA and its member schools.

Bowlsby said he's doesn't think there is a real understanding of how much lawsuits - which he numbered as seven and "growing all the time" - could radically alter things.

"I think all of that in the end will cause programs to be eliminated. I think you'll see men's Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike," he said. "I think there may be tension among and between sports on campus and institutions that have different resources."

While acknowledging the outcomes are unknown, the former Stanford athletic director expressed concern about fewer opportunities for some athletes to go college in the future.

"I fear that we will get past the change and then we'll realize that all the gymnastics programs went away, or that we have agents on campus all the time negotiating playing time for student athletes," he said. "There's all kind of Armageddon scenarios you could come up with. ... You wouldn't have to be a very good fiction writer to come up with some scenarios that would be pretty scary."

A year ago, Bowlsby's opening address was part of a coordinated effort by the leaders of the power conferences - the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC - in calling for transformative changes in the governance system of the NCAA.

The NCAA board of directors is set to vote Aug. 7 on a proposal to give schools in the highest-profile conferences more influence over college rules. The proposal also would give athletic directors and athletes bigger roles in the legislative process, and give the power conferences autonomy to make their own bylaws.

That vote will come a day after the Big 12 sponsors in New York the first in a scheduled series of forums on the state of college athletics.

When addressing potential unionization of football and basketball players, Bowlsby said "student-athletes are not employees. They should never be employees. It's not an employee/employer relationship."

Bowlsby also said the NCAA is "headed down a path of significant financial difficulty" with revenues from television packages going up about 2 1/2 percent a year while expenses are increasing more than 4 percent annually.

That includes schools paying $1 million or more per year under new rules to start providing unlimited food and nutrition to student-athletes. Plus, future scholarships could provide more money to cover the full cost of attendance.

"I think that's great. I think there are ways that it costs more than room, board, books, tuition, and fees to go to school," Bowlsby said. " But even in an environment where we have some additional revenue coming in from television resources, primarily, it is going to be very difficult for many institutions to fund that.

"In the end, it's a somewhat zero-sum game. There's only so much money out there. I don't think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts," he said. "And I think over a period of time what we'll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they're going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men's and women's basketball programs strong."

Bowlsby also addressed the NCAA enforcement program, which he said "is broken" considering no hearings before the infractions committee in almost a year even though he doesn't believe cheating is rampant.

"I think it's not an understatement to say cheating pays presently," he said "If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions. ... They're in a battle with a BB gun in their hand. They're fight howitzers."

Who is the face of baseball once Derek Jeter retires?

Before we ask who, if anyone, can replace Derek Jeter as the face of baseball, there’s another question to ask: Why has Derek Jeter been the face of baseball? Why did he, more than anyone else, become the game’s singular player, the player people talked about most, the player people argued about most, the player non-baseball fans knew?

See, the face of baseball is something of an honorary title. I like to think of this way: Imagine a movie that is not at all about baseball. Let’s say it’s about some sort of Marvel superhero or about Scarlett Johansson having absurd powers or … no, those are pretty much the only two kinds of movies that come out now. OK, in this movie there is a character (probably played by John Krasinski) who is a baseball fan. He happens to mention how much he likes one baseball player.

That player he mentions? He is the face of baseball.

For years now, Derek Jeter would be the player mentioned. Why Jeter? Let’s look at the dozen or so best players since 1990 as ranked by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

1) Barry Bonds, 139.0
2) Alex Rodriguez, 116.0
3) Albert Pujols, 95.5
4) Chipper Jones, 85.0
5) Ken Griffey, 80.3
6) Jeff Bagwell, 79.6
7) Adrian Beltre, 74.3
8) Frank Thomas, 73.7
9) Jim Thome, 72.9
10) Larry Walker, 72.7
11) Derek Jeter, 72.1
12) Scott Rolen, 70.0

Now, it’s true that many people do not like WAR as a tool to measure players -- it’s not unfair to argue that Beltre gets too much credit for defense or that Jeter gets too little, and some would that Bonds and A-Rod are frauds who should not even count on a list like this -- but the point remains. Jeter was not the best player in baseball. In many years, he was not even the best player on his own team. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano not to mention pitchers like CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera all had years when they were, by any statistical measure, every bit as valuable as Jeter.

So why Jeter? Well, he was the shortstop and, after a while, the captain of America’s most undeniable team. People love and loathe the New York Yankees, and Jeter was the essence of pinstripes. The true Yankee. He was the guy hitting at the top of the order, the guy making that jump throw at shortstop, the guy who so often did something memorable like dive into the stands after making a dazzling catch or flip that ball home to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate or hit the winning home run as midnight rang in November.

Jeter had something else too, I think: He played a sort of baseball that felt personal. That’s a hard thing to quantify –-- but when you watched Derek Jeter play you FELT something. Maybe you felt that Derek Jeter was overrated. But even that is something. He was a fantastic player in measurable ways -- he played every day, he cracked 200 hits, he hit double-digit homers, he stole 20 or so bases, he scored 100 runs -- but it was always the things you could not measure that separated him. His leadership. His alertness. His competitive nature. His professional blandness.

These things inspired people to write and say the most over-the-top things about him -- Jeteration, I began to call it -- and it also inspired a backlash from people who grew tired of him being credited for everything good to happen in the world since the polio vaccine. His defense at shortstop was one of the battlegrounds. The defensive numbers suggested he was a below-average defender, and often well below average. But the eyes saw it differently, and Jeter won five Gold Gloves.

These were always things about Jeter to talk about, things to celebrate, things to complain about. He represented big things to people, things like “the right way to the play the game” or “the overhyping of the Yankees” or simply “winning.” No matter how boring Jeter tried to be (and he tried very hard to be boring) he was not. He was this good looking bachelor in New York who dated supermodels and played for a team that always won. He was adored by teammates and respected throughout the game. He played shortstop every day for the New York Yankees, who always made the playoffs and five times in his career won the World Series. How could he not be the face of baseball?

