National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Young Elliott wins 2nd straight Nationwide race

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) Chase Elliott passed Elliott Sadler on the final lap night to win his second straight Nationwide Series race, going from fifth to first on the final two laps Friday night.

Elliott, an 18-year-old high school senior and son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, broke through for his first series win last week at Texas when he passed Sprint Cup veteran Kevin Harvick. At Darlington, Elliott moved past Sadler when the veteran got loose coming off Turn 2 on a restart two laps from the end.

Sadler held on for second while Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were third and fourth.

Busch led by 1.5 seconds and was seemingly cruising to victory until Tanner Berryhill's spin forced a final restart.

Sizemore, Gomes HRs lead Red Sox over Yankees 4-2

NEW YORK (AP) Grady Sizemore hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning and the Boston Red Sox finally gave Jon Lester enough run support for his first win of the year, 4-2 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Jonny Gomes led off the sixth with another long ball off CC Sabathia, and the four-run inning was more runs than Boston had scored for Lester in his first two starts combined. Despite a 2.51 ERA coming in, Lester was at risk of falling to 0-3 for the first time in his career.

The left-hander was lifted with two outs in the seventh after Kelly Johnson singled to pull the Yankees within two runs, his first hit in 15 career at-bats against Lester (1-2). Junichi Tazawa relieved with runners at the corners and retired Derek Jeter on a flyout.

Jeter was the leadoff batter in the Yankees' batting order for first time since breaking his left ankle in the 2012 AL championship series opener. He beat out an infield single in four at-bats.

Lester allowed Alfonso Soriano's homer starting the second and six hits overall. He walked two and struck out six in improving to 12-5 in 27 starts against New York.

Tazawa pitched 1 1-3 innings of one-hit relief, and Edward Mujica was perfect in the ninth for his first save with Boston. Closer Koji Uehara was bothered by shoulder stiffness before the game and was held out as a precaution.

Sabathia (1-2) pitched without the controversy that surrounded teammate Michael Pineda in a series-opening 4-1 win Thursday but also without the same success. Pineda gave up one run and four hits in six-plus innings but was caught on camera with a brown substance on his hand. Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for baseball operations, said in a statement Friday that Pineda will not be suspended.

Looking as if he was setting aside talk of being an ace on the decline, Sabathia was dominant for five innings. He allowed just David Ross' third-inning double until Gomes led off the sixth with his first homer of the year, on an 89 mph four-seam fastball.

Four batters later, Sizemore crushed an 80 mph slider into right field for a 4-1 lead.

Sabathia's fastball velocity has declined from 94.1 mph in 2009, his first season in New York, to 89.7 mph this year entering Friday. Last year he gave up 45 of his major league-leading 122 runs on a career-high 28 homers allowed. He's already yielded five this season.

Sabathia allowed four runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out nine and walking two. He's given up at least four runs in each of his three starts and has a 6.63 ERA.

New York staked Sabathia to a 1-0 lead on Soriano's drive to left field, his 408th homer. Thanks to some nifty shifts by both teams, the score stayed that way until the sixth.

NOTES: Former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Thornton were given their World Series rings in a meeting with Boston GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell before the game. ... Yankees manager Joe Girardi said 1B Mark Teixeira (right hamstring) should be off the disabled list before May 1 but SS Brendan Ryan (back) is doubtful for the beginning of next month. ... Red Sox OF Shane Victorino took BP and did some light running. Farrell says he'll have an idea about a rehab assignment for Victorino after the White Sox series early next week. ... Dellin Betances struck out the side in the ninth for New York. ... Next up: Boston's John Lackey (2-0) faces New York's Hiroki Kuroda (1-1).

Heat back atop East, beat Pacers 98-86

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James scored 36 points, and the Miami Heat moved back atop the Eastern Conference standings by running past the Indiana Pacers 98-86 on Friday night.

The Heat scored the first 16 points of the second half and weren't in trouble again. Miami (54-25) leads the Pacers (54-26) by a half-game in the East race.

Mario Chalmers scored 13, Udonis Haslem added 11 and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen each scored 10 for the Heat.

Paul George scored 22 for Indiana, which got 18 from David West, 12 from Luis Scola and 11 from Lance Stephenson. Pacers center Roy Hibbert had only five points and one rebound, grabbing it with just over 2 minutes left in the game.

Miami has games against Atlanta, Washington and Philadelphia left. Win them all, and the Heat would have home-court advantage through at least the East finals - which went seven games against Indiana last season.

The Pacers - who sat their starters against Milwaukee on Wednesday in an effort to rest for this one - still play Oklahoma City and Orlando.

In the opening minutes of the second half, a predictably tight game turned into a surprise blowout.

The Heat were up three at the half, then opened the third on a 16-0 run. Chalmers opened the barrage with a 3-pointer, James hit a pair of free throws after taking a hard foul from West in transition, and a steal and layup from Toney Douglas forced the Pacers to call time down by 10.

Miami was just getting started.

James got fouled by Stephenson and turned that into a three-point play, and consecutive putbacks by Haslem off misses by James at the rim pushed Miami's lead to 17 with 8:13 left in the third.

That led to Indiana's second timeout of the quarter.

And a couple of minutes later, the Pacers were up to more timeouts taken since halftime (three) than points scored (two). Indiana's first field goal of the half came when Bosh was called for goaltending on a shot by Luis Scola with 6 minutes left.

Miami's lead was eventually as much as 23, and it was 76-54 when the Pacers started to make things look plenty interesting, if only for a few moments.

Indiana scored 13 straight points, getting within 76-67 early in the fourth. But Evan Turner was whistled for a technical foul after arguing a non-call from two possessions earlier, Ray Allen made a free throw to end the Heat drought, and that started a 9-0 rebuttal run by the Heat.

Rashard Lewis ended that spurt with a dunk, good enough to earn him a chest-bump from James moments later, and just like that Miami was up by 18 again.

Neither team led by more than five in the opening half, after which Miami held a 45-42 lead.

James made four jumpers in the first 5 1/2 minutes, then missed all three of his shots in the remainder of the half, but still went into the break leading all scorers with 17 points.

There were two things of note from the opening 24 minutes: Indiana had 10 turnovers to Miami's three, and Pacers center Roy Hibbert was no factor.

Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who has simply toyed with Miami plenty of times in the clubs' recent meetings, played 16 first-half minutes with basically nothing to show for his time. He went into the break with no field-goal attempts and no rebounds - the first time he's ever logged that many minutes in a half without at least one shot or board.

NOTES: Miami kept Dwyane Wade (hamstring) out for the ninth straight game, and Greg Oden was still sidelined by back spasms. ... Haslem is Miami's all-time leader in offensive rebounds, grabbing the 1,506th of his career in the second quarter. ... From the Department of Go Figure: Miami went 0-4 against Brooklyn, Indiana went 4-0 against Brooklyn, so the Heat and Pacers went 2-2 against each other. ... All Game 1s in the conference-quarterfinal round will be April 19 or 20. ... West fouled out with 3:21 left, and Indiana down 14.

