Articles By Rob Doster

All taxonomy terms: Luke Donald, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-8-luke-donald-1
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 8: Luke Donald

Born: Dec. 7, 1977, Hemel Hempstead, England  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 (6 on European Tour) | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 4 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,683,214 World Ranking: 1

 

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

The reason I don’t have the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings ranked higher, or more likely to do well in the majors in 2012, is simple: He doesn’t drive the ball well enough. In 2011, Donald was 127th in total driving on the PGA Tour, and in 2010 he was 186th. This has been his problem throughout his career, and it is the reason that, despite being by far the best putter in the world and by far the best bunker player in the world, he struggles in the majors. For example, he never hit more than three fairways in a row at last year’s U.S. Open and never hit more than four in a row at the British Open, and he is not powerful enough to play from the rough. 
His best chance to win his first major is at The Masters, where he finished fourth last year and he has three top 10s in the last seven years.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 34
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T4
U.S. Open - T45
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T8

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2005)
U.S. Open - T12 (2006)
British Open - T5 (2009)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 11

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 10:27
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-9-steve-stricker
Body:

 

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 9: Steve Stricker

Born: Feb. 23, 1967, Edgerton, Wis.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 12 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,992,785 World Ranking: 5

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

At 45 years old, Steve Stricker is doing what few golfers have ever done: He is showing no signs of waning interest or skills as he ages. In 2011, for the third consecutive year, he won multiple tournaments on the PGA Tour and increased his career win total to 11, a number that has since grown. He also had a very good year in the majors, making the cut in all four; only one player, Charles Schwartzel, had a lower cumulative score (Stricker was tied with Sergio Garcia). For the second consecutive year Steve didn’t miss a PGA Tour cut, and as of this writing, his current streak of 46 events without missing a cut is the longest on Tour. 
Like Luke Donald, though, he is a relatively short hitter who doesn’t drive the ball as straight as he should given his lack of distance. Not once in his career has he hit 70 percent of the fairways in a year, and that is why he hasn’t had a top-5 finish in a major since 1999.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 53
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T11
U.S. Open - T19
British Open - T12
PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T6 (2009)
U.S. Open - 5/T5 (1998-99)
British Open - T7 (2008)
PGA Championship - 2 (1998)
Top-10 Finishes: 9
Top-25 Finishes: 22
Missed Cuts: 14

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, John Elway, Tim Tebow, NFL
Path: /nfl/elway-and-tebow-one-final-comparison
Body:

After Tim Tebow's first five starts of the 2011 season, long before Tebowmania had fully bloomed and before Tebowing was even a thing, I took the occasion to compare his five starts to John Elway's first five turns under center in Denver. Neither statline was pretty, but fortunately, Elway had a patient Bronco braintrust that was fully prepared to give him all the time he needed. 

Elway would offer his young protégé no such time to develop. 

The sometimes thrilling, sometimes maddening, always fascinating Tebow era in Denver is over, and not a moment too soon for Elway, for whom every Tebow fourth-quarter comeback was like a kick in the horse-teeth. I have to admit that I'll miss the pressbox shots of Elway chewing nails while fans rejoiced and Tebow bowed in prayer after yet another improbable win. 

So, in honor of their apparent parting of ways, I'm giving this Tebow-Elway comparison thing one last go-round. To those of you who thought I was being unfair to Elway the last time due to the small sample size and Elway's eventual greatness, I've decided to compare Tebow's 11 starts in 2011 to Elway's first 10 seasons in Denver. Surely, that's enough time for Elway to have established himself as far superior to this latter-day saint masquerading as a QB, right?

Judge for yourself.


                                              Tim Tebow (11 starts)                John Elway (10 seasons)
Winning %                                      .636                                            .631
Postseason Winning %                   .500                                            .583
Postseason 300-yard games               1                                                 2
Comp %                                         46.9                                             54.7
TD-INT                                         11-6                                  158-157 (avg. season 15.8-15.7)
TD responsibility/game                  1.5                                               1.3
INT/game                                        0.5                                               1.1
Total yards/game                           206.7                                           225.7
Rushing yards/game                      56.6                                             15.8

Judging from these numbers, Elway's first decade in the league was not decisively better than Tebow's 2011 season in Denver by any metric — even passing, a category where Elway's yardage and accuracy advantages are offset by his alarming interception propensity.

I know, I know, different era, rules changes, yadda yadda yadda. Plus, by this point in his career, Elway had cashed in on his potential with three Super Bowl trips. Of course, once he got there, he taught the world a thing or two about colossal failure on the biggest stage. In those three games, he threw two touchdowns and five interceptions. His 10-of-26, 108-yard, two-interception debacle, a statline that produced a passer rating of 19.4, in the Broncos' 55-10 Super Bowl loss to the Niners would have embarrassed Tebow on his worst day.  

Tebow will get no such opportunity to humiliate himself with the whole world watching, at least in a Broncos uniform. Elway has jettisoned his problem child for the one guy who allows him to get away with it cleanly. Savvy move. 

I leave you with a quote from my previous article, since I still stand by it:

"Tebow is not the NFL prototype at the position that Elway was, and he may never be an effective pocket passer. But he brings attributes to the position that still make him worth the risk, particularly for a team that's going nowhere and doesn't possess a better option. It's hard to play NFL quarterback; there are fewer than 32 guys on the planet who can do it competently. I may be crazy, but given Timmy's intangibles, I think this experiment could still work."

-by Rob Doster

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow stacks up to John Elway better than you might think. Tebow's statistics after his first 11 starts in 2011 are similar to Elway's numbers following his first 10 seasons with the Denver Broncos.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 16:59
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-10-dustin-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 10: Dustin Johnson

Born: June 22, 1984, Columbia, S.C.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,309,961 World Ranking: 11

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

With every swing of the club, Dustin Johnson lights up the game and holds his peers and fans alike in awe. He had a measured drive in 2011 of 463 yards, which was the longest of any player, and his win at the Barclays kept alive his streak of having won in every year he’s been on Tour (four years). 
In the last two years, though, it is his play in the majors that has elevated our expectations. At first glance, The Masters seems to be a perfect fit, but his suspect short game makes that the least likely place for him to win his first major. The harder the course, the longer the course and the more intimidating the course, the better his chances, which makes the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course a likely place for him to become better known for a big win than for his big drives.

 

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 13
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T38
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T30 (2009)
U.S. Open - T8 (2010)
British Open - T2 (2011)
PGA Championship - T5 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 6
Missed Cuts: 2

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 10:01
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-11-jason-day
Body:

 

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 11: Jason Day

Born: Nov. 12, 1987, Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,962,647 World Ranking: 9

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Jason Day is the reincarnation of Phil Mickelson, except that he plays right-handed and speaks with an Australian accent. Everything about this 24-year-old screams future superstar. He has overpowering length to go with a great putting stroke, and the poise he possesses was on full display when he birdied the final two holes of The Masters, losing only to the heroic efforts of Charl Schwartzel. Still, his 12-under par at Augusta is the lowest ever total for a first-time player, and he continued his superlative play in the game’s next major, the U.S. Open, where he garnered another second-place finish. 
His talent and his demeanor on the course remind me of a young Phil, who took more than a decade to finally win a major, but I don’t think it will take Jason as long, because he will not be playing against a young Tiger Woods as Phil was.

