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.

Getty Images

Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

Getty Images

Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

Getty Images

Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

Getty Images

After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1