Spieth making Masters look like child's play

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) Jordan Spieth already has proven to be a quick study.

A PGA Tour winner before he even had a card. The youngest American to play in the Presidents Cup. And in his first appearance at the Masters, the 20-year-old Texan looks like he's been playing here most of his life.

Spieth joined the mix at the Masters on Friday with an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th, and a shot that settled within tap-in range for birdie on the 18th hole. That gave him a 2-under 70 and left him only four shots behind going into the weekend.

Is anyone surprised by this? Spieth sure wasn't.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "I've been playing against these guys, and this caliber field, World Golf Championships and other major championships. So I felt like if I could get my game right and really handle myself mentally, then I could have an opportunity to be in contention. That's where I'm at now, and a lot of work to do."

Spieth played in the other three majors last summer, missing the cut in two of them.

The Masters was his favorite major as a kid, and one of his mentors is two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw.

"This was a big goal of mine this year, to get in contention at a major," Spieth said. "And the Masters being the one that I dreamt about since I was who knows how old, that's going to leave more emotion out there. Mr. Crenshaw says it best. The Masters brings out emotion in guys that aren't emotional.

"I'm already emotional and I got to keep it on the down low."

Spieth, the John Deere Classic winner last year, held it together late when he got into trouble off the tee at the 17th. Instead of playing a risky shot toward the green, he played back to the fairway, hit wedge to about 15 feet and missed his par putt. That's OK. His goal for the week is to make nothing worse than a bogey.

And at 3-under 141 thanks to the birdie on the 18th, he was well within range of Bubba Watson.

"Bubba is tearing it up. So we've got to go get him," Spieth said with the bravado of a Texan still not old enough to drink.

Saturday figures to be his biggest test yet. Spieth doesn't think contention counts until the back nine Sunday. Next up is a pairing with Adam Scott, the defending champion. Then again, the first time Spieth played with one of golf's biggest stars was at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September. He was paired with Phil Mickelson and shot 62. He played for the first time with Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines earlier this year and shot nine shots better.

No one has won the Masters in his first try in 35 years.

"I can see why experience pays off," Spieth said. "Ultimately, if you're playing extremely well and you get the right breaks, then it doesn't matter if it's your first time or your 50th. I think that you can win out here."

Mickelson headed home after missing Masters cut

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) Rory McIlroy took off his cap, rubbed his brow and let out a deep sigh.

After rolling in a testy 4-foot putt at the 18th hole, he was one of the fortunate ones Friday.

He gets to keep playing on the weekend at Augusta National.

Not so for Phil Mickelson, who missed the Masters cut for the first time since 1997 after making a mess of three holes. Lefty took triple-bogey on two of them, a double-bogey on another, and wound up with one stroke too many.

"I didn't play great. I didn't play bad," Mickelson said. "I keep making these triples. They're tough to overcome."

He wasn't the only big name headed home.

The last major champion, PGA winner Jason Dufner, missed the cut by six shots.

Former Masters champions Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel were on the wrong side of the line, too.

Ditto for Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Luke Donald.

"Just made some silly errors here and there," said Els, whose 2-over 74 left him with a 5-over 149, which like Mickelson was one shot more than he could afford. "I'm actually driving it well, doing a lot of things well, but just getting in my own way here and there."

Mickelson dug himself a big hole with a 76 on Thursday, marred by a triple-bogey 7 at the seventh and a double-bogey 7 at the 15th. In the second round, his undoing was the par-3 12th, where Lefty deposited his tee shot in the front bunker, whacked the next over the cup into a back bunker, then put his third shot back in the front bunker. He finally got it on the green and two-putted for a 6.

Mickelson had six birdies and played 33 of the 36 holes at 3 under. Those other three holes did him in, and a 73 Friday not quite good enough.

"I've actually played reasonably well for a majority of the holes," he said. "Then the ones I let slide I end up making a big number. So it's tough to overcome those big numbers."

Garcia, Donald and Schwartzel were also at 149. Zach Johnson totaled 150, one stroke better than Dustin Johnson. Cabrera, who nearly won his second green jacket a year ago but lost to Adam Scott in a playoff, struggled to a 152 this time. Bradley, the PGA winner at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, and Immelman never really had a chance on the way to 153s.

McIlroy came oh-so-close to missing out on the final two rounds. Some of it was his own fault, like at the par-3 fourth, where he not only drove it over the green but also the tee box for the fifth hole, winding up in the woods 30 yards beyond his intended target. He found the ball but had to go back to the tee for a do-over, winding up with a double bogey.

McIlroy's caught a bad break at the 13th, where a slightly errant approach shot hit a sprinkler head and sent the ball careening into the azaleas - a hole, appropriately enough, known as "Azalea." He punched it out of the flowers and took a bogey.

With no more room for error, the former world No. 1 and two-time major champion parred the last five holes. The last one was especially challenging, as McIlroy faced a 35-footer against a treacherous ridge, needing to get down in two. He putted far left, toward the Butler Cabin, and watched the ball curl sharply toward the cup. His work still wasn't done, but he knocked in the next one for an ugly 77 - just good enough for a 148 total.

McIlroy was among those benefiting from a change in the Augusta rules. The top 50 (and ties) made the cut this time, compared to the top 44 a year ago.

He'll take it.

"When I got into the scoring area and saw that I was in 46th place," McIlroy said, "it was a big sigh of relief that I'm here for the weekend."

Players know pitchers try for better grip on ball

NEW YORK (AP) Get a grip.

Using a suspicious substance for a better hold of the baseball on cool days is not such a sticky situation.

Whether it's the Yankees' Michael Pineda with a mysterious brown goo on his hand, Boston's Jon Lester with a green smudge in his glove or Houston's Josh Zeid spraying something on his forearm before entering a recent game, most major leaguers don't care whether pitchers get a little help - even though it's against the Official Baseball Rules.

To some, it's preferable.

"It's an unwritten rule in the game. I'm sure a lot of pitchers do it," Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said Friday before Boston played the Yankees. "As a hitter, do what you got to do from letting that ball go astray and hitting me in the head. I'm fine with that."

Ever since pitchers started throwing to batters in the 1800s, they've looked for an edge - and it has continued long after doctoring the baseball was banned in 1920.

Television cameras caught Pineda with what looked like sticky pine tar on his hand early in the Yankees' 4-1 victory over Boston on a cool Thursday night, when the ball could be slick. Red Sox manager John Farrell didn't see a photograph of Pineda's hand until the fourth inning. By the time Pineda came out to warm up for the fifth, his hand was clean and Farrell didn't complain to umpires.

