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    Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Monday made official what most people figured was a foregone conclusion: Georgia transfer Justin Fields will be the starting quarterback when the No. 5 Buckeyes open the season Aug. 31 against Florida Atlantic. Day had lured the talented sophomore in January to succeed Dwayne Haskins Jr., and Fields practiced with the starters from the moment he arrived. His main competition this preseason was Gunnar Hoak, a graduate transfer from Kentucky who got to campus this summer and is still memorizing the playbook. Still, Day was measured in his praise of Fields, who was one of the highest-rated prep prospects in the nation in 2018 but couldn't wrest the starting job away from Jake Fromm at Georgia last season before deciding to transfer. 'All that means is that Justin will be taking the first snap on (in the opener), and where it goes from there, who knows,' Day said. 'All the guys had good camps, but Justin kind of separated himself the last week.' Fields showed some chops but was not spectacular in the spring game, and Day said it took him a few weeks of preseason camp to find his feet. 'I think just now he's starting to scratch the surface,' Day said. 'I still don't think he's where he needs to be.' Fields said he has worked hard to get better on the field and has been trying to be more vocal and become a more forceful leader, an area where Haskins initially struggled last season. 'I feel like I'm improved a lot overall, just every part of my game,' Fields said. 'I feel way more comfortable than in the spring, and I think all my teammates see that. Coach Day definitely sees it. I just feel more comfortable with the playbook and more comfortable in the pocket.' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN The seven captains voted on by their teammates include two from last year: linebacker Tuf Borland and safety Jordan Fuller. First-time captains are receivers K.J. Hill and C.J. Saunders, running back J.K. Dobbins, and defensive linemen Chase Young and Jonathan Cooper. 'I never really visualized (becoming a captain) like I did other things,' acknowledged Young, a junior who with a big season could be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring . 'But when I got more into the program and more into what being a Buckeye was, I wanted to be part of that group of people who can lead a team.' By most accounts, Young is the loudest and most demonstrative among the seven. Saunders is a former walk-on who plays mostly on special teams. STILL LOOKING FOR BACKUP RB One of the biggest challenges of the preseason for Day is trying to line up a tailback to spell Dobbins , who is expected to shoulder most of the load if he stays healthy. Demario McCall, who was expected to be an H-back, is the most likely candidate, Day said Monday. Master Teague was a front-runner, but he just got back on the field after an injury. Behind them are a couple of promising true freshmen. 'Demario has had a good camp,' Day said. 'I think there's a chance you see them all play. (But) Demario has a leg up.' ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 ___ Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy
  • Oft-suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon returned to the New England Patriots' practice field on Monday without pads and without saying when he might be able to play again. Gordon was seen stretching on the field during the portion of the team's workout that was open to the media. In the locker room before practice, he declined a request for an interview. 'I don't have time today,' he said. 'I'll be around, though.' The Patriots placed Gordon on the non-football injury list on Sunday, two days after the NFL reinstated him from an indefinite suspension that cost him the final three games of the 2018 regular season and the team's Super Bowl run. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Gordon could participate in team meetings, conditioning and individual workouts while working himself back into shape. A 2012 second-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns, Gordon was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy but still caught 87 passes for nine touchdowns and a league-leading 1,646 yards and was named to the All-Pro team. He was suspended again in 2015 and missed two whole seasons. In interviews, he has acknowledged using Xanax, cocaine, marijuana and other narcotics, and he said in 2017 he smoked pot before 'probably every game of my career.' The Browns traded him to New England in September, pairing him with Tom Brady and a locker room that was supposed to be more disciplined than the one he left behind in Cleveland. He had 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns before he said on Dec. 20 that he was stepping away from football to concentrate on his mental health. A few hours later, the NFL announced that he had been suspended indefinitely. That ended on Friday, the league said, and 'subject to appropriate progress on clinical care and other arrangements, he will be permitted to participate in team activities, including practice.' 'We are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally,' Goodell said in the statement. 'Everyone shares in that hope and will continue to support him to every extent possible. But as Josh acknowledged, ultimately his success is up to him.' Gordon did not play in Saturday's exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans and will not be allowed to play in Thursday night's game against the Carolina Panthers because he hasn't had enough time to practice with the team, the league said. Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to comment on Gordon's status on Monday. Teammates said they were glad to have him back. 'Of course, we're all rooting for him and hoping he does well,' running back Rex Burkhead said. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Star receiver Antonio Brown returned to training camp with the Oakland Raiders on Monday, a day after being given an ultimatum by general manager Mike Mayock to be 'all in or all out.' Brown took part in meetings in Napa before the team broke camp, a person familiar with the situation said on condition of anonymity because the team didn't release details. Brown didn't attend practice Sunday as he works to find a helmet that he's comfortable using and that meets safety standards set by the NFL and NFLPA. Brown lost a grievance last week seeking to use the Schutt Air Advantage helmet he has used throughout his career because it was too old to be certified as safe. He had hoped to find a newer version of his preferred helmet that could be approved but the one he submitted failed a safety test conducted by the league and union, a second person said on condition of anonymity because test results weren't released. Agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN earlier Monday that he expects Brown to be back practicing soon and that they are looking into 'all options right now to resolve the helmet issue.' The Raiders' next practice will be Tuesday. 'Antonio is very genuine,' Rosenhaus said. 'He wants to be there. He wants to be a part of the team. He wants to practice. But he'd also like to do it with the helmet that he's worn his entire life. He wore this helmet in pee-wee football, high school football, in college at Central Michigan. And he also wore this helmet his nine-year (NFL) career. 'This is his life. He's risking everything. He's got a family. He's had a concussion before. This helmet has kept him safe. He's had brutal hits. And we're just trying to find a way to work it out. We've worked very closely with the Raiders, we've worked very closely with the NFL. But I hope people can appreciate this is not a simple issue. The helmet is the most important piece of equipment and he's had the same one every single snap he's played in his football career. This is a major issue for him.' Brown has yet to take part in a full practice all training camp for the Raiders, missing time because of frost bite on his feet suffered in a cryotherapy accident in France and now over the helmet issue. That led to Mayock's public frustration Sunday when he said the Raiders had supported their star player but had 'exhausted all avenues of relief.' 'So from our perspective, it's time for him to be all in or all out,' Mayock said. 'So we're hoping he's back soon. We've got 89 guys busting their tails. We are really excited about where this franchise is going and we hope A.B. is going to be a big part of it starting Week 1 against Denver.' Brown had 686 catches and 9,145 yards receiving the past six seasons in Pittsburgh, the best marks ever for a receiver in a six-year span. But he still wore out his welcome with the Steelers after leaving the team before a crucial Week 17 game last season and was able to be acquired by Oakland in March for the small price of third- and fifth-round draft picks. The drama that surrounded Brown in Pittsburgh didn't stop upon his arrival with the Raiders even though he was given a hefty raise with a three-year contract worth $50.125 million. Brown arrived at camp with frost-bitten feet, sending him to the non-football injury list. He was activated on July 28 and participated in parts of two practices before leaving the team to get treatment on his feet and to deal with the grievance with the NFL. Brown returned to the Raiders on Aug. 13 but still hasn't participated in a full practice all of training camp. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • What started as an innocuous conversation during a public event has evolved into a golf partnership between an NBA superstar Stephen Curry and Howard University. The two-time NBA MVP announced Monday that he is helping Howard re-establish a golf program. Curry is providing a donation that will allow one of the country's most prominent historically black universities to launch Division I women's and men's teams for the 2020-21 academic year. The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, has long been known as a passionate golfer. But the idea of partnering with Howard didn't start until January, when Curry went to the campus in January for a screening of the documentary 'Emanuel.' After watching the film — which chronicles the 2015 shooting of nine black worshippers at a church in South Carolina — Curry was approached by Howard student Otis Ferguson. The senior explained to Curry how he had been unsuccessfully trying to start up an official university golf team. Howard had previously fielded a Division II golf team but that was discontinued. At a Monday news conference, Curry singled out Ferguson for applause and recalled their chance meeting. 'We connected on golf,' he said. 'Accountability, competition, discipline — all those different ideals we learned through the game of golf.' The exact amount of Curry's donation has not been disclosed, but the university announced it would be a six-year partnership. Sports apparel company Under Armour, which sponsors Curry and is based in nearby Baltimore, will provide the uniforms and golf club manufacturer Callaway will supply the equipment. 'I'm going to be following every part of the journey as we go into next year when the team takes the course for the first time,' Curry said. 'This is going to go way beyond the game of golf, way beyond Howard. This is huge.' ___ More AP golf: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA
  • Cross off another milestone for Clemson, college football's newest superpower. For the first time, the defending national champion Tigers are No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 presented by Regions Bank . The Tigers won the program's second national title in three seasons behind freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in January. Clemson now can claim equal standing with Alabama at the top of the sport. The Crimson Tide, coming off a 44-16 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship, is No. 2. Clemson received 52 first-place votes and Alabama received the other 10 from the media. Clemson snaps a record-tying string of three straight years in which Alabama was preseason No. 1. Georgia, Alabama's Southeastern Conference rival, is No. 3, followed by No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Ohio State. Clemson's rise under coach Dabo Swinney has been uncommon in college football. The school won the national championship in 1981, but mostly it had resided on a tier well below the traditional national powers. Clemson football was usually good and sometimes excellent, but never this. Last season's championship made Clemson just the 12th school with at least three AP titles since the poll started in 1936. The Tigers enter 2019 with a 15-game winning streak and eight straight double-digit victory seasons. Since 2015, when they lost the national championship game to Alabama, the Tigers are 55-4. Nick Saban's Alabama dynasty, with five national titles in a 10-year span, has finally met its match. The Tide is also 55-4 in the last four seasons. Clemson and Alabama have split the last four national championships, played in the last four playoffs and are poised to make it five straight. This will be the third time since 2016 the Tigers and Tide have started the season Nos. 1 and 2 in the Top 25. Beginning with 2015, when Alabama and Clemson occupied the top two spots in the last four AP polls of the season, the Tide and Tigers have been Nos. 1 and 2 in some order 22 times. Last year's Clemson team was highlighted by a defensive line that had three starters selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and a fourth taken in round four. The Tigers have some rebuilding to do on that side of the ball, but recent history suggests reinforcements are ready. This year Lawrence and the offense will be the headliner. The first freshman quarterback in more than three decades to lead a team to a national championship, Lawrence will be joined by star receivers Tee Higgins (12 touchdowns) and Justyn Ross (nine touchdowns) and game-breaking running back Travis Etienne (8.1 yards per carry). Alabama returns quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, and an array of weapons, too. As a new season starts, college football fans best be prepared for Tide vs. Tigers V. The Top 25 is sponsored by Regions Bank this season, the first time the poll has ever had a presenting sponsor. POLL POINTS We're No. 1! Clemson is the 23rd team to be preseason No. 1 and the first first-timer since Georgia in 2008. The Tigers will try to become the 12th team to start No. 1 and finish No. 1 since the preseason poll started in 1950. The last to do it was Alabama in 2017. Only two teams have gone wire-to-wire as No. 1: Florida State in 1999 and Southern California in 2004. Alabama has now been No. 2 to start the season nine times, matching Oklahoma for the most in AP poll history. Just as many teams (11) have started No. 2 and won the title as No. 1. Consistent Buckeyes Ohio State is ranked in the preseason for the 31st consecutive season (1989-2019), the third best all-time streak behind only Penn State (34 years, 1968-2002) and Nebraska (33 years, 1970-2002). The Buckeyes have been ranked in 66 of 70 preseason polls, most of any school. The Buckeyes were unranked in 1966-67, 1979 and 1988. Tough draw No. 12 Texas A&M and South Carolina will each play the preseason top three. Only three times previously has a team had the entire preseason top three on its schedule: — In 1968, Northwestern faced Purdue, USC and Notre Dame and went 0-3. — In 1972, Minnesota faced Nebraska, Colorado and Ohio State and went 0-3. — In 1975, Missouri faced Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan and went 1-2, beating No. 2 Alabama to open the season. Been a while — No. 14 Utah has been a regular in the rankings for most of the last five seasons, but the Utes have not been ranked in the preseason since 2011 when they started No. 19. That was the season after coach Kyle Whittingham's team went unbeaten. In 2014, '15, and '16, the Utes finished the season ranked after starting unranked. — No. 21 Iowa State is making its second appearance in the preseason poll. The Cyclones were No. 20 in 1978. — No. 22 Syracuse is in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1998 when the Orange were No. 17. — No. 24 Nebraska has not been ranked in the preseason since 2014, the program's longest drought since 1955-59. The ranking also ends a string of 32 straight polls in which Nebraska has not been ranked, dating back to the final one of the 2016 season. That is also the longest run of unranked