What links Manning, Woods, Bryant?

By Joe PosnanskiDecember 1, 2015, 7:42 pm

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on NBC Sports' SportsWorld site.

They all came into our consciousness right about the same time, all three of those men whom you recognize by just their first names. In the fall and winter of 1996, Kobe Bryant was a rookie guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, a Jordanesque talent just out of high school. Peyton Manning was a junior quarterback at Tennessee and everybody’s All-American. Tiger Woods had just left Stanford to become a professional golfer – he won two professional tournaments right away and was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year before the year was done. 

We saw all three as young men, full of promise and possibility. Tiger’s ascent came first, and it came quickly. He won the 1997 Masters going away, exploding the entire sport. He then played golf as it had never been played before. Peyton’s rise followed  near-Heisman senior year, first pick in the draft, Pro Bowl in his second year, led the league in passing and touchdown passes in his third. Kobe came along a little bit more gradually, working his way into the starting lineup, then playing wingman for Shaquille O’Neal, then taking over the NBA with his will and stubborn insistence that no one on earth could possibly guard him. 

In time, Tiger won 14 majors. Peyton set virtually every passing record. Kobe won five NBA titles and scored more points than any guard in the history of the game. 

Now, inevitably, almost 20 years later, all three careers are winding down. 

Who would have thought Kobe Bryant would accept the end first? 

This season is all I have left to give. 

My heart can take the pounding 

My mind can handle the grind 

But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye 

And that’s OK, 

I’m ready to let you go. 

 From Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball.” 

It’s as touching a sports goodbye as we have seen, not only because of the graceful words but because of the hard sentiment behind those words. To be great at something, anything, is, in a way, nothing more than a blatant refusal to be ordinary. It is a powerful fight against gravity. There are always doubters. There are the critics. There are inevitable mistakes, the dark impulses, the moments of crisis. There are the challengers. There are the falls. 

No athlete of the last 20 years so openly tangled with the gravity as Kobe. Tiger Woods was a pure genius of his sport, a child prodigy who, through touch and feel and repetition and rhythm, built a game without weakness. He hit the ball higher and farther, straighter and with more variety. He saw geometric possibilities others could not see and executed shots others could not hit, and he always made the putt when the trophy was on the line. 

Peyton Manning, meanwhile, was the most prepared player. That was his magic. He knew, before the ball was ever snapped, what everyone on the football field was going to do and how they were going to do it. Then, through a complicated series of blinding calculations that he did in a heartbeat, he knew which blitzer needed to be blocked, which defensive back leaned the wrong way, which of his receivers would be open, and what it would take to get the football down the field. He did not have the best arm, did not have the most accurate arm, did not move well. But he knew, and that was the difference. 

Hoggard: Woods reflects on Kobe's career

For Kobe Bryant, it was something else. Sure, he had athletic brilliance like Tiger. Sure, he played mind games like Peyton. But it was his sheer will that marked his career. Night after night  in Sacramento and Dallas and Milwaukee and, of course, Los Angeles, with those Hollywood stars in their ludicrously priced seats waiting to be entertained  Bryant attacked. He attacked the basket. He attacked the ball-handler. He attacked weakness wherever he perceived it. 

Relentless. Bryant would not stop shooting. He would not stop driving. He would not stop scoring. Five times Bryant scored more than 60 points in a game  no one in the last 30 years has done that so often, not even his hero Michael Jordan. One night, Kobe scored 81 in an NBA game. No man alive knows what that feels like. 

Well, it was his insatiable will. Only nine men in the last 30 years have dared to shoot a basketball 40 times in a game. Think of the gall it takes to do that. You are on a professional basketball team featuring some of the best players in the world. All of them grew up as stars. Think of the gall, the self-confidence, the self-regard it takes to shoot the ball 40 times, to believe so deeply that whatever shot YOU have, well, it is the best shot. 

You will not be surprised to know that Michael Jordan shot the ball 40 times in a game four different times, and you’re probably not surprised that Allen Iverson did it three. Those guys lived to shoot. Dominique Wilkins did it, which is, again, no surprise. Others all did it just once  David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Zach Randolph, Russell Westbrook, Chris Webber. 

Kobe Bryant pumped up 40 shots in a game NINE times. 

This was his chutzpah on display. It was his show, every show. It was his night, every night. It was his game, every game. 

So, yes, I would have expected him to be the last of the three to see the ending. It seems only natural. But here we are … Peyton Manning talks about coming back for another season, even though his body gives him every clue that it’s all downhill and painful from here. Tiger Woods talks about being himself again even after the injuries and the missed cuts and crooked shots. You cannot blame them, of course. Manning’s mind is as sharp as it has ever been; how can he step away now? And Tiger Woods, well, golfers don’t retire, so he might as well believe that better days are ahead. Anyway, both had always found the next level. They cannot start doubting that now. I know many great athletes, long retired, who can’t help but believe just a little that tomorrow morning they will wake up with their limbs feeling surprisingly limber and their energy level peaking again. 

Kobe wanted to believe, too. He began this season even after all the injuries and aches with the certainty that he had at least one more great season in him. He has stopped believing. You might say that the realization should be obvious  after all, on the emotional day of his retirement announcement he went 4-for-20, and his final shot hit nothing but air. His Lakers team is astonishingly dreadful and there’s nothing he can do about it. 

But such realizations, which may look so clear to outsiders, are never clear to the player. Jordan kept going long after he was the player he wanted to be. He continued to be sure that it would all come back. Even now at times, he still talks about one more comeback. Kobe Bryant will end his career just a notch below Michael Jordan on the all-time list, but he got awfully close, closer than almost anyone else would dare. 

And, unlike Jordan, he understood his mortality and knew when it was time to say goodbye.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.