"In conditions like last night, it's not uncommon for pitchers to try and get a grip in some way," Farrell said. "We're more focused on what we need to do offensively to kind of get going rather than taking anything away from his abilities."

Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a statement Friday that Pineda would not be suspended.

"The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox," Torre said. "Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred."

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman spoke with Torre and said the issue was resolved. Pineda said hadn't spoken with any Yankees management as of early afternoon.

Perhaps Farrell didn't say anything because his pitchers have been accused of using something extra. Toronto Blue Jays broadcasters last season thought they caught Clay Buchholz - who faced Pineda Thursday - using an illegal substance. During the 2013 World Series opener, Lester was seen on TV with something in his glove.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has never questioned his own pitchers, but he knows what goes on.

"I don't talk to pitchers about that: `Do you use or don't you use?' This is not a recreational drug. I don't talk to people about that," Girardi said. "I'm aware. I've been on teams where I've seen it. I'm 99 percent sure that I know of other guys on other teams that use it."

Rule 8.02 says a pitcher may not apply a "foreign substance" to the ball, and section B of the rule says a pitcher may not have any "foreign substance" in his possession on the mound. The penalty if caught is automatic ejection and suspension.

The rule has been applied, perhaps most famously when Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was caught with an emery board and sandpaper in the back pocket of his uniform pants in 1987. He was banned for 10 days. But Victorino agreed, doctoring the ball this way is different than improving one's grip.

Dodgers reliever Jay Howell was suspended three days (later reduced to two) for pine tar on his glove in Game 3 of the 1988 NL championship series.

For a player to be ejected, he has to be caught. Umpires are obligated to take action if they see a violation or if one is reported to them. Not so easily done.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Victorino each said they have never gone up to the plate and noticed whether a pitcher had something on his hand or uniform. But as camera resolution increases, spotlight has increased on all players. Unlike golf, which has a self-policing policy that allows fans watching at home to point out rules violations, there's no such mechanism in baseball.

Challenging the use of an illegal substance is not among the reviewable plays under MLB's new replay system. Baseball executives plan to examine the rules and make changes for 2015, perhaps a path that would allow for a change.

For most, though, the problem for Pineda was he was too blatant.

"Be discreet," Victorino said.

Watson takes three-stroke lead into Masters weekend

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) Bubba Watson was playing his way down the 10th fairway, trying to forget about the photographer who got in his way the hole before and quite possibly cost him the first bogey of his Masters.

Deep in the woods to the right, about 20 people gathered around an opening in the trees to relive Watson's famous shot from two years ago, seemingly oblivious to the fact the man who hit it was walking by just a few yards away.

"They really should put a plaque here," one said, trying to figure out just where Watson carved a shot around the trees to win his first green jacket in a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen.

The way Watson took command of the Masters on the back nine Friday that might not be enough. If he keeps overpowering Augusta National this way, they may have to give him a monument someday.

Drives that go so far there are no trees to stop them. Nine-irons that fly 186 yards. And five straight birdies through a wind that did more than just whisper through the Georgia pines.

All by a lefthander with a funny swing, a pink driver, and a way of talking that makes it sound like he's in a hurry to get to the airport for the next flight to Atlanta.

"I've never had a swing coach, never had a lesson," Watson said. "So it's all slap cuts, I guess you could say, with my driver. They get out there pretty far, though."

That's hardly a revelation for anyone who watched Watson win here two years ago when he went on a back nine birdie binge to tie Oosthuizen. He then hit it deep into the trees on No. 10 before bending a wedge shot almost 90 degrees onto the green for the winning birdie.

It was one of the most improbable shots ever, one that will live in Masters lore. But some thought the win was a fluke, especially when Watson went into a lengthy slump while trying to deal with the demands of being a Masters champion.

"How many green jackets you got?" he asked. "If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two."

Watson said he spent far too much time dealing with sponsors and trying to juggle family life with the infant son he and his wife adopted just before the Masters win. He wasn't practicing well, and there were those thousands of yellow flags he had to sign.

By the time Watson won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year, he was wondering if he would ever win again.

"You know, I do everything my way," he said. "I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today."

Where that was Friday was three shots ahead of John Senden as Watson wrapped up business early and headed back to his rental home. He's got two of them here, so he and his wife and son can stay in one while friends and relatives get the other.

He needs the quiet, needs to get away from everything that is the Masters.

"Like yesterday, when I got done, I knew how good the round was, so no TV was turned on," Watson said. "I didn't want to hear anything. I just want to play my golf, and that's what I've been doing over the last year and a half since I won."

That might be even harder to do should the game plan he brought here this week end up succeeding. He wants to keep it as simple as possible, hitting fairways and greens and letting everything else take care of itself.

It didn't work on the ninth hole, where Watson stopped in mid-swing when a photographer moved in front of him. But the run he then made on the back nine showed that being his own psychologist may be working.

"What I'm trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing," Watson said. "As a kid, you don't think about the bad days. You always think about the great days. So playing here at Augusta, there's a lot of people that wished they could play this tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this tournament more than once."

Even better for Watson is that he's 36 holes away from winning it more than once.

Ex-coach Tressel applies to lead Youngstown St.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has applied to become president at Youngstown State less than a month after he applied for the same position at Akron.

The Youngstown Vindicator reports that the head of a firm leading Youngstown State's search said that Tressel applied for the post Friday.

A message seeking comment with AGB Search's president was not immediately returned.

Tressel coached at Youngstown State before leaving for Ohio State where he was forced out following a scandal that led to NCAA sanctions.

He has worked as an administrator at Akron for two years. He applied in mid-March for the president's job there, saying he had 35 years of experience in higher education.

Maple Leafs hire Brendan Shanahan as president

TORONTO (AP) Brendan Shanahan will run the Toronto Maple Leafs after handing out suspensions the last three years.

Shanahan became the team president Friday, leaving his job as NHL director of player safety. He took over the disciplinarian job from Colin Campbell and will be replaced by Stephane Quintal.

Shanahan, a Toronto native, played 1,524 NHL games in 21 seasons and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

The Leafs said Shanahan will begin in his new role immediately, and the team will hold a news conference Monday. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President Tim Leiweke and Leafs vice president and general manager Dave Nonis will attend.

Nonis' presence suggests he's safe for now, despite another season when the Leafs failed to make the playoffs. Shanahan will have a say about coach Randy Carlyle's future and potentially his replacement.

The Maple Leafs were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday. A streak of eight straight regulation losses in March dropped them from second in the Atlantic Division.

"Very challenging time right now for our group mentally," Carlyle said Thursday night after a 3-2 loss in Florida.

Shanahan, who grew up in the Toronto neighborhood of Mimico, had 656 goals and 698 assists in his career with the New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.

His "Shanabans" with accompanying video explanations have clarified suspensions in the NHL.