teams the Huskers have had since the late '50s. Conference call Big Ten — 7 SEC — 6 Pac 12 — 5 Big 12 — 3 ACC — 2 American — 1 Independent — 1 Ranked vs. Ranked The first week of the season with a full schedule of games is lacking marquee matchups. No. 16 Auburn faces No. 11 Oregon at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. It's the only Week 1 game with two ranked teams. The first regular-season Top 25 will be released Sept. 3, the Tuesday after Labor Day. The rest of the regular-season rankings will be released on Sundays. ___ Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast ___ To see this week's voter ballots go to: https://collegefootball.ap.org/ap/poll More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • Former Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus has been cleared to return to school after a jury acquitted him of sexual assault charges. The school announced Chancellor Rebecca Blank's decision in a statement Monday that said the university had obtained information that wasn't provided during a student conduct review. The statement said sanctions against Cephus have been 'reduced' and his expulsion has been lifted, though some conduct violations were upheld. The statement didn't elaborate. Wisconsin spokesman John Lucas said he had no information on what the school had learned and declined to comment on what conduct violations were upheld. Cephus' attorney, Stephen Meyer, issued a statement thanking Blank for giving Cephus 'his life back in time to pursue his academic and athletic dreams.' Meyer said he believed the new information mentioned in the school's statement was 250 pages of court documents he supplied when Cephus requested reinstatement Aug. 6. He said the only conduct violation that was upheld was sexual harassment. He said that violation stems from Cephus asking his roommate and fellow receiver, Danny Davis, to take a picture of the two women he was accused of assaulting as they slept in his room. Davis, a junior, was suspended for the first two games last season Meyer called a 4 p.m. news conference with Cephus to answer questions. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst has said he would welcome Cephus back. It wasn't immediately clear when he would return to the team. Wisconsin football spokesman Brian Lucas said he didn't have any information on a possible date and a previously scheduled post-practice availability with players Monday was canceled 'in light of today's news.' Cephus, 21, of Macon, Georgia, was suspended from the team in August 2018 after he was charged with second- and third-degree sexual assault. Prosecutors charged him after two women came forward and accused him of sexually assaulting both of them on the same night in his apartment in April 2018 when they were too drunk to consent. Cephus countered that the sex was consensual and was arranged by one of his accusers. The school expelled him earlier this year for violating its nonacademic misconduct code. A jury acquitted him Aug. 6 after deliberating for less than an hour. Meyer and Cephus' former teammates have been pressuring Blank to let Cephus return to school since then. Quarterback Jack Coan and running back Jonathan Taylor, a Heisman Trophy contender, appeared at a news conference last week urging Blank to reinstate him. Cephus, a 6-foot-1 junior, was a standout receiver for the run-first Badgers before he was expelled. He played a combined 23 games in 2016 and 2017. He accumulated 501 yards receiving in the 2017 season and led the team with six touchdown catches despite breaking his right leg in November of that year and missing the final five games of the season. He was entering his junior year of eligibility. Blank, the chancellor, was caught between the black community and sexual assault victim advocates as she pondered whether to reinstate Cephus. Meyer urged her last week not to reinforce what he called the stereotype that black men are sexually aggressive. Marcus Allen, president of the African-American Council of Churches Madison and pastor at the Mount Zion Baptist Church that Cephus attends, said he was grateful Blank decided to allow Cephus to go on with his life. 'If he was found innocent why shouldn't he be allowed to return to his normal way of life?' Allen said. 'We stand on the side of justice and justice said he was innocent.' Blank said she hopes her decision won't deter sexual assault victims from coming forward. 'Our university continues to be prepared to listen and respond,' she said. ___ Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1 ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
  • Just like that, Gareth Bale is part of the solution for Real Madrid again. After only one game back as a starter, the player who wasn't wanted by coach Zinedine Zidane a few weeks ago showed he can still contribute to the team. Zidane started Bale in the team's Spanish league opener on Saturday — less than a month after saying his transfer would be good for everyone — and got a positive response from the Wales forward in a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo. Bale's good performance was a relief after Zidane and Madrid had struggled to find ways to deal with the forward following failed attempts to transfer him in the offseason. 'He is going to stay,' Zidane said Saturday. 