And who can replace all those things? Nobody, I suspect. But I have thought of 10 players who, in their own way, have a chance of being the next face of baseball, the guy Krasinski mentions in the movie:

1. Mike Trout, Angels: Well, it seems everyone is penciling in Trout as the next face of baseball, and that makes sense. Trout is the best player in the game. More than that, he’s the most amazing player we’ve seen since ... I’ll say the young Barry Bonds. Trout does everything -- hit, slug, run, throw, field, get on base -- and he’s a joy to watch.

But face of baseball is a bit more complicated than that -- and I’m not sure Trout inspires the same level of emotion in people that Jeter did. He IS doing Subway commercials, and he just won the All-Star Game MVP, and he plays in the shadow of Disneyland, so there are real possibilities there. But I’m not sure what arguments he sparks (other than arguments about him consistently losing MVP awards to Miguel Cabrera). He’s just ... great. He plays for a not-especially-interesting team on the West Coast ... I’m not entirely sure that people will find him consistently fascinating, that people will develop the same strong feelings about him that they felt about Jeter ... and Ken Griffey Jr. ... and Don Mattingly ... and Pete Rose ... and Roberto Clemente ... and Mickey Mantle ... and so many of the other players who became the face of the game. Time will tell.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: Well, he’s my personal choice. He’s a few years older, but he’s become something like the National League’s Mike Trout. He too does everything well. And, while some may disagree, I think he’s just a little bit more charismatic than Trout.

I think the question is: Can a player in Pittsburgh become the face of baseball? I think the answer is yes, IF the Pirates win. So much of Jeter’s exposure came in Octobers. If the Pirates would become a consistent playoff contender, I think McCutchen could become the face of baseball because he has the game, the verve, and he’s interesting.

3. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: I’ve long thought that MLB does not celebrate its worldliness as much as it could. During the All-Star Game, there was a point when Texas’ Yu Darvish was pitching, when Kansas City’s Salvador Perez was catching and when Puig was hitting. That’s a Japanese pitcher throwing to a Venezuelan catcher against a Cuban hitter. That’s baseball now -- 68 years ago, it was lily white, strictly national, and as racist as any sports institution. Now, more than a quarter of the players in the game were born in 16 other countries.

Puig has come to represent the changing game. He’s easy to like, easy to dislike, he does amazing things, he does ridiculous things. He’s a player the eye naturally follows. He also plays in Los Angeles for a Dodgers team that should win a lot.

4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: He’s the best hitter in the game, but he’s 31 and has been in the majors for 12 seasons and has not really become a breakout star even after winning the triple crown.

5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: It’s not easy for a pitcher to become the face of baseball but it has happened -- especially in times when pitching dominated such as the 1960s and early '70s. In that time, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver were three of the biggest figures in sports.

Well, more and more, pitching is dominating the game. And Kershaw’s ultra-dominance (for example, his absurd 134-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and the fact that he’s a fantastic lefty pitching on the same mound that Koufax used (only quite a bit lower) make him a viable face of baseball candidate.

6. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The most powerful force in the game ... he hits the longest home runs, and he hits them with extraordinary ease. He’s just so commanding as a hitter. With Stanton, a lot depends where he ends up playing. The next face of baseball probably will not play for the Miami Marlins.

7. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: I’m throwing him in here because he’s a lot like Jeter. He’s a middle infielder that sparks an instant reaction from people. Also much of his value is considered to be beneath the surface and beyond his solid statistics. He’s an excellent defensive second baseman, a lifetime .300 hitter with some power and speed, and he’s a fiery player who despises losing. He also plays for the Red Sox, who have won three World Series in the last decade and, like the Yankees, are difficult to ignore.

8. Bryce Harper, Washington: This is a wild-card choice, certainly, but there’s something about Harper that makes him a real candidate. He was SO hyped as an amateur player. He was SO hyped when he came up as a rookie. He was doing national television commercials -- something that few baseball players do -- before he even established himself as a Major Leaguer. And he plays an all-out, reckless style that people cannot help but notice and talk about.

Of course, Harper has also been injured and a disappointment so far. He’s only 21-years-old though, and he’s already shown superstar talent at times. Very few young players breeze into superstardom the way Mike Trout did. If Harper develops into a superstar, I think he will be bigger in the American consciousness than Trout.

9. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee: Many despise him, right? Well, that’s part of Q Rating too. Gomez is an extraordinary player. He plays with boundless energy, hits with surprising power, chases down everything the outfield. He also plays with heightened emotion, which leads to all sorts of things -- fights, hit-by-pitches and so on. There’s a fun documentary about Dominican baseball called “Road to the Big Leagues” that has a young Carlos Gomez dancing around and talking about becoming a star. He’s really a larger-than-life figure.

10. Kris Bryant, Cubs: OK, it’s a reach -- Kris Bryant has not taken one swing in the Major Leagues -- but he has a couple of things going for him. One, he’s absolutely destroying the minor leagues; Cubs GM Theo Epstein calls Bryant a “freak” and “the most adjustable prospect we’ve ever had.” He slugged .700 in High Class A, slugged .700 in Class AA and is now slugging .700 in Class AAA. He adapts to each level instantly, like he’s a shape shifter. He could be a star quickly.

And if he spearheads a Cubs revival, as some believe he will, that will put him very much at the forefront of baseball. The Cubs' almost 70-year drought without a pennant, and their more than 100-year stretch without winning a World Series, is baseball’s biggest storyline. It’s a long way off, but Bryant is one of those players with a chance to fill the Jeter void.

Kirilenko ends engagement to NHL star Ovechkin

MOSCOW (AP) Another sports power couple's engagement is off.

Two months after golfer Rory McIlroy broke off his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Russian tennis player Maria Kirilenko says she has called off her planned wedding to three-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

The two had been together since 2011 and became engaged in December 2012.

Kirilenko says in comments distributed by the Russian Tennis Federation that there were "a lot of reasons" behind her decision.

She says "our relationship is over, but I respect Sasha (Ovechkin) as a person and as an athlete and I respectfully wish him further sporting success."

