Friday, October 7 2022
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Happy Wednesday, all. Hope you had a better night than the Lakers did.

Let’s get right to it!

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

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TIGER WOODS (AND GOLF FANS EVERYWHERE)

Tiger Woods is back, folks. After practicing at Augusta National last week and then declaring himself a game-time decision on Sunday, the five-time Masters Tournament champion said “I feel like I am going to play” at his press conference yesterday.

If all goes to plan between now and his 10:34 a.m. tee time tomorrow, it will be a truly remarkable recovery.

  • Woods last played in a competitive event at the 2020 Masters, which was held in November of that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Just months later, he got in a serious single-car accident that immediately required several surgeries.

While the headline grabber from yesterday’s press conference was that he’s planning to play, Woods addressed plenty of other questions, noting that even though he hasn’t played in a professional tournament in nearly a year and a half, he expects to contend.

Of course he does. He’s Tiger Woods. Having him back is great for the game of golf. I know what I’ll be doing at 10:34 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Honorable mentions

  • The Panthers are still atop our NHL Power Rankings, but the Wild are peaking at the right time.
  • Here are the top players in the men’s college basketball transfer portal.

And not such a good morning for…

THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS

The Lakers have finally, mercifully and officially been eliminated from NBA playoff contention following their loss against the Suns and the Spurs’ win at the Nuggets.

Entering the season, the Lakers had the second-shortest odds to win the championship, behind only the Nets, but things went sideways quickly. The reasons are, frankly, pretty simple:

  • Russell Westbrook was never a good fit alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so much so that coaches reportedly pushed to trade Westbrook at the trade deadline.
  • James and Davis, meanwhile, have constantly dealt with injuries. They’ve missed a combined 62 games this season.
  • Thanks in large part to a depleted supporting case, the Lakers are 23rd in defensive rating this season; for reference, they were first last year and third two seasons ago, when they won the title.

Perhaps what has been most surprising is the Lakers’ complete lack of a sense of urgency. On March 1, they woke up ninth in the Western Conference: not great, but far from a lost season, especially considering the injury issues they dealt with. Since then, they are 4-15. Only the Trail Blazers — a team in full tank mode — are worse.

Now, two years removed from their championship, the Lakers have more questions than answers. While their descent from being title contenders to missing the playoffs is shocking, this end result may actually be for the best, writes our NBA expert Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn: “The Lakers needed to be embarrassed. They needed this season to end in such a humiliating fashion that the franchise’s power brokers could no longer ignore just how bad they’ve allowed things to get. Any notion that they could carry the same nonchalant attitude that informed their trade deadline into the offseason needed to be erased here and now. There is no momentum here. There are no positives to build upon. There is a fundamentally broken team in need of swift and decisive action from supposed organizational leaders in order to be fixed.”

Not so honorable mentions

Ranking the entire Masters field 🏌

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One of my favorite exercises every spring is upon us once again: ranking every player in the Masters field. Our golf expert Kyle Porter has done the honors, and his top player is looking for his first green jacket:

  • Porter: 1. Justin Thomas: He has every shot. … Since the beginning of February, only Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry have been better ball-strikers, and J.T. has putted surprisingly well. Though he’s been disappointing overall during his major championship career, he’s at the perfect equilibrium between having experience, possessing one of the great tee-to-green games on the planet and not yet being jaded by failing too many times (like Ernie Els). To wit: The average Masters champion wins after 6.4 attempts. This is J.T.’s seventh appearance.”

Meanwhile, current world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler — who has three PGA Tour wins this season, most of any player — comes in sixth:

  • Porter: “His rise from No. 14 to No. 1 happened in the span of six weeks, which means his golf has been scorching but he might not have long-term staying power at that spot. Regardless, he’s been good at major championships. Each of his last six starts has been a top 20 and four of them have been inside the top eight. The match play event felt a bit like a culmination of his run, but perhaps the ride has one more apex.”

As for where all of the 91 players (yes, including Tiger Woods) file in, you can check out the entire rankings here and expert predictions and picks for the tournament here.

Bold predictions for upcoming MLB season ⚾

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Believe it or not, tomorrow is Opening Day. Baseball’s offseason wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but we’re getting an entire 162-game slate, and I’m excited about that … even though my beloved Nationals probably won’t be very good.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get bold with some predictions, and MLB expert Mike Axisa has a new face emerging as a star.

  • Axisa: “When healthy, Byron Buxton‘s a difference-maker on both sides of the ball, and for my first bold prediction, I’m saying Buxton will stay healthy this season. And because he stays healthy, he’ll win AL MVP. He is that good and that talented, and at age 28, Buxton is right smack in his prime. A full, healthy season of Buxton could include 40 homers, 30 steals, and the best center field defense in the sport. He’s a 10-WAR season waiting to happen.”

Mike also made his championship prediction, and it’s probably not a team you’re expecting.

Champions League recap: Man City, Liverpool earn first-leg wins; other quarterfinals begin today ⚽

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Manchester City edged Atlético Madrid 1-0 and Liverpool topped Benfica 3-1 on the opening day of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. Kevin de Bruyne scored the only goal for the Premier League leaders in their win while Ibrahima Konate, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz all scored for the Reds.

We get two more first legs today at 3 p.m. on Paramount+.

Soccer guru James Benge predicts a tight affair between the Blues and Los Blancos:

  • Benge: “Even if the Blues opt for a more cautious approach in the first leg, a front three of Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz that has N’Golo Kante bringing the ball to them will need mitigating against, particularly if Reece James is also at anything approximating his best. … So do not be surprised if Carlo Ancelotti opts to simply pack his defense … They know what Chelsea can do to them in open field. Their hosts have a tendency to tighten things up in this competition. Do not expect goals or even shots aplenty.

What we’re watching Wednesday 📺

Chelsea vs Real Madrid, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
Villareal vs Bayern Munich, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 Nets at Knicks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Lightning at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Suns at Clippers, 10 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Flames at Ducks, 10 p.m. on TNT

Source: CBSSports.com

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