Two Hernandez associates indicted on murder charges

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) Two associates of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez were indicted Friday on murder charges in the shooting death of a man last summer about a mile from Hernandez's home, prosecutors said.

A grand jury in Bristol County returned separate indictments against Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace in the June 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said.

Ortiz and Wallace, who are from Bristol, Conn., where Hernandez grew up, had been charged previously with accessory to murder after the fact and had pleaded not guilty. They had been ordered held on $500,000 bail on the older charges.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to murder in the killing of Lloyd, a 27-year-old Boston resident who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins.

Jenkins, who testified before the grand jury, has been charged with perjury in the case. Hernandez's cousin Tanya Singleton, who refused to testify, has been charged with criminal contempt and conspiracy to commit accessory after the fact. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The district attorney's office said Friday that Ortiz and Wallace would be arraigned in Fall River Superior Court on the new charges at a date yet to be scheduled. The office said it would have no further comment on the indictments until then.

Ortiz's lawyer, John Connors, said he had not seen the indictment but called it "totally ridiculous." He said, as he had in the past, that Ortiz was "just along for the ride" with Hernandez, Wallace and Lloyd on the night Lloyd was killed.

Connors said the district attorney's office has strung his client along, charging him first with a weapons violation, then accusing him of being an accessory.

"It almost looks to me like they felt they couldn't use him as a witness, (so) they're going to charge him?" he said. "Why wouldn't they have done this months ago? There's no new evidence in this matter."

Questions have been raised about the reliability of Ortiz as a witness. Prosecutors say he has told authorities that he didn't see who shot Lloyd but that Hernandez and Lloyd were alone outside the car. That's different from his initial story, in which, according to court records, he told police that Hernandez and Wallace got out with Lloyd.

Lloyd's bullet-riddled body was found by a jogger in an industrial park in North Attleborough. Prosecutors have said Hernandez was upset with Lloyd for talking at a nightclub to some people with whom he had problems. They have not identified who they believe pulled the trigger.

A message was left for Wallace's attorney, David Meier. Wallace has been described by prosecutors as Hernandez's "right-hand man."

John Daly -- an Augusta fixture gone wrong

AUGUSTA, Ga. –- Washington Road on Masters week never changes. Yes, stores flip from time to time, one business closes and another reopens, a construction site covers an old K-Mart, a pawnshop replaces a tire store, one chain restaurant subs in for another. But the heartbeat of Washington Road remains constant. It is traffic and strip malls and signs hovering like rain clouds and stoplights and traffic cops and tents and concrete grayness.

People who come to the Masters for the first time have a hard time harmonizing the commercial unpleasantness of Washington Road with the gorgeousness of the Augusta National they have seen on televisions while a piano tinkles in the background.

And Hooters. That is one mainstay of Washington Road. They built the Hooters about 20 years ago … I was the sports columnist for the Augusta newspaper when it opened. The Hooters is a short walk from Augusta National, and many people will note the irony of that, if there is irony in that.

In front of the Hooters on Masters week is a bus, and in front of the bus is long orange table, and in front of the table is a man who in a weird way has become another mainstay of Washington Road.

In front of the bus in front of the Hooters, John Daly sells merchandise and poses for photographs and talks to his fans who, even after all these years, still want the best for him.


WE WERE BOTH 25 the year we came to Augusta for our first Masters. That was 1992. I was a 25-year old kid who had just joined The Augusta Chronicle newspaper; I knew almost nothing about golf. John Daly was a 25-year-old kid who had just set the golf world on fire by blistering the field at the 1991 PGA Championship. He won mainly by hitting balls so far that professional golfers could only watch with their mouths wide open.

I met Daly at Doral in Miami that year -- the Doral Open it was called then. It was the first professional golf tournament I had ever attended, much less covered. I was there with the Augusta Chronicle’s legendary golf writer David Westin; our job was to talk to many, many golfers and write preview stories about them for the massive and comprehensive Augusta Chronicle Masters section. Westin and I basically wrote preview stories about every golfer back then.

David knew the golfers. I knew nothing.  So, being the veteran scribe that he was, David made up a list of golfers for each of us to talk with. He took the golfers who were nice and accommodating and easy to work with, and he stuck me with everyone else. I spent much of the week listening to golfers snap, “I’m not thinking about the Masters yet!” or offering to possibly meet them at some place at some time – they couldn’t PROMISE they would show up but they might.

Somehow, I ended being responsible for the John Daly preview story. My suspicion – David won’t confirm this – is he figured Daly would be a pain in the neck to deal with. He was a golfing phenomenon already. Let the rookie handle it. I easily found Daly on the driving range; he was the one surrounded by people. I somehow made my way through to introduce myself and tell him that I needed five or 10 minutes so I could write something about him leading into the Masters.

“Yeah, tell you what, just meet me at the pro-am tomorrow morning,” he said. I nodded and he walked off. I quickly found David Westin.

“What’s a pro-am?” I asked him.


HARD TO BELIEVE, yes, but 23 years have drifted by since John Daly obliterated Crooked Stick Golf Club at the 1991 PGA Championship and changed the entire orientation of professional golf. It is all but impossible to believe a movie hasn’t been made about it.

You certainly know the story: Daly was a struggling golf pro. He had needed four trips to Q-School, where people qualify for the PGA Tour. He finally got through but wasn’t getting anywhere. One week before the PGA he had shot a second-round 75 to miss the cut at the Buick Open. It was his eighth missed cut that year.

By way of comparison, Tiger Woods has missed nine cuts in his ENTIRE CAREER.

 It goes without saying that Daly had not qualified for the PGA Championship that year – he was the ninth alternate. As in: ninth. He needed an almost unprecedented series of lucky breaks and freak occurrences just to get into the PGA. Well, it all happened, the last break being a last-minute withdrawal of Nick Price, whose wife Sue had a baby just as the tournament was about to begin.

Daly drove more than 500 miles from his home in Arkansas to Carmel, Ind., on the hunch that he might get into the field. He showed up at the golf course on Thursday having never seen it before. Caddie Jeff Medlin – who was normally Nick Price’s caddy – took him on; Medlin had no idea who he was. But once he saw John Daly hit a golf ball, he knew what to say. He kept telling Daly, ‘Kill it, John.” So Daly killed it. His round was stopped by rain; on Friday morning he finished his first round at 69. He was in contention.

Then he grabbed a sandwich, got back on the course, and shot 67 to take the lead.

Nobody had ever seen anything quite like John Daly at Crooked Stick. Mere mortals had bunkers and narrow fairways to contend with. Daly did not even see those. He was looking past all that. His ball flew over anything resembling danger. He hit golf balls distances no professional golfer ever had, and he breezed down the fairway, high-fiving the gallery as he bounced by.

Daly had taught himself how to swing a golf club by banging away at golf balls on a nine-hole course without a bunker in the little town of Dardanelle, Ark. He had patterned his swing after Jack Nicklaus diagrams in Golf Digest. He was too damned stubborn to let any golf pro or golf coach tell him what he was doing wrong.