 

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 6
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T2
U.S. Open - 2
British Open - T30
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - 2 (2011)
British Open - T30 (2011)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 1

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Friday, March 16, 2012 - 10:05
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-13-nick-watney
Body:

 

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 13: Nick Watney

Born: April 25, 1981, Sacramento, Calif.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,290,673 World Ranking: 19

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Even though Watney finished fourth on the 2011 money list, I think he suffered somewhat from the expectations that the world of golf has heaped on his shoulders. That pressure was most evident in the majors, where he twice finished seventh in 2010 but struggled in 2011. Aside from the lackluster year in the majors, Nick won two of the biggest events on tour in 2011 against some of the strongest fields of the year at the WGC Cadillac Championship and the AT&T National. He puts the club in a great position at the top of the swing, and that position gives his shots height and gives him the versatility to hit any shot. If he could find one shot shape off the tee, and replace the burden of expectations with determination, Nick could become a great player.

 

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 17
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - 46
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 7th (2010)
U.S. Open - T60 (2008)
British Open - T7 (2010)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 6
Missed Cuts: 6

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 14:04
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-14-matt-kuchar
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 14: Matt Kuchar

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,233,920 World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

The 2010 Vardon Trophy winner had another huge year in 2011. In the 24 events he played, he posted 19 top-25 finishes and had nine top 10s, although he didn’t manage a victory. In the past two years the swing changes that he’s made have resulted in his becoming one of the most reliable players, especially in must-make situations late on Sunday, where inside five feet he has few equals. 
His few weaknesses and swing characteristics nevertheless hurt him in the game’s biggest events. His swing is too flat and his angle of attack too shallow to get out of the thicker rough in the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA. At Augusta, where there is little rough, the one place you can’t play from is left, and that is Matt’s tendency. Like Luke Donald and Steve Stricker, Matt is not a great driver, but his short game has made him rich.

 

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 25
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T27
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T19

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T21 (1998)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T27 (2010)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 14

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:27
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-achilles-heel
Body:

The golf world is breathlessly awaiting news this morning about the health of Tiger Woods, last seen limping into a golf cart after his tee shot on the 12th hole at Doral's Blue Monster. Tiger's re-emergence was only one storyline of what has been a compelling 2012 PGA Tour season, but it was a big one. The Tour needs a healthy, competitive Tiger, a player who stirs emotion - both positive and negative - and draws in casual fans in a way that the Rory McIlroys of the world simply cannot.

But let's face it - Tiger is 36, and it's an old 36. Years of strenuous workouts, not to mention the inhuman level of torque and twisting that he's put his body through in transforming golf into a power game, have taken a significant toll. What once seemed a leisurely stroll to 19 majors and the all-time record has become a death march. 

So, as we await word on what is being called a left Achilles injury by the Woods camp, it's worth chronicling what is becoming an extensive injury history for Tiger. Here are the various and sundry body parts that have been tweaked, treated or dinged during Tiger's career:

Left Knee/Leg
2011 - Sprain of medial collateral ligaments in left knee and minor strain of his left Achilles.
June 2008 - “As far as the procedure, it was an ACL reconstruction of my left knee. They did take a graft, basically a tendon out of my right hamstring, and implemented it into my left knee and made it into my new ACL; and they fixed a little bit of cartilage damage I had in there.” — Woods, who fought through an injured ACL and a stress fracture of his left tibia to win the 2008 U.S. Open
April 2008 - Surgery so secret even Tiger’s swing coach Hank Haney didn’t know until after the fact. Widespread speculation that the injury occurred during a fist-pumping celebration in the ’07 PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
December 2002 - Fluid from around ACL drained, Benign cyst removed
1994 - Benign tumor removed

Back/Neck
May 2010 - "I've been playing with a bad neck for quite a while. I might have a bulging disk."
September 2004 - Thoracic (chest, rib area) spine pain and stiffness
April 1995 - Injured during practice round at The Masters
 
Shoulder
September 2004 - “I’ve never had that pain in my life.” — Woods, after developing soreness on a cross-country flight
May 1995 - Injured during Stanford Intercollegiates

Wrist
June 1995 - Exited U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills after five holes of the second round, injuring left wrist hitting out of rough 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 11:26
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-15-bill-haas
Body:

 

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

 

No. 15: Bill Haas

Born: May 24, 1982, Charlotte, N.C.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,088,637 World Ranking: 14

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

The 2011 FedExCup champ has never finished in the top 10 in a major, but he was one of the few in the world to make the cut in every major in only his sixth year on Tour. It has taken him awhile to find his footing, but at 29 years old he should, over the next decade, be one of the premier players in the game. His top-5 ball-striking rank coupled with his ranking of third in putting from inside five feet explains his success last year and point towards great things in 2012. It looks like Haas might not know how good he is, but simultaneously lifting the Tour Championship trophy and the FedExCup should give him the confidence to contend and perhaps win a major in the very near future.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 9
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T42
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - T57
PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T26 (2010)
U.S. Open - T23 (2011)
British Open - T57 (2011)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 3

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 10:47
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-16-rickie-fowler
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

 

No. 16: Rickie Fowler

Born: Dec. 13, 1988, Murietta, Calif.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 0 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,084,681 World Ranking: 36

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

One might wonder how Rickie could end up on a list of potential major winners for 2012 when he has never won a tournament on the PGA Tour, or how he could be ranked ahead of players who have far more experience and success in the game’s biggest events. The answer lies not so much in the stats but in the feeling one gets when watching him play, a feeling that was validated in the fall of 2011 in Asia when he won the Kolon Korea Open by six shots over Rory McIlroy. His undeniable talent is much respected by his peers, and his ability to embrace adversity was evident in the difficult conditions of the final round of last year’s British Open, where he finished tied for fifth. In any one event it is very difficult to predict a winner, but in predicting success over a career for a player of Rickie’s talent and attitude, it’s not hard to look like a soothsayer.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T38
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T5
PGA Championship - T51

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T38 (2011)
U.S. Open - T60 (2008)
British Open - T5 (2011)
PGA Championship - T51 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 2

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 05:30
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-17-fredrik-jacobson
Body:

 

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 17: Fredrik Jacobson

Born: Sept. 26, 1974, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (3 on European Tour) | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,488,325 World Ranking: 40

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Outside of the heavy favorites with obvious attributes that separate them from the masses in the middle, there are two things that matter most: attitude and the ability to hole a putt. 
Fredrik Jacobson gets the most out of his scrappy game because he doesn’t beat himself up and rarely gives away strokes on the greens. Long known as a player who could scramble, in recent years he has put together solid ball-striking weeks to go with his considerable skills around the greens. In 2011 he broke through with a win at the Travelers Championship to go with solid weeks at the U.S. and British Opens, where he finished tied for 14th and 16th respectively. In the fall at the WGC-HSBC, he led most of the week before finishing second. I have no doubt that 2011 has set up this 37-year-old Swede for his best year in the majors, starting with The Masters, where he will be playing for the first time since 2005.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 22
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - T16
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T17 (2004)
U.S. Open - T5 (2003)
British Open - T6 (2003)
PGA Championship - T17 (2004)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-18-keegan-bradley
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

 

No. 18: Keegan Bradley

 