Ovechkin had faced questions from Russian media about the relationship when he did not accompany Kirilenko to Wimbledon last month.

Bourdais and Conway win in IndyCar doubleheader

TORONTO -- IndyCar ran two races in Toronto on Sunday, where rain wreaked havoc on both the schedule and driver strategy.

The series had planned to run one race Saturday and one on Sunday until rain washed out the first event. It instead began Sunday morning, roughly five hours before the start of the second race, and won by Sebastien Bourdais. He broke a 52-race losing streak dating to 2007 in claiming a dominating win on the dry street course at Exhibition Place.

But the rain returned for the second race, and IndyCar officials moved the start up 10 minutes in an attempt to run as much as possible in dry conditions. The sky eventually did open, the track became slick and drivers darted to pit road for rain tires.

When the track began to dry, Mike Conway gambled and made an early stop to remove his rain tires. A caution minutes later sent the bulk of the field to pit road to change their tires, and Conway shot up the leaderboard.

Conway was fifth on the restart, but his dry tires were far superior to the drivers still racing on rain tires, and he quickly moved through the field and into the lead. The race, which had been scheduled to run 65 laps or 80 minutes, whichever came first, then became a timed race.

A multicar accident stopped the clock for a cleanup with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining, and set up one final restart. Conway pulled away on the restart and easily held off Tony Kanaan.

It was the second win of the season for Conway, who walked away from IndyCar at the end of 2012 season because he no longer wanted to race on ovals. He was hired this year to split the seat with driver/owner Ed Carpenter, who was willing to give up his car on road and street courses.

Kanaan, third in the first race of the day, was the only IndyCar driver to finish on the podium in both events.

Will Power finished third as Chevrolet swept the podium in both races. Bourdais led points leader Helio Castroneves and Kanaan in the first race.

Bourdais, who scored his first win since returning to the U.S. in 2011, was 11th in the second race.

The rain during Race 2 caused one frightening moment when drivers began to slide on the track when the shower first started. Juan Pablo Montoya slipped off course into a tire barrier, and was hit from behind moments later by rookie Mikhail Aleshin.

The contact lifted Montoya's car off its back wheels, Aleshin slid under the car, and Montoya's car landed on top of Aleshin. Montoya's car had to be lifted by a tow truck off of Aleshin, and it dangled in the air with the Colombian still in the cockpit.

An uninjured Aleshin returned to his pit stand and showed off his helmet, which was marred by visible tire marks.

"It was not nice at all because I was sitting under the car," the Russian driver said. "It was getting so hot from (Montoya's) car, I couldn't breathe at all because the car is very hot. ... It was not a nice feeling at all."

Race 1 had its own harrowing moment. It came to an almost immediate halt when a multicar crash led to a red flag on the opening lap. After a long delay, racing resumed with Bourdais leading the field to green. He never really had to look back and led all but six of the 65 laps.

It was Bourdais' first victory since the 2007 Champ Car season finale in Mexico City, but the 32nd of his career. That broke a tie with Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti to give the Frenchman eighth place on the all-time wins list.

"I've got a big smile across my face and I can't seem to get rid of it," Bourdais said after the victory. "The whole race I was stressed out, it felt too easy, it felt like it was way too much under control, and it felt like it was going to go wrong at some point."

It was KVSH Racing's first victory since Kanaan won the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Kanaan moved to Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of last season, and Bourdais replaced him in the car.

"Hopefully, there's more of that to come," said KVSH co-owner Jimmy Vasser. "When he gets on a roll, he's unbeatable."

Rory McIlroy wins British Open for 3rd major

HOYLAKE, England -- Walking off the 18th green as the British Open champion, Rory McIlroy kept gazing at all the greats on golf's oldest trophy.

On the claret jug, his name is etched in silver below Phil Mickelson.

In the record book, he is listed behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the youngest to get three legs of the career Grand Slam.

And over four days at Royal Liverpool, he had no equal.

"I'm immensely proud of myself," McIlroy said after his two-shot victory Sunday that was never really in doubt. "To sit here, 25 years of age, and win my third major championship and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam ... yeah, I never dreamed of being at this point in my career so quickly."

He had to work a little harder than he wanted for this one.

Staked to a six-shot lead going into the final round, McIlroy turned back every challenge. He made two key birdies around the turn, and delivered a majestic drive at just the right moment to close with a 1-under 71 and complete his wire-to-wire victory.

In another major lacking tension over the final hour, what brought The Open to life was the potential of its champion.

After nearly two years of turmoil, McIlroy looked like the kid who shattered scoring records to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, and who won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by a record eight shots a year later.

Boy Wonder is back. Or maybe he's just getting started again.

McIlroy won by two shots over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler to become the first start-to-finish winner since Woods at St. Andrews in 2005. Even with one major left this year, the Northern Irishman already is looking ahead to Augusta National next April for a shot at the slam.

"I've really found my passion again for golf," McIlroy said. "Not that it ever dwindled, but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning. It's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be. And I know if I can do that, then trophies like this are within my capability."

McIlroy put an end to this major with a powerful drive down the fairway at the par-5 16th, setting up a two-putt birdie to restore his lead to three shots. He finished with two pars, tapping in for par on the 18th green.

The hard part was trying not to cry when his mother, Rosie, came onto the green with tears streaming down her face. She was not at the other two majors. Before leaving, McIlroy turned and applauded the fans in the horseshoe arena who were witness to another masterpiece.

This could have been another romp except for a shaky stretch early for McIlroy, and solid efforts from Garcia and Fowler.

Garcia pulled within two shots with four holes to play until he put his tee shot in a pot bunker just right of the 15th green. His first shot failed to get over the 4-foot sodden wall and rolled back into the sand. He made bogey, and two birdies over the final three holes were not enough. Garcia shot 66 and was runner-up in a major for the fourth time.

"I think that we gave it a good effort," Garcia said. "And there was someone a little bit better."

Fowler, playing in the final group for the second straight major, didn't do anything wrong. He just didn't do enough right to make up a six-shot deficit. Fowler played without a bogey, made three birdies on the last four holes and shot 67.