'All the players we have now are focused on the season ahead. Bale and all the players want to stay and want to do their best to defend this jersey.' Bale had a great first half against Celta, setting up Karim Benzema's opening goal with a perfectly placed cross in the 12th minute. He nearly found the net himself a few moments later with a shot that prompted a good save by the opposing goalkeeper. After being substituted by Francisco 'Isco' Alarcon toward the end of the second half, Bale was saluted by Zidane and his teammates on the bench. 'Bale has helped us win titles, he has scored important goals for us,' Madrid midfielder Casemiro said. 'We have a lot of respect for him. He has to keep playing, he is a great player.' FAIRYTALE APPEARANCE Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz returned from his post-match interview to find his teammates applauding him and chanting his name in the locker room. The 38-year-old veteran had just scored an amazing overhead kick a minute after entering the match in the 88th, giving Athletic an opening win against defending champion Barcelona. It was the perfect start to Aduriz's final season as a player. The former Spain international announced he will be retiring this season, ending a career that will include more than 400 matches and 170 goals with the Basque Country club. 'Football is so beautiful sometimes because of things like this. It gives you chances like this,' Aduriz said. 'It will be impossible not to miss this. I'm just incredibly happy to be able to choose how I'm ending my career, and to be able to do it at the place that I love the most.' BARCELONA'S INJURIES Barcelona is off to its worst league start in a decade and injury woes could keep the two-time defending champions from rebounding quickly. It remains unclear whether Lionel Messi and Luiz Suárez will recover from muscle injuries in time for the match against Real Betis on Sunday, and the team announced on Monday that forward Ousmane Dembele will be sidelined for about five weeks because of a thigh problem. Messi was hurt in the preseason and didn't play on Friday in the 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao, while Suárez didn't make it past halftime in the opener. Messi is expected to return to practice this week and has a greater chance of being in the lineup against Betis, but he was not with the rest of the group on Monday. Suárez is not as likely to be fit in time for Sunday's game. Barcelona had won 10 straight league openers. HARSH RED CARDS Refereeing officials warned before the league started they would not tolerate fouls that could lead to Achilles injuries. A couple of players got to see first-hand that the officials were serious about their warning, including Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder was sent off for stepping on an opponent from behind in the team's opener against Celta Vigo on Saturday. A day later, it was Getafe's Jorge Molina who was ejected for a similar foul in the game against Atlético Madrid. In both occasions, the red cards were shown after video reviews. 'We were told in advance that when a player steps on another player from behind it doesn't matter whether it was on purpose,' Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone said. Both Modric and Molina claimed their fouls were accidental. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
  • Bryce Harper's game-ending grand slam and sprint around the bases gave a jolt to the Philadelphia Phillies and could be the prelude to a fascinating National League playoff scramble. As thrilling as the win was for the Phillies , the 7-5 final Thursday night was a kick in the gut for the Chicago Cubs, since both teams are in a tenuous playoff position. The drama is becoming a daily occurrence for many of the NL hopefuls. It's mid-August and the only sure bet to make the postseason is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who continue to barrel through their schedule with an 82-44 record and 18 1/2-game lead over second-place San Francisco. Atlanta's still in a good spot at 74-52, but a rash of injuries makes a spot in October feel a little less inevitable. The Braves' lineup is without Nick Markakis (wrist), Austin Riley (knee), Dansby Swanson (foot) and Ender Inciarte (hamstring) and the revamped bullpen has been a little shaky. After that, the race is a mess with six weeks remaining. The Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs are all fighting for the final three spots. Even the Giants or Diamondbacks could get into the race with an extended winning streak. As for the Phillies, they could use more big moments from Harper, who has had an up-and-down season since signing a $330 million, 13-year deal. He's batting .254 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs. AWESOME AQUINO Aristides Aquino is having a stunning start to his big league career. The 25-year-old Cincinnati Reds right fielder smashed 11 homers through his first 17 games , becoming the first rookie to accomplish that feat since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. By Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals were treating him very cautiously, walking him twice in four plate appearances. Aquino's power isn't completely surprising considering he hit 28 homers in 294 at-bats in Triple A this season. Still, he has taken a while to develop into a big leaguer: He has spent nine seasons in the Reds' system since signing as a free agent in 2011. LOOK WHO'S 40 Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso reached or passed 40 homers this week, becoming the first four players of the season to do so. Since most teams have around 35 games remaining, it's easy to see at least a few of them reaching 50. Big league hitters continue to thrive on the long