Born: June 7, 1986, Woodstock, Vt. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2
2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,758,600
World Ranking: 20

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

If you’re only as good as the company you keep, then Keegan Bradley is destined for blue skies on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Pate and Hal Sutton, like Keegan, all won majors as rookies. Willpower is tied to belief, and Bradley showed plenty of both as he walked off the 15th hole in the final round of the PGA Championship. Keegan had just made a triple bogey and was trailing by five, but he would become only the third player in history to overcome that deficit so late in a tournament. That tenacity, coupled with one of the best tee balls on Tour, should keep him from suffering from a sophomore slump and make him an exciting player to watch as he tries to become the first current player in his 20s to earn multiple major wins.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 1
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - DNP
PGA Championship - Won

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - n/a
British Open - n/a
PGA Championship - 1st (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 0

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-19-trevor-immelman
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 19: Trevor Immelman

Born: Dec. 16, 1979, Cape Town, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (4 European Tour) 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,165,604 | World Ranking: 144

Brandel Chamblee's Take:
The 2008 Masters champion has been relatively absent from leaderboards for the last few years because of an injury to his left wrist and a subsequent surgery and rehab. As 2011 wore on, however, his wrist became flexible enough that he could, for the first time in years, set the angle completely at the top of his swing. This means that his inaccurate driving over the last few years is on the mend, and the results bear this out. Trevor tied for 12th at the PGA Championship and posted a fifth and a sixth at the last two events of the Fall Finish. 
More important, he was one of the most accurate drivers of the ball in the last few months of 2011. It looks as if Trevor will finally have his health, his confidence and one of the best swings in the history of the game to start the 2012 majors season.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 31
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
 Masters - T15
 U.S. Open - Cut
 British Open - T38
 PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1st (2008)
U.S. Open - T21 (2006)
British Open - T15 (2005)
PGA Championship - T6 (2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 8

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /columns/monday-musings/rory-phil-and-tiger-show
Body:

They say that golf season doesn't really start until the Masters. This year, they're wrong, whoever they are. 
A stunning flurry of early-season PGA Tour action reached a crescendo at the Honda Classic, where new world No. 1 Rory McIlroy fended off an epic charge from Tiger Woods to win a tournament that boasts the cachet of the greatest player of them all, Jack Nicklaus. Throw in Phil Mickelson's stellar play out west, and Kyle Stanley's meltdown-slash-turnaround, and 2012 is shaping up to be the greatest golf season in recent history. 

This weekend, at the Nicklaus-toughened PGA National Champion Course, McIlroy didn't simply back into the top spot in the world rankings. He went out and grabbed it by the throat, shooting four rounds in the 60s and showcasing a newly burnished short game that, coupled with his peerless ballstriking, could carry him to a legendary career. 
Mickelson shook off a sluggish start to the season to post great back-to-back performances at the AT&T Pebble Beach and Northern Trust that stamped him an early favorite at Augusta. 
Then there's Tiger. All he did was shoot the lowest final round of his career, an electric 62 that featured a spine-tingling birdie-eagle finish punctuated with a vintage double-fist-pump on the 72nd green that could portend that the comeback is complete. 
The Masters can't get here fast enough. 

Tiger Watch
Some eye-opening numbers for you to digest this morning:
The current leader on the PGA Tour in Total Driving? Tiger Woods, and it's not even close. He's 14th in distance and fifth — fifth! — in driving accuracy. Basically, he's driving the ball better than he ever has. Of his eight rounds of stroke play in 2012, he's shot in the 60s in six of them. He's third on Tour in adjusted scoring average, at 67.93, behind only Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. 
All this from a guy who we've been told has lost his mojo. 
Reality check for the Tiger haters: The guy's close. Very close. 

Welcome to the Party
Thanks to the participation of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, the Honda Classic has taken its place with the greatest non-major events of the golf season. Despite the relentless pimping by the golf commentariat of the Bear Trap — the stretch from 15-17 that actually offered little resistance this weekend — the Honda has something priceless: an identity. Throw in the presence of Tiger Woods, who'll almost certainly add this event to his permanent calendar, and the Nicklauses have themselves a winner.

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 10:57
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/no-20-jim-furyk
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Dream Team, if you will. If you're drafting a majors fantasy squad, these 20 players should be sitting atop your board. After a 2011 season that saw international players capture three of the four majors, we're expecting a slight resurgence from the Americans, most notably from the familiar name at the top of the list. But it’s worth noting that six of our top eight hail from outside the States, giving this list a decidedly international flavor. 

Three of the four reigning major winners are on this list, and collectively, this group owns 23 major championships, with that number a virtual certainty to grow this year — especially since 13 of these elite players have yet to win their first and are entering 2012 hungry for that career-defining breakthrough.

Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. 

No. 20: Jim Furyk

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,529,690 | World Ranking: 61

Brandel Chamblee's Take:
The only difference between 2010, when Jim Furyk won the FedExCup, and 2011, when he had one of the worst years of his career, was one club, the putter. Jim switched to a long putter late in the season to try to find answers on the greens, but they wouldn’t come until the Presidents Cup, where he switched back to the conventional method and looked like the man who had 16 wins and a U.S. Open title in his career. 


At 41 years old, Jim might not have that many great years left, but I have long thought of him as the Hale Irwin of this generation. Hale won a third U.S. Open late in his career, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Jim won his second in 2012.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 65
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
Masters - T24
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T48
PGA Championship - T39

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4th (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1st (2003)
British Open - 4th/T4 (1997, 1998, 2006)
PGA Championship - T6 (1997)
Top-10 Finishes: 18
Top-25 Finishes: 31
Missed Cuts: 13

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Counts Down The 20 Greatest Golfers for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 12:28
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-not-amused-hank-haney-tell-all
Body:

There's clearly some ill will between Tiger Woods and star instructor Hank Haney over Haney's book about his former pupil. Titled The Big Miss, the book chronicles Haney's teaching relationship with Tiger, which spanned six years and 31 PGA Tour victories, including six major championships. Despite Haney's insistence that the book isn't a tawdry tell-all, Tiger expressed his disappointment in the (as yet unread) book, slated for release prior to The Masters. "I think it's unprofessional and very disappointing," Woods told ESPN.com earlier this year, "especially because it's someone I worked with and trusted as a friend. There have been other one-sided books about me, and I think people understand that this book is about money. I'm not going to waste my time reading it."

Tiger's bad feelings reached a crescendo prior to this week's Honda when a reporter asked him about the passage in which Haney asserts that Woods came close to ditching golf to join the Navy Seals. "I've already talked about everything," Woods told the reporter. He then told the persistent scribe, "you're a beauty" and to "have a good day." As for lingering resentment over the book? "It's still the same. Nothing has changed in that regard at all."

Earlier this year, Haney plead not guilty to the charge of besmirching his former pupil. "I was a witness to greatness," Haney told the AP. "And I get asked the question all the time about Tiger. I wanted to talk about it and I wanted to share it with people. That's the bottom line."

It seems that the simple fact that Haney is spilling the beans about their relationship is what has raised Tiger's ire. Woods never has been about sharing. He always has been private in the extreme. His splits from former agents, caddies and instructors were the result of those individuals sharing too much of Tiger’s life for his liking.