"He played awesome," Fowler said. "And it was just kind of fun to throw a few shots at him coming. To see him win was pretty cool."

It was the first time two straight majors were won wire to wire. Martin Kaymer did it last month at Pinehurst No. 2, taking the U.S. Open by eight shots.

McIlroy, who finished at 17-under 271, wasn't the only big winner Sunday. Ten years ago, his father and three of his friends each put up 100 pounds ($170) at 500-1 odds that McIlroy would win the British Open before he turned 26.

The kid made good on the best with a brand of golf that had him marked early as golf's next great player.

McIlroy moved up to No. 2 in the world, perhaps on his way to regaining the No. 1 ranking that once looked as if it would be his for years. He ended the 2012 season by winning his second major and capturing the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour.

Since then, the road has been bumpier than some of the dunes at Hoylake.

McIlroy signed a megadeal with Nike and switched out all his equipment. He changed management for the second time, leading to lawsuits that are still to be decided. And after getting engaged to Caroline Wozniacki on New Year's Eve, he abruptly broke off the engagement in May with a telephone call.

His path to victory in The Open was much smoother.

McIlroy made back-to-back bogeys on the front nine and had to save par from a pot bunker to avoid a third. But he steadied himself with a birdie on the par-3ninth, and when Garcia made a 10-foot eagle ahead of him on the 10th to cut the lead to two, McIlroy answered with a two-putt birdie.

Garcia blinked when he could least afford it, leaving a shot in the bunker at No. 15 as McIlroy watched from the tee.

Jim Furyk was among four players who tied the course record with a 65 to finish fourth. Tiger Woods was long gone. He finished his 75 as McIlroy was still on the practice range. Woods finished 69th - his worst finish over 72 holes in any major - and wound up 23 shots behind, his largest deficit ever in a major.

Jameis Winston: 'I learned from my mistakes'

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) Jameis Winston wants to look to the season ahead as the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for reigning national champion Florida State. He also knows he has to answer questions about his off-field conduct.

"I understand the spotlight," Winston said Sunday on the first of the Atlantic Coast Conference's two-day preseason kickoff event. "I understand what it is to be a leader and I'm bettering myself every single day to hold myself to that standard that everyone views me as, you know? Because I'm on a pedestal. Other players don't get the privilege of being on that pedestal."

Winston was investigated for sexual assault during last season. A prosecutor in Tallahassee, Florida, decided in December not to charge him due to a lack of evidence and gaps in the accuser's story.

Then in April, he was cited for walking out of a supermarket without paying for crab legs and crawfish.

He did not address specifics of the incident Sunday during an hour-long interview session that had about 60 reporters crowded around his table. Instead, he focused on working to become a better leader and player with the support of family, teammates and coaches.

"I have a certain standard that I've got to hold myself up to, and if I go even an inch below that standard, it's going to be chaos."

Asked if it was a difficult lesson to learn, Winston said, "It wasn't difficult at all because you learn from your mistakes in this world. I learned from my mistakes, I fixed it and I moved on into preparing for this season."

Miami running back Duke Johnson described Winston as "a kid still" and said Winston does not seem bothered by outside criticism.

"He likes to have fun, he likes to play around, and a lot of people take that out of (context) and make it bigger than what it really is," Johnson said. "But I don't believe Jameis means any harm in what he does or anything he may have done in the past."

Winston seemed at ease with the attention and prepared for the questions Sunday. He started his interview by pointing out that the ACC, not the Southeastern Conference, won last year's national championship and playfully asked reporters for a round of applause.

At times leaning back with his hands behind his head, Winston talked about improving his mechanics by holding the ball higher to shorten his throwing motion, his hope of becoming a pro in both football and baseball and how he was more focused on winning a second title than a second Heisman.

As for whether people might be hesitant to believe he has learned from his past?

"I definitely understand that ... but I know the type of person that I am," he said. "I know I have support from my teammates and I know that I was raised by a great family. So that's the least of my worries, what people think."

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Rockies SS Tulowitzki leaves game with leg cramp

PITTSBURGH (AP) Colorado Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was forced out of Saturday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates by a cramp in his left thigh.

Tulowitzki was running out a ground ball to shortstop in the top of the fourth inning when he grabbed his left leg halfway down the first base line. He was thrown out easily and gingerly made his way to the dugout before being replaced by Josh Rutledge.

The 29-year-old Tulowitzki is in the middle of a career season. He began play Saturday leading the major leagues with a .342 batting average. His 71 runs scored are also tops in the majors.

IndyCar Series in Toronto rained out

TORONTO (AP) Let's race two.

IndyCar's weekend doubleheader will be crammed into one day because Saturday's race was called because of rain.

IndyCar has scheduled two, 65-lap races for Sunday. The first one will have a rolling start at 10:30 a.m. and the second one is set for a standing start at 4:15 p.m. The order for the second race will be set by points, as of Saturday. Both races will be telecast on NBCSN.

IndyCar officials originally had decided to make Saturday's race a 90-minute or 65-lap race once it started. But with rain falling into the night, officials decided to call the race.

"Obviously, we all wanted to get the race in today, but this was the correct call," series points leader Helio Castroneves said. "We really tried to start the race, but it was clear that we were going to wreck a lot of cars. The PPG Chevy is very fast so whenever we start the race we will be fine."

Castroneves has the pole for the second race.

Will Power's car wrecked during warm-up laps. The pace car also spun before officials decided to pull the cars from the track and red flag the race.

Sebastien Bourdais won his first open-wheel pole since 2007 earlier in the day.

Bourdais' lap of 58.9479 seconds (107.179 mph) on the 1.7-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit at Exhibition Place earned him his 32nd career pole. He won his first pole since Sept. 2, 2007, at Assen, Netherlands, driving for Champ Car.

The course was affected by standing water on the backstretch.

Tony Kanaan called the conditions "completely unsafe," and Ryan Briscoe predicted "carnage" if the race went off during its scheduled green flag time.