He employed a ju-jitsu golf move that people would call “Past Parallel.” On his backswing, he would bring the club back so far that it would be parallel to the ground (where golfers had almost always stopped) and then just keep on going, like a pinball machine turning over and tilting. Golf expert after golf expert explained why going past parallel was a dangerous and unsound thing to do. But John Daly didn’t listen to golf experts.

On the third day, he shot 69 and had a three-shot lead. He celebrated that night by going to an Indianapolis Colts preseason game. He was brought on the field and introduced at halftime and the fans went bonkers when they saw him. Nobody could remember the last time anyone went bonkers over a professional golfer.

On Sunday, Daly came to the course and saw a simple four-word note on his locker: “Go get ’em John.” That was from Jack Nicklaus. Daly swallowed hard and realized that this was kind of a big deal. He hit his first shot into the woods but then said to himself, “No, no, you’re not doing this.” He settled down. He won by three shots. It was the most unlikely golf victory in probably 75 years.

“How would you describe the way you play golf?” he was asked.

“Grip it and rip it,” he said.

Daly high-fived so many people that PGA Championship week, his hands hurt for a week.


BACK IN MIAMI, seven or so months after he became a star, I showed up in the morning to talk to John Daly at the Doral Open pro-am. I quickly realized that it was hopeless. Fans were mobbing him. Everybody wanted to talk to him, to get a photo with him, to take a photo with him.

There’s no doubt that Tiger Woods’ victory at the 1997 Masters had an earth-shaking effect on golf – prize money skyrocketed, television ratings skyrocketed, golf became cool to people who had never before cared for golf. But John Daly, for his short time at the top after Crooked Stick, was the most beloved golfer I have seen since Arnold Palmer. He was an underdog and a renegade, a rebel and the guy you wanted to go drinking with, an impossibly talented golfer and a good ol’ boy. He was Elvis. People would come to golf tournaments just to scream “You da man!” after he crushed one of his absurd drives.

He was already fighting demons. According to Daly’s autobiography, “My Life in and out of the Rough,” Daly’s father, Jim, bought John his first golf clubs and he could be a fun guy when he wasn’t drinking. But when he did drink, Jim Daly was mean and out of control. John had his father’s weakness. He was disqualified from a junior tournament when a bottle of Jack Daniel’s was found in his golf bag. He would say that by the time he won the PGA, he was drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. One night while playing on the Hogan Tour – sort of a minor-league tour – he passed out and was rushed to the hospital. His friends thought he’d had a stroke.

“The next day,” Daly would write in his autobiography, “I shot two-under.”

His story was so overpowering, so extraordinary, that nobody was looking for warning signs. Other golfers were somewhat in awe of him. Jack Nicklaus told me that no player’s game was ever better suited for a golf course than John Daly’s game was for Augusta National. And the fans simply could not get enough of him; he wasn’t just a new star, he was a sensation, a mania.

“Hey!” John Daly yelled across the course. I looked around to see who he was yelling at.

“Hey!” he shouted again. “Yeah! You! Augusta. Get over here.”

Everybody turned around and looked at … me. I got over there.

“Walk with me,” Daly said and he lifted the gallery ropes. We would talk while he played.


HERE'S HOW John Daly sums up his life in his autobiography.

I’ve traveled to six continents – and won golf tournaments on five of them.

In my darker days, I had a few drinks, visited a few hospital ERs, and did time in a couple of rehab clinics.

I’ve beat up hotel rooms, houses, and cars.

I’ve gambled away a couple of fortunes.

I live on Diet Coke, Marlboro Lights, and the support of my fans.

I’ve weighed as much as 290 pounds—and lost as much as 65 in three months.

And I’ve been married four times.

I guess you could say I’m not exactly a poster boy for moderation.


WHAT IS TALENT? This is a complicated question, actually, something that scouts and recruiters and business leaders study endlessly. But if talent refers to a natural aptitude for something, if it refers to an unexplainable gift for making something very difficult look and seem very easy … then there’s a case to be made that John Daly is the most talented golfer who ever lived.

Think about it. John Daly set his life on a one-way course for self-destruction. He was served divorce papers at Augusta one year. He has admitted to losing $50 million gambling. His Wikipedia page, like most of them, has a section called: Personal Life. The subheads underneath tell the tale:

7. Personal life

7.1 Alcohol

7.2 Health

7.3 Gambling

7.4 Marriages

7.5 Lawsuits

And yet, still, he not only won that amazing PGA Championship, he also won the British Open – Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer did pull off that double. Daly won his British Open at the most prestigious course on earth: The Old Course at St. Andrews. The last 40 years, the winners at St. Andrews have been: Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Louie Oosthuizen and, yes, John Daly.

He won three other PGA Tour events too. His extraordinary power off the tee was matched by a shockingly soft touch around the greens; Daly was an artist when chipping and putting the ball.  He always played extremely fast, like he was playing in a heavy rainstorm, and on the right day, in the right moment, he hit shots other people only dreamed of hitting.

I saw it all up close that day at the Doral Open pro-am. He had a cigarette in his mouth and he was barely paying attention to anything but the fantastic stories he was telling. “Excuse me for a minute,” he would say and he would walk over to the tee or the fairway or the green. And then, more often than not, he would hit an extraordinary shot. Once, he excused himself, climbed into a fairway bunker, did not even look at his target, swung and hit one of the most remarkable shots I’ve ever seen – a majestic bunker shot that landed on the green, hesitated and then rolled up to the hole like a child running to a parent at the airport. The ball stopped two inches from the hole.

Daly nodded, stepped out, walked over and continued the story exactly where he left off.


JOHN DALY STILL GETS INVITED to play in a lot of tournaments. It has been a decade since he won on the PGA Tour – and in that decade he has finished top 10 nine times and shot 80 or worse 19 times. But on occasion he can still do magical things. And people, many people, sponsors and fans and yes media types, have always wanted to believe the best about John Daly, have always wanted to believe in a comeback.

He had actually been playing OK this year – he made two cuts in his first five tournaments and had almost matched his 2013 earnings – until his last tournament. He went to the Valspar Open in Tampa Bay in mid-March, struggled to a 74 in the first round and then completely unraveled with a second-round 90. He would say he had the putting yips. He four-putted one hole, made 12 on another.

Daly talked hopefully about his game coming around in a sit-down interview with the Guardian; the news from the interview that was widely reported, though, was that he was smoking 40 cigarettes and was sucking down 10 to 12 cans of Diet Coke per day. When I saw him Thursday he inhaled a Diet Coke through a straw as if he was taking his last breath.