“I’m not sure I understand the unprofessionalism part," said Haney. “He hasn’t read the book. There are a lot of positives in there. I think he’s the greatest golfer who ever lived."

Now that excerpts are leaking, though, we have a better idea of what's getting Tiger's goat, including the assertion that Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors became a burden. "There was more urgency and less fun," Haney writes. "Tiger was more irritable and impatient. He never mentioned (Jack) Nicklaus' record, but it started to weigh more heavily at every major. And Tiger's actions indicated he believed he had less time to do it than everyone else thought.

"In retrospect, 2007 was when Tiger began to lose the joy of playing and began to look at his career as something he wanted to get over with sooner rather than later."

Woods still insists that he'll catch Nicklaus, even if it takes longer than anticipated. "It's going to take an entire career to do it, and that's something I knew starting out."

Woods should have considered the law of unintended consequences before wading into this discussion. Tiger's protestations assure this book an extra boost of publicity. As if it needed any.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 17:16
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-advances-barely
Body:

The Accenture Match Play, golf's version of March Madness, has had an eventful first day, with the usual assortment of upsets — if you can count it as an upset when a great golfer beats another great golfer who has a higher computer ranking based on something that might have happened months ago. Over in the Bobby Jones bracket, No. 1-seed Luke Donald had his visor handed to him by an over-the-hill Ernie Els, making one wonder if 2011 was an aberration (remember, you can't spell fluke without Luke).

We've had upsets in the 2-15 matches — Matteo Manassero over Webb Simpson and Robert Rock over Adam Scott — as well as 3-14 upsets in Y.E. Yang over Graeme McDowell and Ryo Ishikawa over Bill Haas. Bae Sang-Moon ousted 2010 Match Play champion Ian Poulter.  As of this writing, 11 lower-seeded players have posted "upsets," with more certainly to come.

But let's be honest. This first round is all about the state of Tiger's game and the main reason, other than the unique format, that most of us paid attention today. Woods had his hands full with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who is apparently quite accomplished over in Europe but ain't exactly Seve Ballesteros. Aw, who am I kidding - I never really heard of the guy until today, and it took Woods all 18 holes, including a masterful up-and-down from a bunker after a leaky approach on 18, to close out a 1-up victory. As has been the case during Tiger's hit-and-miss comeback, his putter let him down today, but so did his irons; he needed a clutch par save at 3 to avoid going down 3 through the first three holes in addition to his up-and-down at 18 after a horrible approach.

But just like the NCAA Tournament, this event is all about win-and-advance. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of golf, Woods can erase memories of his Pebble Beach meltdown and become a prohibitive favorite at The Masters based on what he does over the next four days — if he can simply survive. Tomorrow, Tiger faces Nick Watney, who crushed Darren Clarke like an empty Guinness can.

In other words, the 2012 Tiger Redemption Tour faces a few speed bumps, starting with Watney. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /columns/monday-musings/reality-check-lefty
Body:

In this knee-jerk era of sports analysis, when we attach eternal significance to what a guy did yesterday, many observers are anointing Phil Mickelson the 2012 PGA Tour Player of the Year and odds-on favorite to win multiple majors solely on the basis of the last two weekends. Mickelson Mania — or Phil Phanaticism, or whatever pun you can pop out of the oven (see what I did there?) — is rivaling Linsanity as sports' mental affliction of the moment. 
I love the guy as much as anybody, but let's tap the breaks.
I'll stipulate that Phil has had a phenomenal fortnight — his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am came on the strength of a blazing final-round 64 in which he curb-stomped playing partner Tiger Woods, and in his playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open, he supplied the best drama, carding the weekend's most spectacular birdie at golf's greatest natural amphitheater just to get into Sudden Death. 
But let me play buzzkill with a few inconvenient truths. 
Mickelson has tantalized his followers for years by treating the West Coast as his personal playground. He rules the West like a latter-day Wyatt Earp; the desert is his sheikhdom. Of Phil's 40 career wins, 23 have come west of the Mississippi, and 18 have occurred in the months of January and February. When the temperatures are at their coldest in the Northeast, Lefty's usually at his hottest out in SoCal and Scottsdale. 
Unfortunately for Phil, the players are headed east, and the calendar's about to turn to March, a month in which he's one only once in his career. His best finish in this week's Accenture Match Play is a quarterfinal appearance in 2004.
It's also worth pointing out that, as great as he is, Mickelson's never had that truly monster year. His personal record for single-season wins is four; Tiger Woods has matched or exceeded that total in a season 11 times. Vijay Singh won nine times in 2004. Those happen to be two of the most recent players to be ranked No. 1 in the world, a ranking that Mickelson's never attained. Mickelson hasn't posted multiple wins in a season since 2009.
Bottom line: Mickelson flashes greatness almost as often as he flashes that famous smirk, but he's never sustained it for a full season, long enough to win a money title or multiple majors. Throw in an ongoing battle with arthritis, and thoughts of a run at the No. 1 ranking seem a little unrealistic.
Of course, Lefty's Masters record takes a back seat to Jack's, Tiger's, Arnie's — and no one else's. It won't surprise me if he wins at Augusta. But let's cool any premature Grand Slam talk. Phil's already a Hall of Famer. No need to ask things of him that he can't deliver. 

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 15:15
Path: /nfl/chiefs-deny-packers-shot-perfection
Body:

Somewhere, the most annoying former champs in sports, the 1972 Dolphins, are planning their annual toast to their own perfection, their status as the NFL's lone unbeaten champions secure for another year. The latest threat to Mercury Morris' only claim to relevance was derailed by a guy who was chased out of Denver with a 1–4 record. 

That's right — Kyle Orton, the guy the Broncos jettisoned in favor of Tim Tebow, just outdueled the likely MVP. It's a funny game sometimes. 

The Chiefs' 19–14 win over the Packers in Kansas City did more than deny the Pack a shot at perfection. It may have given Romeo Crennel a full-time job. The Chiefs' interim coach brought the perfect gameplan into Arrowhead Stadium, harassing Aaron Rodgers into his first sub-50 percent passing performance in more than a year with an invigorated pass rush and an effective nickel package. How bad did it get? The Packers made only five first downs in the first half and at one point lined up in the Wildcat despite possessing the game's best quarterback. 

"Everybody had marked it off as a win for the Packers, but those guys in the locker room, they're football players," Crennel said. "They decided they were not going to lay down, they were not going to give up, so they went out and played a tremendous game."

Orton was solid in the win, completing 23-of-31 for 299 yards and helming an efficient attack that outgained the Packers 438-to-315 and didn't commit a turnover. 

Afterwards, the Packers said all the right things, talking about the big picture and the greater goals. "I personally always viewed the undefeated season as, really, just gravy," said coach Mike McCarthy. "The goal was to get home-field advantage and win the Super Bowl. That's what we discussed." 

But the game did reveal some alarming vulnerability. Rodgers looked lost at times without top target Greg Jennings, out for a few weeks with an injury. A team that had lost five of six and just fired its coach had its way at times, particularly on defense. 

The road to the Super Bowl just opened up for some grateful NFC teams. The Chiefs provided a defensive blueprint for stopping the unstoppable. 