The last IndyCar Series race to be postponed by rain was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2011. That race ran its first 15 laps on Sunday, May 1 and concluded with 40 laps on May 2. The last race to be postponed in full was at St. Petersburg on March 28, 2010. The race was run on March 29, 2010.

Will Power joins Bourdais on the front row for Sunday's race. Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Kanaan completed the top six.

Bourdais was second and third in Toronto last year, the start of six top-10 finishes over the final eight races for Dragon Racing. He has yet to make the podium in a disappointing first season driving for KVSH Racing.

"Nothing's achieved right now, but we'll take it and keep digging," he said.

Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004-07 and has 31 career victories. He is winless in 52 career IndyCar starts.

When he was handed his trophy for the runner-up finish last year in Toronto, the crystal was not properly attached to the base. He accepted it and prepared to raise it over his head, but it slipped to the ground, bounced once then shattered.

Bourdais is the 10th different pole winner in 13 races in 2014 and gave KVSH Racing its first pole since Kanaan at Las Vegas in 2011.

"We keep on displaying pace and showing up at the front, so hopefully at some point it's going to break and we're going to make it," Bourdais said.

Seattle gives Make-A-Wish recipient chance to play

SEATTLE (AP) Xander Bailey stood at midfield with Seattle star Clint Dempsey at his side Saturday, waiting for kickoff against Tottenham.

When the whistle blew, the 18-year-old Bailey - a Make-A-Wish recipient from Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia - took the pass from Dempsey, dribbled down the field and took a shot on former U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel. He was then subbed off in front of 55,349 to a massive ovation while being mobbed by Seattle teammates.

"To give him this opportunity is just fantastic. I saw the look in his eyes and you could just tell he was overwhelmed and he was so appreciative," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "It makes for a day I know he will never forget. Our guys wont' forget it either because it impacts us. We see what it means to him and being able to help in that regard and be part of that sort of situation is unique and special for us as well."

Bailey took part in training with the Sounders on Friday, and the club made sure his experience was special. Bailey walked out with the team during pregame ceremonies and was introduced as part of the starting lineup. Seattle's largest fans group - the Emerald City Supporters - created a small tifo in honor of Bailey and green cards were handed out through the stadium with Bailey's name and his No. 45.

Bailey is a native of Bluefield, West Virginia and has been playing as a midfielder for the King's Warriors PDL Reserve team. ESPN announcers said during Saturday's broadcast that Bailey suffers from cystic fibrosis.

Woods keeps going wrong direction at British Open

HOYLAKE, England (AP) Tiger Woods was the last to tee off Saturday in the British Open. He had the biggest gallery. It might have seemed like old times for Woods in the major championships except for one tiny detail.

He was starting on the 10th tee in last place. And this third round didn't get much better.

Woods began the British Open with five birdies in a six-hole stretch for a 69 that put him only three shots behind Rory McIlroy. He walked off Royal Liverpool on Saturday with another round over par, leaving him 19 shots out of the lead.

"Made a lot of mistakes," Woods said.

Woods was 5 over on the opening two holes going into the weekend. At least he was able to start with a par 5 on Saturday at No. 10, and he opened with a pair of birdies. That was about as good as it got.

He made a double bogey for the second straight day, this time at No. 2. He drove into a gorse bush on the seventh fairway and made a triple bogey for the second straight day. The damage added to a 73.

"I've made two doubles and two triples," Woods said. "But on top of that, I missed a lot of shots for opportunities for birdies, and consequently I'm 3-over par."

Woods is playing for only the second time since back surgery on March 31. He missed the cut at Congressional three weeks ago. He has not mentioned anything about pain from his back surgery, which is good news for him. And he said he was starting to get into the flow of playing tournament golf again.

"But still I've just made too many mistakes," he said. "You can't run up high scores like that and expect to contend, especially when the conditions are this benign. Most of the scores are 3-under par or better. I certainly didn't do that."

Woods was tied for 58th. Except for missing the cut five years ago at Turnberry, he has never finished out of the top 30 in the British Open.

This week doesn't seem to provide any answers about being picked for the Ryder Cup. U.S. captain Tom Watson has said he wants Woods on the team provided he is healthy and playing well. Woods at least is playing better than the 64-year-old Watson, who shot a 75 and is two shots behind Woods.

Watson had hoped to talk to Woods this week about the Ryder Cup. Watson said all he had time to say to Woods this week was, "Hello."

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CLARKE'S REBOUND: Darren Clarke has only two top 10s in the three years since he won The Open at Royal St. George's - a runner-up against a weak field in China, and a tie for eighth in the Australian PGA Championship.

He gave himself a chance for another with a 5-under 67 on Saturday, matching the best score of the day. Clarke was 11 shots out of the lead in a tie for 12th.

"I've been playing OK for quite some time," Clarke said. "Today I holed a couple of putts and managed to keep some momentum going."

Of course, he has had to adjust to a new body. Clarke has lost some 50 pounds after seeing photos of himself that he thought made him look too large.

"I'm not as fat as I was," he said. "So my timing, it took me a little bit of time to adjust to that. The ball-striking has been pretty good. I just need to knock in a few putts and get some momentum going. It feels like I've started to do that."

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WITHIN RANGE: The goal for Rory McIlroy is to win the claret jug Sunday, and he's in great shape with a six-shot lead.

A few more records also are in range.

McIlroy was at 16-under 200.

He would need a 66 to break the 72-hole record of 267 that Greg Norman set at Royal St. George's in 1993. More in range would be Tiger Woods' record for all major championships in relation to par - 19 under at St. Andrews in 2000. McIlroy would need a 68 to break that record.

McIlroy already holds the U.S. Open record for score (268) and par (16 under) at Congressional in 2011.

As for margin of victory? That's most likely out of range. Old Tom Morris won by 13 shots in 1862, when the Open was played over 36 holes. But he would have a reasonable shot at the largest margin for 72 holes at The Open. Four players hold that record - eight shots - most recently by Woods at St. Andrews in 2000.

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TEE TIMES IN THE DARK: Henrik Stenson wasn't bothered by the two-tee start as much as not knowing when he was playing.

