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.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.