Elsewhere…
• Yesterday, up was down, black was white, and dogs and cats were seen condo-shopping. While the Packers were losing, the Colts were winning, beating Tennessee 27–13 to improve to 1–13. Elias reports that it was only the third time in NFL history that a team as bad as 0–10 won while a team as good as 10–0 lost. The Colts' clincher came when the Titans forgot to tackle Donald Brown on an 80-yard TD jaunt. The loss was painful for the Titans, but there may be an upside for Tennessee and the rest of the AFC South: Jim Caldwell might have saved his job. To Caldwell's credit, though, his team did show up, while the Titans did not. 

• So Tim Tebow is human. I think we knew that. But some of the rejoicing today is a little unseemly. Does anyone else find it a little unfair to rip Tebow for being outplayed by Tom Brady? So the guy can't beat this generation's Joe Montana. What exactly does that prove? Timmy's detractors are so starved for a little schadenfreude that they're the ones holding him to an impossible standard. Tebow certainly wasn't bad against the Broncos, accounting for 287 total yards and two touchdowns. But Brady was brilliant — 23-of-34, 320 yards, two TD passes and a rushing TD. And the Broncos provided way too much help, turning it over three times in a disastrous second quarter after a blazing start. Here's a fun thought: The Broncos might need a win over Kyle Orton and the Chiefs to clinch the AFC West. Now that'll be must-see TV.

• One week after the world was singing Eli Manning's praises, he dropped a three-interception deuce against the Redskins in a 23–10 loss that dealt a blow to the Giants' playoff hopes. Eli lives in a knee-jerk media fishbowl, but sometimes he just doesn't help himself. The Giants now need assistance in a tight NFC East race, and they’ve let the Dream Team back into the race. That's right — the Eagles, long given up for dead, still have a shot, although it's a longshot.

• While Aaron Rodgers struggled, Drew Brees cruised, climbing closer to Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yardage while also inching closer to Rodgers in the MVP race thanks to a breathtaking performance in New Orleans' 42–20 win over Minnesota. After his 412-yard, five-touchdown masterpiece, Brees is 304 yards away from Marino's record of 5,084 yards, with two games to play. Here's a boutique stat for you: Brees became the first quarterback to throw for more than 400 with five TDs, and complete 80 percent of his passes with no interceptions in a game.

• If the season started in December, the Chargers would win their division every year. The Bolts are riding the crest of another late-season wave, beating the Ravens 34–14 for their third straight win. San Diego is now 20–2 under Norv Turner in December/January games. The guy's come back from the dead more than an army of zombies.

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
<p> The Packers have only the Super Bowl to look forward to now</p>
Post date: Monday, December 19, 2011 - 11:57
Path: /nfl/giants-win-caps-epic-day
Body:

This morning, it's the story in the NFL: A quarterback who's building an unlikely legend around clutch fourth-quarter performances, a guy who saves his best for when the pressure's at its greatest, who creates belief among his teammates that he'll find a way to win. His latest heroics gave his team control of its own destiny in a division race that looked lost.

Well done, Eli. Your Giants are still alive — by a fingernail. We'll touch on Tebowmania in a moment, but I'd rather start with an MVP-caliber performance from Eli Manning in a do-or-die 37–34 win in Dallas. In the climactic game of one of the more gut-wrenching days in recent NFL history, the G-men's Jason Pierre-Paul deflected a potentially game-tying field goal from the toe of ice-able Dallas kicker Dan Bailey to cap an epic fourth quarter of ebbs and flows that ultimately featured Manning's sixth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. That's the most in the NFL, one more than the guy in Denver.

Down by 12 in the fourth quarter, their season hanging in the balance, the Giants put the game in the hands of their suddenly unflappable leader. Manning responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive to cut the score to 34–29, and after a Dallas three-and-out, he led a brisk 58-yard march to glory, culminating with Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard TD with 51 seconds left.

The Cowboys didn't roll over, as quarterback Tony Romo led the Boys into field goal range with six seconds left. Bailey split the uprights with the apparent game-tying boot, only to suffer from an icing attempt from Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Hey, at least it was the opposing coach doing the icing this time. Amirite?

On Bailey's second attempt, the one that counted, Pierre-Paul capped a performance for the ages by getting a fingertip on the ball and sending it spinning harmlessly to the turf, becoming the first player this season to block a kick, record a sack and force a fumble in the same game.

Just like that, the G-men had recaptured control of their playoff fate. New York and Dallas are tied at 7–6, and the Cowboys visit the Meadowlands on New Year's Day to end the season.

After a 400-yard performance, Manning now has 4,105 passing yards, setting a Giants record and putting him in position to threaten Dan Marino's longstanding single-season record (5,084), although guys named Brees, Rodgers and Brady may get there first.

"Guys stepped up and made some big plays," Manning said. "It won't mean anything unless we finish the season strong. That's the mindset. We can't relax now or feel great about ourselves."

Hey, Eli, you can feel great for a day or two. You've earned that much.

Elsewhere…

• Okay, Tebow addicts, here's your fix: Tim Tebow added to his ever-expanding legend with his most unlikely comeback yet. Trailing 10–0, the Broncos erased the deficit in the final 2:10 of regulation — with an assist from Bears running back Marion Barber, who inexplicably went out of bounds with the Bears trying to kill the clock — and then won it in overtime after a Barber fumble killed a Bears scoring chance. Credit Matt Prater, who hit bombs of 59 and 51 yards. Credit the Denver defense, which held Chicago to 245 total yards and 10 points. Heck, credit Barber, who's wearing the goat horns this morning. But Tebow's the captain of this playoff-bound ship. There's no denying that Tebow's been clutch: In the fourth quarter and overtime this season, he's completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 770 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, and a passer rating of 107.9. The guy creates belief. There's not much more he can do.

• Speaking of improbable QB heroics, the Texans clinched the AFC South behind rookie T.J. Yates, who led the biggest drive in franchise history, an 80-yard march that ended with aa six-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds left that gave Houston a 20–19 win over the reeling Bengals. "The young quarterback bailed us out," said relieved Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who probably needed a playoff berth to save his job. Well, he got it.

• The other part of the AFC South equation: a Titans loss to New Orleans, which wasn't secure until Jake Locker, who led an electric fourth-quarter comeback, was sacked inside the Saints 10-yard line of the game's final play. The 22–17 loss probably eliminated the Titans from playoff contention, but it gave them and their fans a glimpse of the future. And it looks bright.

• Detroit stayed alive with an assist from the zebras. The Vikings were a yard away from the game-winning touchdown on the game's final play, but Joe Webb fumbled as DeAndre Levy gave Webb's facemask an obvious yank. No call. Lions win. They're 8–5 and very much alive in the Wild Card race.

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
<p> Eli Manning and the New York Giants make a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback to take down the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night and take a share of first place in the NFC East.</p>
Post date: Monday, December 12, 2011 - 04:39
All taxonomy terms: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, NFL
Path: /nfl/rodgers-pack-move-12-0
Body:

Three years ago, the Giants tested the undefeated Patriots and the unstoppable Tom Brady before falling 38–35, then went on to upset the P-men in the Super Bowl. Yesterday, the Giants tested the undefeated Packers and the unstoppable Aaron Rodgers before falling 38–35, but at the risk of an outbreak of Manning Face, I have to break it to Eli Manning that yesterday was more of a last gasp than a springboard for his team. 