I’ve interviewed John numerous times since we walked the pro-am in Miami. He always has been engaging. He always has spoken hopefully about the future and he has never made excuses about the past. One time he broke out into a country song he wrote in the middle of an answer – he writes songs and has released an album. Another time, he talked about a plan of some sort to help children. Another time he explained to me how he had given up drinking and it was only a matter of days or weeks before he was taken into protective custody when police found him drunk outside a Hooters.

It’s so tempting to try to imagine what John Daly might have done had he overcome his demons, had he grown his gifts, had he … well … had he been someone other than John Daly.


THERE IS ONE fun little twist to the John Daly pro-am story. On the fourth or fifth hole, can’t remember which, one of the people in John Daly’s pro-am group started getting kind of ticked off that Daly was ignoring him and talking to this stupid reporter. That person: Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.

“Hey!” Marino yelled at me. “Some of us paid money to play with John Daly.”

In retrospect, I can’t blame the guy. He did pay money to play with Daly. But I was young then, still unaccustomed to getting yelled at by athletes, especially great ones, and I looked around for a hole to crawl into. In that moment John Daly turned to Dan Marino and did something I will never forget.

“Hey Dan,” he said. “You ARE playing with me.” And he turned back to tell me another story.

And so I like him. I will always like him. He was and is an addict for whatever vice happens to be in play. He has obviously done a lot of things he is ashamed of doing. But in my experiences I’ve seen him be nice to people. I’ve heard him spill his heart out again and again. He was given a great gift, and he was given crushing flaws, and he has spent his life trying to find someplace to live between the two.

“Hey, great to see you,” John Daly said to me as he stood in front of the Hooters Thursday during the first round of the Masters. I have no illusion that he remembered me. There were 15 or 20 people gathered around his bus, searching through his table of shirts and hats and golf balls and autographed pictures. A guy asked if he could have his picture taken with Daly.

“Buy something,” the woman next to him said, “and he’ll be happy to take a photo.”

I bought an orange shirt. It says “John Daly” in script and has a sketch of a lion swinging a golf club. The lion, of course, is taking the club way past parallel.

“Can I have a bag to put this in?” I asked.

“Sure,” John Daly said. “As long as you don’t mind it being a Hooters bag.”

Red Sox fall 4-1 as Pineda, Ellsbury lead Yanks

NEW YORK (AP) David Ortiz looked at a cellphone photograph of Michael Pineda's right hand, one with a brown substance smeared across the palm.

"Was he hitting, or was he pitching?" Ortiz said.

Pine tar or dirt? It may never be clear.

Pineda took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit an RBI single off old roommate Clay Buchholz in his first game against the Red Sox, a 4-1 victory for the New York Yankees on Thursday night.

Ellsbury drew all the pregame attention after switching sides in the offseason. But it was the dark. seemingly tacky substance on the lower palm of Pineda's pitching hand that quickly became the focus.

Close-up camera shots clearly showed Pineda (1-1) pitching for the first four innings with something on his hand, and there was speculation it was pine tar to help him get a better grip on a chilly night. The game was never stopped for an umpire to examine him, and it was gone by the fifth.

"I thought he was great," Boston star Dustin Pedroia said. "I mean, I have pine tar on my bat, you know. That's a non-issue. I thought he was better than us tonight."

Pineda maintained nothing sinister was involved.

"It's dirt," Pineda said. "Between the innings, I'm sweating too much, my hand. I'm putting dirt - I'm grasping the dirt. ... I'm not using pine tar."

Buchholz and fellow Red Sox ace Jon Lester both attracted questions last year about substances they had on the mound, but nothing came of them.

"I became aware of it in the fourth inning through the video that someone had seen," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And then, when he came back out for the fifth inning, it looked, based on where it was told to me it was located, it looked like the palm of his right hand was clean."

Umpires weren't aware of the issue until after the game.

"The Red Sox didn't bring it to our attention, so there's nothing we can do about it," umpire crew chief Brian O'Nora said. "If they bring it to our attention, then you've got to do something."

And Yankees manager Joe Girardi essentially repeated the same answer five times during his postgame news conference.

"I never saw it. There's nothing really for me to talk about," he said.

Making his first Yankee Stadium start 27 months after he was acquired from Seattle, Pineda appeared completely recovered from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for two years. Throwing at up to 95 mph, he allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked two.

Brian McCann ended an 0-for-14 slide with a run-scoring single that put the Yankees ahead during a two-run fourth that also included a run-scoring double-play grounder by Alfonso Soriano.

In just his third big league start after 554 games in the minor leagues, 27-year-old infielder Dean Anna homered as New York boosted its lead to 4-0 in the fifth, when Ellsbury had an RBI single.

"Playing with him so long and then you see him playing against us, it's definitely kind of weird," Pedroia said.

Daniel Nava led off the seventh with a home run into the second deck in right, and Xander Bogaerts' single chased Pineda.

Buchholz (0-1) was sharper than in his opening start against Milwaukee, giving up four runs - two earned - and seven hits in six innings with six strikeouts and no walks.

"It got a lot better in a five-day span, which usually doesn't happen that quick," Buchholz said. "I felt a lot more comfortable with each pitch out there tonight."

NOTES: Red Sox CF Jackie Bradley Jr. sprinted into left-center to catch Carlos Beltran's two-out drive in the fourth with Derek Jeter on second. Nava sprinted in to make a sprawling grab on Yangervis Solarte's fly to right leading off the third. ... CC Sabathia (1-1) is slated to face Lester (0-2) on Friday night.

Old guys get it done in opening round at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) In a tournament packed with a bunch of young newcomers, the 50-and-over crowd made a bit of a stand in the first round of the Masters.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was leading the tournament for a time before stumbling on the back nine. Fred Couples was on the leaderboard himself before tying the 50-year-old Jimenez with a 1-under 71 that left both players three shots off the lead.

And former champion Bernard Langer managed to shoot even par in his 31st Masters.

"A 72 is not that shabby," the 56-year-old Langer said.

Not shabby at all, though the Masters is the one major championship where older players tend to do well. Jack Nicklaus finished in a tie for sixth here at the age of 58 in 1998, while Couples always seems to be hanging around the lead in the early rounds.

Power still counts, but sometimes the older players can make up for it by knowing where to put the ball and being crafty.

"It's hard for anyone. There are a lot of young guys that can hit the ball a long ways," said Jimenez, who was 4 under and in the lead before making bogey on No. 11 and double on 12 after hitting it in the water. "I don't hit the ball that far, but I hit it and it goes straight to the flag, you know. It's nice to see that I'm being competitive with all the guys."

Couples, who won the 1992 Masters, said he feels like he can still play Augusta National and compete with younger players, though he concedes he would have to get some breaks to put on another green jacket on Sunday.

"Can a 50-year-old win here?" the 54-year-old Couples asked. "I think so. I'm one of them."


FAMILY TIES: Bill Haas didn't let blood get in the way of work. He fired his brother last month and picked up a new caddie for the Masters.