Stenson was among several players who were trying to find out their tee times for Saturday before going to bed.

"That was probably more of a nuisance than starting off two tees," he said. "I went to bed. I was just guesstimating. And I was only five minutes out on my guesstimate when I was going to tee off. Yeah, you hope to have tee times before 11 or 11:30 the night before the third round."

Stenson didn't find out his actual time until the morning. He said his caddie woke up in the middle of the night and checked. He didn't think it was that big of a deal to other players unless they "didn't guess as good as I did."

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DIVOTS: Jordan Spieth has now played with Tiger Woods five times this year - twice at Torrey Pines, twice at Congressional and Saturday in the British Open. Spieth is 20 shots better than Woods in those five rounds. ... Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are the only players to shoot in the 60s all three rounds going into Sunday. Three players have posted all four rounds in the 60s at The Open without winning - Ernie Els at Royal Troon in 2004, Jesper Parnevik at Turnberry in 1994, and Els at Royal St. George's in 1993. ... Matteo Manassero didn't register a par until the eighth hole. He opened with two bogeys, followed with four straight birdies and made another bogey at No. 7. Manassero wound up with a 68 and was tied for seventh.

Fowler faces McIlroy again in final group at Open

HOYLAKE, England (AP) From the time they faced each other in the Walker Cup, a couple of 18-year-olds with the world at their feet, Rickie Fowler figured he'd go at it again someday with Rory McIlroy in a major championship.

If only it was a fair fight.

Fowler will be playing in the final group of a major for the second straight time, but he faces a daunting six-stroke deficit heading to Sunday at the British Open.

With a brilliant finish to the third round, McIlroy put himself in prime position to capture his third major championship. Fowler hopes he can put a bit of pressure on the leader.

"It doesn't feel like a big stage," Fowler said. "It feels like I'm supposed to be here."

Fowler made a big charge at McIlroy with birdies on seven of the first 12 holes Saturday. When McIlroy, playing just behind Fowler in the final group at Royal Liverpool, bogeyed the 12th, they were tied. Fowler had erased a six-shot deficit and seemed to have all the momentum in his favor.

But McIlroy bounced back with a 35-footer for birdie at the 14th, then an eagle at the par-5 16th.

Fowler bogeyed those holes, essentially a five-shot swing in just under an hour.

"Bad swings happen," he said. "It's just unfortunate that I kind of strung a few of them together and it cost me a couple of shots coming in."

Fowler and McIlroy were both rising young stars when they played for their respective countries in the 2007 Walker Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition matching the United States vs. Ireland and Great Britain.

Fowler contributed three points to the U.S. cause, teaming with Billy Horschel for a 2-and-1 foursomes victory over McIlroy and his partner. The Americans retained the trophy by a single point.

"He was definitely the young star over here, and I was one of the young stars from the U.S.," Fowler recalled. "It was just a matter of time before the two of us found a way to sneak into a final group together."

Now 25, Fowler was in a similar position just a month ago at the U.S. Open, his first appearance ever in the final group of a major.

He stepped on the tee at Pinehurst trailing Martin Kaymer by five strokes and never mustered any semblance of a charge, closing with a 2-over 72 that left him tied for second - eight shots behind the German.

"If I can go out and learn from what I did at the U.S. Open, try and get off to a bit of a better start, maybe I'm able to put a bit of pressure on Rory," Fowler said. "Maybe we can get into a fun little match come the back nine."

He can't afford a repeat of 16, one of the easiest holes on the course. Fowler drove into a bunker and was fortunate just to get it out. He missed an 8-footer to save par, and the bogey looked even worse when McIlroy came along.

Fowler bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 closing hole, for a 4-under 68 and a 10-under 206 total. But McIlroy made another eagle to finish off his own 68, leaving him at 200.

He looks forward to playing with Fowler, the two having become good friends since they both bought homes in south Florida.

"We'll try and treat it like any other day," McIlroy said, "even though it isn't."

For some, Fowler has been more hype than substance, a guy known as much for his unruly hair (since trimmed), wacky clothes (he always wears garish orange duds on Sundays in tribute to his college team, Oklahoma State) and omnipresence on social media as anything he did on the golf course.

But he's made undeniable strides since hiring swing guru Butch Harmon late last year, gearing up his preparations to peak at the majors.

He hasn't captured one yet, but it seems only a matter of time.

Fowler tied for fifth at the Masters before sharing the runner-up spot at Pinehurst with Erik Compton.

McIlroy, of course, already has two major titles, winning both the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship in eight-shot runaways. Given their age - McIlroy is about five months younger - and similar backgrounds, the comparisons are inevitable.

Fowler has some catching-up to do.

"He has two majors already," the American said. "He's a bit out in front of me right now."

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Yankees' Sabathia (knee) expects to pitch in 2015

NEW YORK (AP) CC Sabathia is disappointed and relieved all at the same time.

Sidelined with a right knee injury, the New York Yankees' pitcher spoke to reporters Saturday morning for the first time since the team announced he will have season-ending surgery Wednesday.

Sabathia said the news was difficult to absorb and his situation is "not fun." But he's glad doctors recommended an arthroscopic cleanup rather than microfracture surgery, which would have required perhaps an 18-month recovery.

"It's tough. It's unfortunate," Sabathia said. "But I feel, I guess, relieved that I have some answers, and kind of a plan in place to kind of move forward."

The big left-hander, who turns 34 on Monday, said he's confident he will be back on the mound in spring training. And with a blueprint now in place for his return, he said he was able to get "some real sleep" Friday night for the first time in weeks.

General manager Brian Cashman, however, cautioned Friday that there's no guarantee Sabathia will be able to pitch effectively next season.

The operation will be performed by Los Angeles Dodgers head physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Sabathia said he was told he can resume baseball activities six to eight weeks after the procedure.

"He feels good about it, and I do, too," Sabathia said, adding that NBA star Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder had the same surgery and came back fine. "Obviously, you've got to deal with a little bit of swelling here and there, but it's something I have to do. My goal in talking to (Dr. ElAttrache) was to pitch the next five, six years and past this contract and be able to go out and do that. So I'm confident in that idea."