Manning was impressive in defeat, completing 23-of-40 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. It's just that Aaron Rodgers is playing on another level. Rodgers had his worst passer rating of the season and still threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Packers on a game-winning 68-yard drive that culminated with Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal as time expired. 

The three-point margin was the tightest of Green Bay's 18 straight wins, but in some ways this was their most clutch performance, coming on the road against a desperate and talented team. The Pack secondary was vulnerable all day, so Rodgers didn't want to leave the outcome to the vagaries of overtime, marching the Pack briskly to the winning field goal with the score tied at 35. 

"We've had a number of games we won by a couple scores," Rodgers said. "You get the ball on the 20, under a minute, and we get it down there for a chip-shot field goal, it's very rewarding. It probably (ranks) right at the top."

Consider it an opportunity squandered for the Giants, who couldn't take advantage of Dallas' desert implosion and remain a game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. But they're not the first team to succumb to the best player in football. 

"You know, it's not like Jesus in cleats," said Giants defensive end Aaron Tollefson, no doubt remembering that J-in-C plays in Denver. "He's Aaron Rodgers. He's a great quarterback, but we have to do a better job of finishing on defense."

Elsewhere…

• Even fetuses are bowing before the legend that is Tim Tebow, especially after he unveiled a new weapon against the Vikings. To quote L.V. Miles from "Friday Night Lights": "OOHH! And he can pass!" Tebow has his best day through the air as a pro, completing 10-of-15 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and posting a passer rating of 149.3 and proving that he doesn't need his defense to bail him out every time. In fact, with Von Miller sidelined, the Broncos surrendered 489 yards and 32 points. No problem, said Timmy, who led Denver to 28 second-half points, the last three of which came on the game's final play after Christian Ponder's second interception. Tebow now has five second-half comebacks among his six wins this season, four of them of the fourth-quarter variety. John Elway had three fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 24 starts. Sorry, couldn't resist. 

• Ladies and gentlemen, your NFC West champions, the San Francisco 49ers, who clinched the title with a 26–0 shutout of the hapless Rams. Jim Harbaugh's transformation of this team from error-prone knuckleheads to division champions has been swift and stunning. "This step, this game today is for all those strong and mighty men who have been carrying the flag for this many years," Harbaugh said with his typically poetic flourish. That kind of talk only flies when your team's 10–2. 

• This has to be a first: A coach icing his own kicker. Jason Garrett called an inexplicable timeout just as his kicker, Dan Bailey, was nailing the game-winner against the Cardinals on the road. On his second try, Bailey's feeble attempt came up short and left, and the Cowboys went on to lose in overtime. All this came after the Boys botched the clock late in regulation, keeping two timeouts in their pocket and strolling to the line to spike the ball instead of calling timeout and trying to get a little closer than 49 yards for Bailey's game-winner. If the Cowboys pull a December swoon, they'll look back at this moment and cringe. And Jerry Jones will fire Garrett. 

• Ten-gallon hats off to the Texans, who have won three straight games with three different starting quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates, who stood tall in his first start against the Falcons. "Three weeks, three different quarterbacks. But the same team," said coach Gary Kubiak, who just might get that playoff monkey off his back despite one of the worst QB situations in the league. 

• Cam Newton ran for three scores in a Carolina's 38–19 win over Tampa Bay to set the single-season NFL record for rushing scores by a quarterback, with 13. With Cincinnati's impending collapse, Newton has probably regained control of the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. 

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
<p> The Pack remains undefeated after a last-second win against the Giants</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 11:44
Path: /nfl/tim-terrific-wins-again
Body:

In the five games the Broncos have won since Tim Tebow took over as the starting quarterback, the passing-impaired Tebow has staged his own personal version of NFL Mythbusters.

Myth No. 1: A purely running quarterback will never succeed in the NFL, where the athletes are too good and the speed too overwhelming.

Reality: On the season, Tebow has rushed 78 times for 455 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry. That's the best number in the NFL. You read that right: Tim Tebow leads the NFL in yards per rushing attempt. And these aren't Michael Vick scrambles we're talking about. Tebow rushed the ball 22 times against the Chargers, the most rushing attempts by an NFL quarterback since 1950. Of the 22 attempts, 17 of them came on designed runs. Tebow, Willis McGahee and the Denver rushing attack clearly wore down the athletic Chargers defense in piling up 208 rushing yards.

Myth No. 2: The option will never work in the NFL.

Reality: In the Broncos' 16–13 overtime win over San Diego yesterday, the Broncos earned 147 of their 208 rushing yards via the option.

Myth No. 3: In today's NFL, passing accuracy, yardage and mechanics are essential to success.

Reality: For the season, Tebow is completing 45.5 percent of his passes. Yesterday's game marked his first time to hit the 50 percent completion mark (he was 9-of-18 for 143 yards). His season high of 172 passing yards came in the 45–10 loss to Detroit.

For Tebow, though, the only important number has always resided in the win column, and by that measure, the Tebow Train is gathering steam. Denver's improbable march toward the playoffs continued yesterday with another tight, low-scoring win, as the Broncos stuck a fork in the Norv Turner regime in moving to 6–5 on the season and only a game behind the AFC West-leading Raiders.

The Tim Tebow era in Denver is now six games old — still a small sample size, but enough of a body of work to start drawing a few conclusions.

At a glance, it's easy to say that the defense deserves the credit for Denver's resurgence. During Kyle Orton's five games as a starter, the defense surrendered an average of 28 points; in the last six games, the Broncos have allowed an average of 20 points, and if you throw out the 45–10 loss to Detroit, the number falls to 15 ppg.

A-ha, say the detractors. The defense has keyed the surge, and Tebow doesn't play defense. Time to shut up about Timmy and give credit where it's due. Safety Brian Dawkins said as much yesterday: "It's time to start giving the defense some credit," he snapped. I'll gladly do so, Brian: In Tebow's five wins as the starter, the defense has allowed an average of 320 yards per game. That's a more than respectable number.

But let's dig a little deeper. I would argue that Tebow is a key component of Denver's defense, even if he's merely Tebow-ing on the sidelines while the defense does its work. Football is a game of possessions; if you don't have the ball, you can't score. Tebow and the Broncos are playing a remarkably effective game of keep-away. In Tebow's five wins, the Broncos have turned the ball over only twice — Tebow himself, only once — and forced six turnovers of their own.

By shortening the game with the NFL's leading rushing attack and protecting the football, Tebow and the Denver offense are playing the most effective brand of defense imaginable.

Perhaps most importantly, Tebow, the true believer, creates belief among his teammates. The defense, knowing its margin for error is slim, plays a little harder. The offensive line holds its blocks a little longer.

And in the game's waning minutes, the team knows its leader will make just enough plays to win.

"Just having that guy around, it makes us better men," said linebacker Von Miller. "I think he plays for us, and he makes us want to play for him."

Bottom line: Whether John Elway likes it or not, the current Denver formula is a winner. Will it last for the long haul? That's debatable, but the current results are not. Tebow and the Denver defense are the story of the NFL at the moment.

Elsewhere…

• The Dream is dead. New England dissected the corpse of the Eagles' season with surgical precision. Tom Brady was flawless in the Patriots' 38–20 win over Philly, completing 24-of-34 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Vince Young passed for 400 essentially meaningless yards and was robbed of two TD passes by alligator-armed All-Pro wideout DeSean Jackson. Time to put the Dream Team out of its misery.