"I needed to switch it up," Haas said. "My brother has been on the bag a bunch for a few years, and I think I needed a change."

Jay Haas Jr. has been hired and fired before - just like any other player-caddie relationship - and Bill, his younger brother, is known to be tough to work for at times. Plus, Bill didn't just go find anyone from the caddie yard.

He is using Scott Gneiser, who was with David Toms when he won the 2001 PGA Championship. Gneiser started this year working for PGA Tour rookie John Peterson until getting fired, about the time Bill put his brother on the bench.


TOUGH 12: The tricky little Par-3 12th at Augusta National played tougher than it has in years.

The 155-yard hole, which has water and a bunker in front, proved to be the second-hardest on the course in the opening round Thursday. Nicknamed "Golden Bell," the hole yielded six birdies, 56 pars, 26 bogeys, six doubles and three triples. The only hole tougher was the par-4 No. 11. The last time the 12th played as hard was 2009.

It was the only blemish on defending champion Adam Scott's scorecard.

Scott doubled the 12th after his tee shot caught the bank in front of the green and hopped back into Rae's Creek.

"I had just received the most incredible ovation as I came to the 12th tee - and I hit my worst shot of the day," Scott said. "I think that's my first-ever trip into Rae's Creek."


IKE'S TREE: Three former champions who have combined for 13 wins in the Masters have different ideas about what should happen to the 17th hole now that the Eisenhower Tree is gone.

"I think I would probably put a tree right back where the tree was try to get it about as similar as it was when it was taken out," Arnold Palmer said.

Jack Nicklaus, the six-time champion who is most heavily involved in golf course design, said he would pay closer attention to the hole beyond where Ike's tree was.

"It does look a little naked," Nicklaus said. "It's not only Ike's tree, but Little Ike and a couple other trees were gone. But they really had no effect on the play of the golf tournament as it relates to the tournament. ... Sure, you could put a tree back. But I personally think that the hole needs definition a little further up, not back."

Gary Player said no other tree has had greater significance on a golf course. That said, Player is not a big fan of trees that come into play off the tee.

"As much as I had for the name attached to the tree, I think it's best that the tree does not be put back," Player said.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said the club would move slowly in figuring out the best change, if any.


DONALD PENALTY: Luke Donald's 7-over 79 - his highest score ever at the Masters - included a two-stroke penalty.

After Donald left his third shot in a green-side bunker at par-4 ninth, he grounded his club before his next stroke. That incurred a two-stroke penalty that left him with a quadruple-bogey 8. He rebounded with seven pars and a bogey over his next eight holes, but ended the round with a bogey that left him just shy of 80.


DUFNER'S DUFF: Jason Dufner carded the highest score of the day, a quadruple-bogey 9 at the 13th. Things unraveled in a hurry, too, after reaching the green-side rough in two. Dufner's third shot slid past the hole, just missing the pin by a few inches, and didn't stop until it rolled off the green, down an embankment and into a creek.

With part of his ball above water, Dufner tried to chip out from there, but the shot came up short and rolled back in. He dropped from there, then chunked his sixth shot well short. He chipped on and two-putted for his highest score by far in 13 rounds at the Masters.

Dufner finished at 8 over.


DIVOTS: Eight players shot 80 or higher: amateur Chang-woo Lee (80), Hideki Matsuyama (80), Jason Dufner (80), Graham DeLaet (80), amateur Jordan Niebrugge (81), Craig Stadler (82), Ben Crenshaw (83) and Branden Grace (84). ... Bubba Watson (3-under 69) had the only bogey-free round of the day. ... Of the six amateurs in the field, three of them - Matthew Fitzpatrick, Oliver Goss and Garrick Porteous - shot 76.


AP Sports Writer Tim Dahlberg and AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

Giants' Eli Manning has surgery on left ankle

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is going to start the offseason training program with a surgically repaired left ankle.

The Giants announced that Manning had arthroscopic surgery Thursday to relieve some lingering discomfort in the ankle he sprained in the regular-season finale against Washington.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP has been rehabbing the ankle for more than three months, but it was still bothering him.

Dr. Robert Anderson, a foot and ankle specialist in Charlotte, N.C., performed a debridement, removing dead, damaged, or infected tissue to improve the healing potential of the remaining healthy tissue.

Manning expects to be able to run in six weeks.

Manning is coming off one of his worst seasons. The 33-year-old who will be entering his 11th season threw a career-high 27 interceptions playing behind a decimated offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 39 times. He completed 317 of 551 passes for 3,818 yards and 18 touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 69.4 was his lowest since a 55.4 in his rookie season in 2004.

"I'm looking forward to the start of the offseason program on the (April) 21st," said Manning, who has started 151 consecutive games. "I will be in the weight room and in the meeting rooms so we can all learn the new offense. I got some good work in this week at Duke, and I think it's smart to get this procedure done now so the ankle isn't an ongoing issue. I'm eager to get to work with our new offensive coaches and system."

The Giants will hold organized team activities May 28-30, June 2-3, June 5, June 9-10, June 12-13, and a mandatory minicamp June 17-19.

Coach Tom Coughlin hired Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator after Kevin Gilbride retired after last season. There also is a new quarterback coach, Danny Langsdorf.

The Giants (7-9) scored 294 points, the lowest total of the Tom Coughlin era. They finished 28th in the NFL in total yards (307.5 a game), 29th in yards rushing per game (83.3) and 30th in yards per carry (3.5).

New York has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.


AP NFL website: and

Task force: Niagara Falls possible home for Bills

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Don't rule out Niagara Falls as a potential future home of the Buffalo Bills.

Several officials told The Associated Press that a newly formed Bills stadium task force of public and private leaders seeking to bolster the team's long-term viability is considering sites that would put it closer to the team's burgeoning Ontario fan base.

"We're looking at Niagara County," Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told the AP this week. "We're open to looking at a number of venues."

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster confirmed Niagara County was discussed as an option during the inaugural meeting last week of the newly formed New Stadium Working Group committee.

Duffy made clear "that all options should be on the table," Dyster said, adding that includes Niagara County and even Batavia, about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester.

That goes beyond the group's initial directive, which was first limited to seeking potential stadium sites in Erie County, where Buffalo is located.

Another idea is having the Bills relocate their headquarters to the University at Buffalo campus in the Erie County town of Amherst, where a new practice facility would be built and shared with the school's football team. That proposal would satisfy a long-term need for a Mid-American Conference program seeking to broaden its profile.

Though not a member of the working group, New York state Sen. Tim Kennedy told the AP he is aware of the preliminary discussions tying the Bills and the school. A person familiar with the discussions confirmed the Bills/UB plan has been raised. That person wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the subjects raised in the private meeting and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Duffy and Dyster are among 20 members of the stadium group, which was established to make recommendations on whether the Bills require a new facility or should continue playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium, their 41-year-old home in Orchard Park. The group was formed as part of a 10-year, $271-million lease agreement the team reached with the state and Erie County in December 2012.