Sabathia also had surgery on his right knee in October 2010 to repair a small meniscus cartilage tear. He said he thinks the latest injury was caused by simple wear and tear.

"It's something that I'm going to have to deal with probably for the rest of my life and eventually have a big surgery, but right now the goal is to keep playing, and this is the easiest way," he said.

Sabathia has been sidelined with a degenerative cartilage problem in his right knee since mid-May, and the Yankees all but ruled out a 2014 return after he had a setback early this month while on a minor league rehab assignment. He was hit hard July 2 in an outing for Double-A Trenton and woke up the next morning with swelling in the joint.

The six-time All-Star and 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner made only eight major league starts this year and finished 3-4 with a career-worst 5.28 ERA. He is 208-119 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 seasons.

After signing a $161 million, seven-year deal with New York as a free agent before the 2009 season, Sabathia had his contract extended in 2011 by one year and $30 million. Making $23 million this season, Sabathia is scheduled to earn $23 million in 2015 and $25 million in 2016. The Yankees have a $25 million option for 2017 with a $5 million buyout.

Despite his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame, Sabathia had been extremely durable until this year. He had made at least 28 starts and pitched 180 innings or more every season of his career, reaching 200 innings eight times.

"It's something that I've never had to deal with. But I am now, and like I said, hopefully this will give me the time to heal and get healthy and come back to be ready to go in spring training," Sabathia said. "If that's the case, and that's the best-case scenario, especially at my age and with everything that's happened and all the innings that I've pitched and everything, I guess I'm fine with that."

Rosberg claims pole position for German GP

HOCKENHEIM, Germany (AP) Formula One leader Nico Rosberg earned pole position for the German Grand Prix as Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton crashed out in qualifying on Saturday and will start 15th on the grid.

Rosberg completed the fastest lap on the Hockenheimring in 1 minute, 16.540 seconds in the third part of the session for what was also the weekend's fastest time.

"Home race, to be on pole is fantastic," the German said. "I would have preferred if it was an open fight with Lewis. I was a little less happy as a result (of Hamilton's crash) because Lewis didn't have a shot at it in the end, but all in all, yeah, a fantastic day up to now."

Hamilton crashed in the first part of the session, leading to a seven-minute delay after the British driver spectacularly spun off the track and crashed into barriers at Turn 13. His right front brake disc failed.

Hamilton was checked out at the medical center and seemed relatively unscathed.

"I've got a little bit of pain but that's what usually happens when you have a crash like that. Even if something's broken, I'll still be driving tomorrow," the 2008 world champion said.

Rosberg said he wasn't worried about having the same issue with his brakes as both drivers' cars were fitted with different systems.

Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completed a day to remember for Williams by finishing second and third, respectively.

"Well done to everyone but Mercedes is still ahead," Bottas said. "I really felt I got everything out of the car today."

Kevin Magnussen claimed a commendable fourth place for McLaren, and the Dane was followed by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in fifth and sixth.

"Other people were able to get more and more out of the track whereas we seemed to stabilize around a certain lap time," Vettel said. "It's a long race, anything can happen."

Vettel's optimism isn't supported by recent history. Nobody has won from outside the top three starters at Hockenheim since the track was re-profiled in 2001.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat, and Force India drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez completed the top 10 on an afternoon when track temperatures climbed to 56 degrees C (133 F).

McLaren's Jenson Button, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean of Lotus were all eliminated with Hamilton in qualifying's second cut.

Gutierrez was carrying a three-place penalty into the session for causing a collision with Lotus' Pastor Maldonado at the British GP so his 14th was knocked back to 17th, meaning Hamilton will start on Sunday in 15th rather than 16th.

Rosberg, who was also fastest in the morning's final practice session, holds a four-point lead over his British teammate and is ideally placed to extend it after his fourth pole from the last five races.

"There are no points for today. Important is tomorrow. There's a long way to go, but it's a good start," Rosberg said after claiming his ninth pole overall.

Speaking in German, Rosberg expressed his relief that "we're still the fastest" despite the removal from all cars of the front and rear interconnected suspension systems which were deemed to be possibly illegal by the FIA.

AP sources: Bon Jovi part of group eyeing Bills

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Rocker Jon Bon Jovi is part of a Toronto group that has retained a banking firm and submitted paperwork expressing interest in buying the Buffalo Bills, three people who have reviewed documents regarding the sale process told The Associated Press on Friday.

It is unclear if the group would eventually want to move the NFL team to Toronto. The club is on the market after Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.

The three people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Friday because the process is private and the Toronto group has not revealed its intentions.

The group includes Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family. Tanenbaum is chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which controls the NHL's Maple Leafs and NBA's Raptors. The Rogers family includes Edward Rogers, who is deputy chairman of Rogers, the Toronto communications giant.

The group is on a list of prospective buyers who have submitted a nondisclosure agreement form to Morgan Stanley, the banking firm overseeing the Bills sale. The Toronto group has retained the Goldman Sachs banking firm to assist in the bid.

Bon Jovi previously expressed interest in owning an NFL franchise but never specifically mentioned the Bills. This is the first real indication linking him to Tanenbaum and Rogers.

One of the people confirmed that Bon Jovi discussed his interests involving the Bills during a restaurant meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York City last month.

The Bills most recently were valued by Forbes at $870 million. They are projected to be sold for at least $1 billion, partly because NFL teams rarely go on the market.

The team is essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the 2019 season because of a strict nonrelocation clause included in a 10-year lease agreement reached with the state and county in December 2012.

The Bills would incur a $400 million penalty by even broaching the prospect of moving during the lease's term. There is a one-time exception that would allow the Bills to break the lease for just under $28.4 million in 2020.

Of about 60 nondisclosure forms sent out by Morgan Stanley in June, at least 10 of have been returned, two of the people said. Among those also listed as returning their forms are Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula and New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump.