• Houston's quarterback situation deteriorated further, as Matt Leinart was lost for the season in the Texans' 20–13 win over Jacksonville. New starter T.J. Yates has a tiny cushion — a two-game lead over the Titans — as he tries to coax this injury-depleted squad into the postseason. The decisive game may come in Week 17 as the Titans visit Houston.

• Speaking of emergency replacement quarterbacks, Chicago's Caleb Hanie was game in defeat, but it was still a defeat, 25–20 at the hands of the Raiders. Sebastian Janikowski made a team-record six field goals as the Oakland special teams were the stars of the show.

— by Rob Doster
 

Teaser:
<p> The Denver Broncos won again. But who deserves credit, Tim Tebow or the defense?</p>
Post date: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 12:06
Path: /nfl/did-vince-young-just-save-phillys-season
Body:

You can't spell victory without VY. Of course, you can't spell hypersensitive, either, but that's another story. 

Vince Young joined Tim Tebow in spicing up Week 11 of the NFL season with late-game heroics. The two most polarizing players in pro football had remarkably similar, remarkably successful weekends, much to the chagrin of their many detractors. Three days after Tebow led the Broncos on a defining, game-winning 95-yard drive in a 17–13 win over the Jets, Young reprised Tebow's performance with an 80-yard march of his own as the Philadelphia Eagles kept the Dream alive in MetLife Stadium with a 17–10 win over the Giants. 

If there's one guy who can divide a room more quickly and decisively than Tebow, it's Young, who wore out his welcome in Nashville with his emotional fragility despite winning 30 games and salvaging two lost seasons with strong stretch drives. He departed for Philly and promptly put the target on his team's back by applying the Dream Team label. 

Entering last night's game, his only pass of the season had been intercepted, and for much of last night, Young was his typically maddening self. He tacked on three more ill-timed picks against the Giants, the most painful coming on an end zone jump ball that ended a Philly threat with the Eagles clinging to a 10–3 lead. And when the Giants tied the game at 10 a few minutes later, it looked as if another late Eagles collapse was in the offing.

But turn on the lights and ratchet up the pressure, and it's VY's time to shine. If by some miracle the Eagles find a way to make the playoffs, they'll look back and credit The Drive — an 18-play, 80-yard, nine-minute odyssey that might have salvaged a lost season. 

Young did something that Michael Vick has been unable to do all year: He stood tall in the fourth quarter, calmly leading his team on a game-winning march that was as clutch a series as you'll see in 2011. The Eagles converted six third downs on the drive, the last one an eight-yard strike from Young to Riley Cooper for the go-ahead touchdown. 

"We knew we had to dig deep," said Cooper. "Everybody contributed. It was not just one player, not just one long play. We pieced that last drive together piece by piece."

Young's final numbers — 23-of-36, 258 yards, two touchdowns — were marred by those three interceptions, which gave him a passer rating of 69.0. But Young's most important number has always resided on the scoreboard, and he's been on the right side more often than not, with a career starting record of 31–17. Much like his Denver counterpart, Young is more about results than style points, which is a good thing, since Vince's sidearmed slings aren't going to win many converts. 

Of course, both quarterbacks owe their defenses a steak dinner or two. Like the Broncos, who harassed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez into a forgettable evening, the Eagles' much-maligned stop unit shut down the Giants running game and held Eli Manning in check all night, forcing a Manning fumble on the final possession after a Victor Cruz catch-and-run had put the Giants into scoring territory.

But this weekend was a tale of two quarterbacks, who shook off their obvious shortcomings to post key wins. 

"Vince, stepping in for the great Michael Vick, that's a tough thing to do and he did it and the guys rallied around him," said relieved Eagles coach Andy Reid. "The offensive line and defensive line played well, the offensive line had a huge challenge when it counted and they were able to put some things together." 

Elsewhere…
• The other NFC East showdown was just as compelling, as Dallas outlasted Washington 27–24 in overtime. When Tony Romo is on, as he was in throwing for three scores, he's impressive. He's also 18–2 in his career in November, matching Hall of Famer Otto Graham for best record over his first 20 November starts. Of course, January wins are better, and Romo doesn’t have many of those. 

• The best game of the day? Baltimore's nailbiting win over the Bengals, who built credibility despite another painful division loss. Andy Dalton continues to make believers; the gunslinging ginger threw for 373 yards and led a desperation drive into the Red Zone. But Joe Flacco was just a little better, throwing for 270 yards and two scores as the Ravens picked up a key win heading into their Thanksgiving showdown with the Niners.

• What now, Bears? Chicago won its fifth straight, beating San Diego 31–20, but lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler to a broken thumb. Unless the Bears go out and get a quarterback — Marc Bulger, anyone? — they'll turn to Caleb Hanie to keep their playoff hopes alive. 

• Green Bay and Detroit enter their Thanksgiving showdown at a combined 17–3. The Packers were far from dominant in their 35–26 win over the Bucs, surrendering big days to Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount, but they did enough to win their 10th. Meanwhile, the Lions used five Matthew Stafford TD passes and four Cam Newton interceptions to outlast the Panthers 49–35.

Teaser:
<p> Eagles backup quarterback Vince Young has given Philadelphia hope with a game-winning dream drive at New York.</p>
Post date: Monday, November 21, 2011 - 05:11
All taxonomy terms: AFC West, Denver Broncos, John Fox, Tim Tebow, NFL
Path: /nfl/tim-tebow-two-completions-one-win
Body:

If you can't pass, you can't win. Right? Tell it to the Denver Broncos, whose ground-bound attack flies in the face of the prevailing notion that aerial bombardment is the only way to go in today's NFL. 

John Fox's team might be setting offensive football back decades — centuries, even — but the Broncos are also winning, climbing to 4–5 and only one game back in the wide-open AFC West. In Denver's 17–10 win in Kansas City, Tim Tebow posted the most bizarre stat line by a winning quarterback in recent memory: two completions, one victory. For the day, our hero was 2-of-8 passing; of course, one of his two completions went for for 56 yards and a touchdown to Eric Decker, giving him a sterling passer rating of 102.6 — his highest number as a starter. 

More importantly, Tebow directed an old-school, cloud-of-dust rushing attack that produced 244 rushing yards — and that was without Willis McGahee, who went down with a bad hammie on Denver's first possession, and mostly without Knowshon Moreno, who sprained his knee later in the first quarter. That left the bulk of the work to some guy named Lance Ball, who pounded KC 30 times for 96 yards. 

Think the option can't work in the NFL? Denver ran it 16 times for 95 yards, 5.9 yards per carry. Of those 16 plays, Tebow kept it four times for 31 yards (7.8 ypc) on his way to 44 rushing yards. 

Among the game's statistical oddities: Denver, which led 10–0 at halftime, became the first team since the 1994 Packers to lead a game at halftime without having completed a pass. (The Packers' QB that day? Brett Favre.) The good folks at Elias tell us that Tebow is the fifth quarterback since 1980 to throw all of his team's passes, complete two or fewer and still win. The Broncos ran on eight straight plays on their opening possession, a 57-yard march that culminated with Tebow's 7-yard TD scamper.