The group's role in helping determine the Bills' future took on more significance after Ralph Wilson, the team's owner and founder, died on March 25. Wilson's widow, Mary Wilson, is now overseeing the team until the franchise is sold, which raises the possibility of the Bills relocating under a new owner.

The Bills are essentially locked into playing at their current home through the 2019 season, because the lease features a $400 million penalty in the event the team broke it. In 2020, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for about $28 million.

Toronto and Los Angeles are regarded potential suitors.

The new owner will have final say on any stadium proposal.

It's incumbent upon the working group, which includes U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, to present a framework of viable options that provide the best chance of keeping the team in western New York.

"We have many very good tools to help that happen," Schumer told the AP. "I think there is a view that us showing early interest and the potential of a new home for the Bills is very helpful, because we want to show an owner that we want to do what it take to keep the Bills in Buffalo."

Ralph Wilson Stadium is currently undergoing $130 million in upgrades. The work includes structural upgrades and adding fan amenities to bring the facility up to modern-day NFL standards.

The Bills' presence has been regarded as key in helping an economically hard-hit region maintain a national identity. As the NFL's only New York-based franchise, the team generates about $20 million in direct annual tax revenue for the state.

Niagara Falls is 30 minutes closer by car than Orchard Park to a growing southern Ontario fan base. The Bills estimate Canadians make up about 18 percent of their season-ticket base.

Kennedy favors the proposal of linking the Bills and the university but is against a stadium site outside of Erie County.

"The Buffalo Bills were born in Buffalo and should stay in Buffalo," Kennedy said. "At least in Erie County. If we're talking about a new stadium I'd like to see it built in Buffalo proper."

Kennedy said a new stadium with a dome or a retractable roof could be part of a larger development, including a new convention center. The new facility would boost efforts to re-energize downtown Buffalo, he said, and could even make the city a contender for hosting the Super Bowl, he said.

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra said the southern Ontario market is critical to the Bills' future. Giambra said Wilson discussed with him the possibility of the team playing home games in St. Catharines, Ontario, while maintaining its headquarters in New York.

"They were aggressively trying to figure out how to tap that Canadian marketplace because of the economics," Giambra said.

Dyster is aware of discussions regarding the advantages of Niagara Falls' location, but said it's premature to suggest what recommendations might emerge.

"The critical thing here is that we all have to come together as a region to make certain that we keep the Bills here," Dyster said. "If we lose the Bills, we're all losers."

Davis to miss last 4 games, Gordon having surgery

METAIRIE, La. (AP) The Pelicans say All-Star forward Anthony Davis will miss New Orleans' final four games this season.

The club also says guard Eric Gordon is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee next week.

Davis, who has averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks this season, sat out Wednesday night's loss to Phoenix with back soreness. The club says team doctors have determined that Davis could use another week or two of rest to heal properly.

Gordon, who has averaged 15.4 points during 64 games, has missed 10 straight contests with left knee tendinitis. The Pelicans say he's expected to make a full recovery during the offseason.

New Orleans' season concludes with two games each against Oklahoma City and Houston, starting Friday night in Oklahoma City.

Kenseth looking for another Darlington win

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) Matt Kenseth hopes to get his season going and lock up a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Darlington Raceway.

Kenseth came to the Southern 500 last May as one of Sprint Cup's hottest drivers, winning twice in his first season driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. This time, Kenseth comes in winless through seven races under the new NASCAR format where a victory pretty much ensures a driver a spot in the 16-team Chase.

Kenseth added to his fast start a season ago with a Southern 500 win. He'd love to become the eighth different driver to win in as many races with his second consecutive victory here. Kenseth says he's not any more concerned about the winless start than he would be in any season.

A's take struggling Jim Johnson out of closer role

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Oakland Athletics brought Jim Johnson into their bullpen when they lost All-Star closer Grant Balfour in free agency.

Two weeks into the season, Johnson is 0-2 with an 18.90 ERA and one blown save in five appearances for the Athletics. Manager Bob Melvin couldn't afford to wait while the former Orioles closer got into a groove, removing him from that role on Thursday.

Melvin will proceed with a closer-by-committee approach.

"There's no timetable," Melvin told A's beat writers before the team played their series finale against the Minnesota Twins. "Let's just get him straightened out. And we have plenty of options. That's the good thing about our team, our versatility. We'll play it by ear based on how the game's going, who's available on that particular day."

He's allowed at least two runs in three of his five appearances, his seven total runs allowed is tied for the most in the AL among relievers. He's allowed more walks and hits than any other reliever in the league.

It's a far cry from the dominant reliever who saved 50 games for the Orioles last season, tied with Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for the most in the majors. The A's were in the market when Balfour, who had 38 saves last year to help Oakland win its second straight AL West title, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays over the winter.

Johnson is making $10 million and will be a free agent at the end of this season, but the A's can take heart that he has recovered from similar funks before to post solid seasons. Last year, he was charged with three losses and four of his nine total blown saves during a tough six-game stretch in the middle of May. He allowed 12 runs over five innings in that stretch, but posted a 1.52 ERA in his other 69 appearances.

Oakland will use Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregorson and Sean Doolittle in save situations, depending on the matchup.

Gasol, Randolph lead Grizzlies past Heat 107-102

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Zach Randolph had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Marc Gasol added 20 points and 14 rebounds and the Memphis Grizzlies kept their playoff hopes alive with a 107-102 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

LeBron James led the Heat with 37 points, connecting on 14 of 23 shots, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. Rashard Lewis scored 17, and Chris Bosh finished with 13 points. Mario Chalmers scored 12 points for the Heat.

Meanwhile, the loss, coupled with the Indiana Pacers' 104-102 win at Milwaukee, dropped the Heat into the second spot in the Eastern Conference.

Mike Conley finished with a team-high 26 points and handed out six assists as Memphis remained one game behind the Phoenix Suns for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Suns defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 94-88 also on Wednesday night.

Courtney Lee added 18 points for Memphis.

Pacers rest starters, edge Bucks 104-102

MILWAUKEE (AP) Chris Copeland's driving layup with 1.2 seconds remaining gave the Indiana Pacers a 104-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night that moved them back into first place in the Eastern Conference.

Copeland finished with a season-high 18 points. Luis Scola also recorded a season high with 24 points and Evan Turner added 23 for Indiana, which benched all of its usual starters for the entire game.

Coach Frank Vogel made the move after saying his team appeared tired following a 107-88 home loss to Atlanta on Sunday, when the Pacers were held to a franchise-low 23 points in the first half.

Even without the starters, Indiana moved a half-game ahead of the Heat heading into Friday's matchup in Miami.