ball at a pace never seen in the sport's history. Teams were averaging 1.40 homers per game through Saturday, which would shatter the previous record of 1.26 set two years ago. U MAD? The New York Yankees continue to take out their aggression on just about everyone from opposing teams to the umpires. In what's becoming a somewhat common occurrence, three Yankees were ejected during Saturday's 6-5 win against Cleveland , including manager Aaron Boone, outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher CC Sabathia. It was the third time in a month that the club lost its temper when a minor league call-up umpire was behind the plate. The ejections and anger haven't kept the Yankees from winning. Their 83-43 record leads the majors and they've won seven of their last 10. HOW LOW CAN YOU GO In another lowlight in a season full of them, the Orioles lost their seventh straight game Sunday despite building a 6-0 lead in the first three innings. Boston scored the next 13 runs. Baltimore is now 39-85 and in danger of losing 110 games for the second straight season. At least the Orioles probably will be better than last season, when they finished 47-115. ___ Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • For the fifth time in the last six years, August on the PGA Tour means no more Tiger Woods for the rest of the season. Only now he's healthy. He also is the Masters champion. And that makes it a season he wouldn't trade. 'Very special to win my 15th major and get my fifth jacket,' Woods said Sunday. 'Those are special moments to be able to have an opportunity like that. And the rest of the tournaments I didn't really play as well as I wanted. But at the end of the day, I'm the one with the green jacket.' Rarely has Woods smiled so wide after not meeting a goal. His season ended at Medinah, where he won two PGA Championship titles at the peak of his game and his health. He closed with an even-par 72 in the BMW Championship and tied for 37th, nowhere near what he needed to move into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup and advance to the season-ending Tour Championship next week at East Lake. 'It's disappointing,' Woods said about not returning to Atlanta. 'I wish I could have. Last year culminated in a pretty special moment for me, and it would have been nice to go back there. But I'll be watching the guys on TV.' It will be the 15th time in his career that Woods did not show up to defend a title on the PGA Tour, remarkable considering that Fred Couples only won 15 times in his career. The other occasions of not defending a title usually involved a change in the schedule, a tournament ending or health reasons. This is the first time because he wasn't eligible. He started the PGA Tour postseason at No. 28 but withdrew after a 75 in the first round at Liberty National with what he called a mild oblique strain. That dropped him to No. 38 in the FedEx Cup, and he finished at No. 42. It was mildly surprising that Woods even made it to Medinah to give it a try, and he looked fairly normal, except for some rust. He gave it his best shot at returning to the scene of perhaps the biggest moment in golf last year — a victory at East Lake, with thousands of fans spilling inside the ropes to watch Woods cap off his comeback from four back surgeries by beating the best players. And then he did it again where it really matters — a major. Woods needed some help from Francesco Molinari's tee shot into Rae's Creek on the 12th hole in the final round at Augusta National , and similar blunders by Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, but he looked like the Woods of old instead of an old Woods with his mistake-free finish for a 15th major, his first in 11 years. Just like that, the count to Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors was on again. Instead, that was as good as it got. Woods spoke vaguely of his back not being right in the cold of Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship in May, his first tournament since the Masters. He never got on track at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open. After another long break, he missed the cut at the British Open and then simply wanted to get home. But he won the Masters, and that makes up for a lot. 'It's like I told him coming off 18, he's got the jacket. That's all that matters,' caddie Joe LaCava said. 'I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't disappointed with the second half of the season. If I was happy and satisfied, I shouldn't be in the industry.' LaCava also has a sense of how Woods is feeling at age 43 with eight surgeries — four on his knee through 2008, four on his back since 2014. 'By the time we get around to next year, he'll be refocused and be ready and get after it,' La Cava said. The season is over. The year is not. Woods heads home for a nine-week break before returning for the first PGA Tour event in Japan at the end of October. He has his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the first week of December, followed by his role as U.S. captain in the Presidents Cup at Australia's Royal Melbourne. He did not make the team. It would be surprising if he picked himself, especially playing only one tournament in Japan, for one of his four captain's choices. Woods finished the season with 12 tournaments, his shortest PGA Tour season when healthy without any outside distractions. He wasn't always tournament sharp, and now he has two months of no competition. 'I think right now the most important thing is fitness, for sure,' Woods said. 'Keep going the way I'm going right now because I need to get a little bit stronger in certain body parts, activate different areas. I need to get those parts stronger and then starting building up my game for Japan.' He won't be in Georgia next week for the Tour Championship. Instead, Woods will be at home in South Florida, where he has a green jacket to remind him that yes, it was a year worth celebrating.