It might be simple posturing, but Fox sounds like a guy who's simply sticking with what works, not a coach forced to run a stripped-down offense out of desperation. "It's just a mindset. It's a low-risk offense. It's not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is," Fox said. "It's just whatever is working for us. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh."

For now, it's working. KC mustered only 258 yards of offense and rarely threatened.

So can it last? Seems unlikely. At some point, Tebow will have to reach double digits for completions and find his targets more than 50 percent of the time. But for now, it's kind of fun to watch a team trample all over conventional wisdom and stick it to the naysayers — even if it results in typical Tim-speak, which seems to annoy his detractors as much as his lousy mechanics and hyper-righteous image. 

"I'm not trying to send a message," said Tebow, who moves to 3–1 as the starter since taking over for Kyle Orton and now has a career 20-to-6 touchdown-to-turnover ratio. "I'm just trying to be a football player. We can improve from what we did today and get better."

Elsewhere…
• You could make the argument that, right now, the Texans are the best team — and not just the best fantasy team — in the AFC. Their 7–3 record is matched only by Pittsburgh, and the Texans own a Week 4 win over the Steelers. Their remaining schedule includes games with Jacksonville, Carolina, Indianapolis and a season-ender at home against a Tennessee team that they beat by 34 in Nashville. They look like a safe bet for 11–5 and a shot at home field throughout the playoffs. They have the best two-headed rushing attack, the single best offensive weapon in the AFC in Arian Foster (21 touches, 186 yards, two touchdowns in a 37–9 win over Tampa Bay) and a quarterback in Matt Schaub who's finally limiting his mistakes. It could all fall apart tomorrow — these are still the Texans — but today, it looks pretty good.  UPDATE: And here you go. Schaub has a foot injury that will leave him sidelined for several weeks, meaning Matt Leinart's the starter in Houston. Uh-oh. Forget everything I just said. 

• Over in the NFC, the 49ers are making converts all over, myself included. The Niners may not eclipse Green Bay for the NFC's best record, but the Packers' margin for error is slim. Just take a look at San Fran's remaining schedule, the fruits of playing in the NFL's weakest division: two games with Arizona, two games with St. Louis, a game with Seattle (combined record: 8–19). Green Bay, meanwhile, still has to face Detroit (6–3) twice, plus the Giants (6–3), Oakland (5–4) and Chicago (6–3). After a 12–1 season with Stanford and an 8–1 start to this season, Jim Harbaugh is 20–2 over his last 22 games. The guy can coach. "I don't take any credit. It's these men. These mighty, strong men," Harbaugh said. "They deserve the credit."

• Don't go to sleep on the Patriots; they're clearly the class of the AFC East. Tom Brady was brilliant in a 37–16 shredding of the Jets, completing 26-of-39 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. With their 117th win together, Brady and Bill Belichick passed the Dan Marino-Don Shula duo for most wins by a QB-coach combo. 

• Tony Romo was brilliant in Dallas' startling 44–7 rout of Buffalo. Romo completed 23-of-26 passes for 270 yards and three scores as Dallas sent a message to the NFC East. That message? We'll probably fall apart later, but we're playing well right now. 

— by Rob Doster
 

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow defied the odds on Sunday and came away with a victory</p>
Post date: Monday, November 14, 2011 - 11:19
Path: /nfl/ravens-steelers-outshines-bama-lsu
Body:

Score one for the NFL, where the marquee matchup vastly outshone its college counterpart this weekend. Pittsburgh-Baltimore was everything that Alabama-LSU could have been: A bruising matchup of defensive titans, yes, but a game that also included some truly clutch offensive heroics, grace under pressure and competent special teams play. 

There were also subplots galore in Baltimore's 23–20 win over the Steelers. You had a guy (Torrey Smith) who went from goat to hero in the space of five plays; a maligned quarterback (Joe Flacco) standing tall and exorcising demons in leading a game-winning 92-yard drive into the teeth of a Dick LeBeau defense on the field where two of the last three Ravens seasons have ended; and another 300-yard game from Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who led a stirring fourth-quarter comeback in becoming the first Steelers QB with three straight 300-yard games. 

But above all, you had guys knocking each other's heads off. Cris Collinsworth dug deep for the appropriate cliché: This was not a game for the faint of heart. 

"This Steelers-Ravens game is a game for men," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "This is a game for big men. You've got to shine bright in this game if you want to win this game. And nobody shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game."

Two weeks ago, Flacco was in Derek Anderson territory, coming off an abysmal Monday Night performance in a 12–7 loss to the Jags; today, he's the leader of a 6–2 Ravens team that has swept the Steelers for the first time since 2006. His partner on the game-winning touchdown, receiver Torrey Smith, faced down demons of his own in catching the game-winner. Smith was called for holding on the first play from scrimmage, erasing a 76-yard TD run by Ray Rice. On the climactic drive, he had a sure touchdown bounce off his fingertips. But he rewarded Flacco's confidence with a 26-yard TD catch with eight seconds left. 

And so ends the Steelers' one week as the AFC's anointed ones — although the Ravens haven't written off their AFC North rivals.

"We swept them, but don't be fooled — we'll see them again in January," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had the game's only interception. "This is the only team in the world that can play like we play and match us blow for blow."

Elsewhere…
• Speaking of clutch, Eli Manning reprised his Super Bowl-winning drive against New England, doing it in Foxborough this time to beat the Patriots 24–20. Manning took the Giants 80 yards in eight plays, and once again he benefited from a miraculous catch by an unsung receiver wearing No. 85. This time, it was tight end Jake Ballard, who made a leaping 28-yard grab and then completed a drive for the ages by catching a one-yard Manning throw for the winning score. The G-men have a two-game lead in the NFC East, while the Patriots are tied with the Jets and Bills and fighting for their playoff lives. 

• Tim Tebow's 2–1 as Denver's starting QB, but he has to share credit for the Broncos' 38–24 win over Oakland with ageless running back Willis McGahee, who ran for 163 yards and two scores, including the game-clinching 24-yarder with 1:53 left. Tebow did add 117 yards, as he and McGahee became only the fifth QB-RB combo to rush for 100-plus yards in the same game. Tebow's passing? A work in progress: 10-of-21, 124 yards, two TDs, no picks. Since getting the starting job, Tebow's thrown five TDs and one interception.

• The Dolphins forgot what this season's all about, as they actually won a game and took a hit in the Suck for Luck sweepstakes. I guess that pride thing got in the way. "All I've wanted to do for seven weeks is see these guys smile," said coach Tony Sparano of his 1–7 Dolphins. Well, Tony, fans in your town aren't smiling today. 

• The Harbaugh brothers are a combined 13–3. Not to be outdone by John Harbaugh's 6–2 Ravens, Jim Harbaugh's Niners improved to 7–1 with a 19–11 win over the Redskins. They've won six in a row. Mark it down: They'll host a playoff game this season. 

• The Packers are chasing history at this point. The NFL's lone unbeatens were tested by the Chargers, but here's your key number: 3–0, as in interceptions thrown by Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. The NFL's career passer rating leader, Rodgers has just had the best half-season in NFL history. There's no reason to think he'll hit a wall. 

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
<p> Two marquee match-ups in college and pro football took center stage on Sunday</p>
Post date: Monday, November 7, 2011 - 10:32

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