The forms were required in order for prospective bidders to gain access to financial and background information on the franchise to begin formulating their bids.

The next step is for prospective bidders to submit another set of forms - including their own financial information - by July 29 to gain more access to the Bills' financial information.

One of the people said Morgan Stanley has informed prospective buyers that the Bills made just under $30 million in net profits last season. And Morgan Stanley projects that number will double by 2019 as a result of the NFL's TV contract, current renovations taking place at the stadium and other potential local sources of income.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Vikings suspend Priefer for 3 games

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings will suspend special teams coordinator Mike Priefer without pay for three games this season and donate $100,000 to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups, in response to former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations of anti-gay slurs and taunts made by Priefer.

The Vikings announced the punishment Friday as part of a summary of findings by outside lawyers hired in January to investigate Kluwe's accusations, which included a claim he was released because of his gay-rights advocacy.

The Vikings said Priefer's ban could be reduced to two games at their discretion, provided he attends individualized anti-harassment, diversity and sexual-orientation sensitivity training.

Such education has been required for all Vikings employees, coaches and players on an annual basis for the past several years, the team said, and the improvements for the programs will be considered.

Chris Madel, a former Justice Department attorney, and Eric Magnuson, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, from the Minneapolis-based law firm Robins, Kaplan, Ciresi and Miller recently presented their report to the Vikings after interviewing 31 people and examining 121 gigabytes of data.

Priefer was questioned three times. According to a 29-page analysis of the investigation by employment law consultants Littler Mendelson and Donald Prophete, commissioned by the Vikings and released Friday, Priefer initially denied making a remark Kluwe alleged about "putting all the gays on an island and nuking it" but later acknowledged he might have.

Long snapper Cullen Loeffler told the investigators he heard the same comment Kluwe did, but that he assumed Priefer was joking.

Also in the analysis of the investigation released by Mendelson and Prophete:

- Vikings officials were nearly unanimous in deciding Kluwe's 2012 season was substandard, and the report said Priefer actually gave Kluwe a higher grade than any of the front-office evaluators. The Vikings have maintained the move to cut Kluwe was strictly football-based after they drafted Jeff Locke in the fifth round and Kluwe was due to make $1.45 million in the 2013 season at age 31.

- The investigators asked former Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo and former NFL punter Craig Hentrich to analyze Kluwe's performance as well, and Hentrich gave Kluwe a "C" grade overall.

- The report also cited anecdotes from several interviewees about the penchant for off-color behavior by Kluwe, whose Internet and Twitter criticisms of various institutions and individuals have often contained obscene language. According to the report, Kluwe poked fun at Tom Kanavy, the strength and conditioning coach at the time, in a vulgar manner that made light of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State, where Kanavy attended and later worked.

In a statement from the team, Priefer apologized to owners Mark Wilf and Zygi Wilf, the organization, the fans, his family, the LGBT community, Kluwe and "anyone else that I offended with my insensitive remark."

Added Priefer, who was hired by the Vikings in 2011: "I regret what has occurred and what I said. I am extremely sorry, but I will learn from this situation and will work on educating others to create more tolerance and respect."

Kluwe, however, said Friday he will still sue the team for discrimination, against his gay-rights activism and agnostic beliefs, as well as defamation and wrongful interference of his contract. His attorney, Clayton Halunen, said the complaint will be filed in Hennepin County District Court as early as Monday, seeking $10 million in damages. They announced earlier this week their impending lawsuit and did not reach a settlement agreement with the team.

"Here we have this company, this Minnesota company who's getting $400 million out of taxpayers' funds to build the stadium, and yet they are violating state law by engaging in discriminatory conduct, and that is unacceptable," Halunen said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "We support our teams enforcing their workplace policies and commend the Wilfs for doing a thorough investigation and taking appropriate steps in response to the findings."

The Wilf brothers, in a joint statement provided by the team, said Madel and Magnuson "were in full control of the investigation at all times." They said they're pleased Mendelson and Prophete "concluded that there was no wrongdoing" by the Vikings in releasing Kluwe.

"We are very disappointed with some of the findings contained within the report," the Wilfs said. "As we have said in the past, we consistently strive to create - and believe we have - a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for our players, coaches and staff, and we strongly disassociate the club from the statement that Coach Priefer made. Coach Priefer is a good man, and we know that he deeply regrets the comment. We do not believe that this error in judgment should define him."

In his scathing article posted Jan. 2 on the website Deadspin.com that spelled out the allegations, Kluwe said Zygi Wilf expressed support for his gay-rights advocacy.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Aldon Smith sentenced to probation in weapons case

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was sentenced Friday to serve three years of probation and to spend 11 days with a work crew after he pleaded no contest to drunken driving and weapons charges.

The sentence came after Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Daniel Nishigaya reduced three felony counts of possessing illegal assault rifles to misdemeanors. The judge noted that Smith has no criminal record involving violence, but warned the 24-year-old football star that if he violates any of terms of his probation, he will be sent to jail for 11 days.

Smith was also told to serve 235 hours of community service and pay nearly $4,000 in fines.

Prosecutors said Smith didn't receive special treatment in the case.

"In the end, we treated Aldon like any other person in similar circumstances," Santa Clara County District Attorney Brian Buckelew said. "We're optimistic that the punishment will be sufficient to get him on the right track."

The weapons charges stem from an out-of-control party at Smith's house in 2012, where he got stabbed and two people were shot. Investigators later found three rifles in Smith's house that were legally bought in Arizona, but are illegal in California.

The DUI charges were filed after Smith's car smashed into a tree in San Jose last Fall. Police said his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

The 49ers said they continue to support Smith's efforts to grow personally from his run-ins with the law.

"We are pleased that Aldon has moved past this phase of the process, and will support any action the NFL may take with respect to this matter," a team statement said.

Smith could face a suspension from the NFL for his off-field troubles, which included an arrest at the Los Angeles International Airport in April. Authorities said he became belligerent during a random security screening and threatened that he had a bomb, but prosecutors declined to charge him.

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Associated Press reporters Terry Collins and Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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