  • The pressure is on Minnesota's offense to improve, and a more productive passing attack will depend partially on a diversified group of targets for Kirk Cousins. Some of that depth was on display Sunday night against Seattle. Rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. and backup wide receiver Brandon Zylstra each had touchdown receptions, and the Vikings used a versatile offense to beat the Seahawks 25-19 in a preseason matchup. 'I honestly thought it was a really positive night,' said Cousins, who went 6 for 8 for 68 yards. 'It's a small sample size. It's the preseason. You try not to read too much into it, but I came away feeling good about the first two drives and also really the rest of the offense the rest of the way.' Second-string quarterback Sean Mannion took over for the third possession, which ended in an interception that safety DeShawn Shead returned 88 yards for a score. Mannion bounced back by finding Smith with a short throw into the end zone just before halftime. The Vikings, who underwent an offseason scheme change with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and offensive adviser Gary Kubiak after an underwhelming first year with Cousins at the helm, had 409 total yards. 'We have so many different weapons, and coach Stefanski and coach Kubiak, they want to get us all in involved,' said Smith, a second-round draft pick from Alabama. 'So they did a great job of that.' Mannion went 11 for 14 for 88 yards. Kyle Sloter, who finished 11 for 13 for 116 yards, delivered the touchdown pass to Zylstra in the third quarter and directed another scoring drive capped by fullback Khari Blasingame's 1-yard plunge. Seattle's pass rush was strong in the first half, but Minnesota's much-scrutinized offensive line again avoided allowing a sack. Barkevious Mingo pressured Mannion as he threw before Chad Beebe was expecting the ball after a turn on a hitch route, prompting Shead's pick-six. Cousins and rookie center Garrett Bradbury shared a botched under-center snap resulting in a fumble the Vikings recovered. The first team took two turns for the Seahawks, too, and Russell Wilson went 6 for 9 for 82 yards after sitting out the preseason opener. He had a 33-yard completion to Jaron Brown, who has a starting wide receiver spot for now following the retirement of Doug Baldwin. D.K. Metcalf, the second-round draft pick from Mississippi, did not play, and coach Pete Carroll later said he'll need minor knee surgery. Brown's catch set up the first of four field goals by Jason Myers. 'I thought we did a really good job with tempo. Guys were in and out of the huddle making plays,' Wilson said. 'I thought we moved the ball down the field against a very good defense.' JUST KICKING IT The Vikings gave Kaare Vedvik his debut a week after acquiring him in a trade with Baltimore. He punted three times for a 46.7-yard average, handled kickoffs and made his only extra point try. Dan Bailey, the incumbent kicker, made a chip shot field goal. Matt Wile, the incumbent punter, had only one attempt. DAY OF REST All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner watched from the sideline in a Seahawks sweatshirt, being eased back into action following a minor knee procedure . Defensive end Ezekial Ansah remains in rehab mode following offseason shoulder surgery. The Vikings again held running back Dalvin Cook out as a precaution and gave rookie Alexander Mattison 10 carries for 41 yards. Mike Boone followed him with 21 rushes for 66 yards, plus a 45-yard reception. Right tackle Brian O'Neill was sidelined again, after suffering an arm injury two weeks ago. TESTING, TESTING Adam Thielen caught a 34-yard pass from Cousins, an over-the-shoulder ball near the sideline after he beat Shaquill Griffin in coverage. With the NFL encouraging teams in the preseason to test the new instant replay rule that makes pass interference reviewable, Carroll tossed his red flag to see if he could get a penalty on the Vikings. Thielen was bewildered, respectfully assuring Carroll and Wagner during the review that there was no foul. 'I was surprised. Like every fan watching the game, I'm interested to see how often that flag gets pulled and how often people want a look at every play,' Cousins said, adding: 'Adam said, 'If I can't do what I did, then I can't play.'' The no-call was upheld. Then on the next play, Thielen drew a defensive pass interference penalty on Tre Flowers inside the 10. BIG HIT Vikings cornerback Holton Hill was ejected in the fourth quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Paxton Lynch, whose neck snapped back awkwardly from the impact. After needing some time for evaluation, Lynch, the leader in the competition to be Wilson's backup, walked off on his own. J.T. Barrett replaced Lynch, who entered the concussion protocol after going 6 for 15 for 67 yards. 'He felt like he was OK, but he's still got to pass those tests,' Carroll said. UP NEXT Seahawks: Play at the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night. Vikings: Host the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. ___ For more AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports