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Woods has chance to prove himself on Sunday

By Rex HoggardJune 30, 2018, 10:42 pm

POTOMAC, Md. – Tiger Woods will begin Sunday’s final round at the Quicken Loans National within an Uber ride of the lead, poised just a half dozen notches out of the lead at an event that should have all the markings of low-hanging fruit.

However you slice up the complicated World Golf Ranking math, this week’s circus stop ranks just ahead of a rehab start for the 14-time major champion.

The field at TPC Potomac is the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent in the game and they’ve all celebrated varying degrees of success, but there’s no chance the guy who is one PGA Tour tilt away from winning his 80th event will be sitting around Saturday evening Googling Abraham Ancer’s name.

As Tiger plays his way back to something approaching his former glory, this stopover in suburbia qualifies as his best chance to end a victory drought that now stretches nearly five years. Consider that the average World Ranking strength of field (points to the winner) for Tiger’s first 10 starts this season was 68.8. The winner at the Soon-To-Be-Detroit-Open will collect 34 World Ranking points.

Winning on Tour is hard for anyone regardless of how many majors you have on the shelf, but this one is there for Tiger’s taking.

He didn’t do himself any favors on Saturday, playing his first three holes like a guy who was trying to figure out which end of the club to hold, but then something changed.

He made a momentum-saving par putt from 13 feet at No. 3 (remember when everyone was questioning his decision to switch to a mallet-headed putter this week? Yeah, that was fun.) and played his next four holes like it was 2005.

By the time he completed his torrid run of four consecutive birdies with an 8-footer at the seventh hole, the crowd had been stirred into a frenzy and darted around TPC Potomac chanting “Tiger . . . Tiger, Tiger Tiger” European style. He was one stroke off the lead and anybody this side of the Captial Beltway knew it.

It was happening. That kind of golf Tiger and those who track his every move had been waiting for, every iron crisp, every putt charged into the hole, every movement dripping with confidence and sweat.

Full-field scores from the Quicken Loans National

Quicken Loans National: Articles, photos and videos

The air came out of the celebration slowly, peeling away weaknesses that have become standard in this comeback from injury.

He missed birdie putts at Nos. 10 and 11, missed the fairway at the 13th hole and eventually missed a par putt. Everything that went so well on his outward loop now eluded him.

“It was frustrating because I played better than what my score indicates,” said Woods, who finished with a 2-under 68 that felt more like another 65 and was at 7 under. “To get it to 3 under par for the day by the turn and I had some birdie opportunities on the back nine, didn't make them and made a couple bogeys there, too, as well.

“So it was frustrating because I thought that 10 under would have been a good score for me to end up at for the day and I could have easily gotten that today on the back nine.”

Another round with so much potential, another missed opportunity. It’s been the story of Tiger’s season. It’s why Sunday will be greater than the sum of its parts.

For a moment on a steamy Saturday, the echoes were all too familiar, even for those who weren’t around when Tiger made his name on a leaderboard a reason to start taking deep, relaxing breaths.

“I just heard all the roars. [Woods] was making a lot of putts I think on the front nine, the roars were crazy,” said Ancer, who is tied for the lead with Francesco Molinari at 13 under.

Ancer was a senior in college the last time Tiger won a Tour event (2013) and Zac Blair, who is tied for second place, couldn’t vote when Woods hoisted his last major trophy (2008).

The consensus is that Tiger has lost that edge, the victim of time and age. Sunday is a chance for Woods to put that notion to the test. A chance to prove red and black on Sunday still means something.

Tiger hasn’t been his best on Sundays this season. His final-round scoring average (70.63) ranks 80th on Tour, and he clumsily pulled defeat from the jaws of victory earlier this year at the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational.

On both occasions, he proved himself fallible at the buzzer. At Innisbrook it was the curious decision to hit iron off the 72nd tee when he was trailing by one stroke and he lost by a stroke, at Bay Hill it was a miss-played driver off the 16th hole on his way to a tie for fifth place.

He’ll need something special on Sunday at TPC Potomac, another front-nine change that isn’t wasted by a pedestrian finish. He’ll need to be better and there’s no better chance than now to prove to everyone, maybe even himself, that his name on a leaderboard is still worth noticing.

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Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am


Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.

Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades

Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

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Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.