Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Rory McIlroy rallies for FedEx Cup win, plus NFL preseason takeaways

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s Zach Pereles back and ready to go. With the college football season underway, the NFL preseason over (meaning your fantasy draft is likely coming soon — be sure to sign up for our Fantasy Football Today newsletter) and the MLB season entering the final stretch, it’s full speed ahead.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially to…

RORY McILROY

The final group of the Tour Championship brought us World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler trying to hang on for yet another huge win to cap a historic breakout season that’s been full of them and Rory McIlroy — the superstar who has emerged as arguably the most important voice in golf — trying to track him down.

In other words, it was exactly what the PGA Tour needed to end a tumultuous season.

In the end, it was McIlroy who put a magnificent bow on an otherwise oh-so-close season, beating Scheffler and Sungjae Im by a stroke to capture his record-breaking third FedEx Cup and, of course, the lucrative $18-million first-place payout.

  • Scheffler led McIlroy by six strokes entering the final round, but that lead had vanished after seven holes. However, Scheffler birdied the eighth hole to reclaim the solo lead, which he held until…
  • The crucial moment on the 15th hole, when McIlroy rolled in a stunning 31-foot birdie putt. Then, on 16, McIlroy miraculously saved par while Scheffler bogeyed.
  • Scheffler missed a very good look at birdie on 17 and misplayed a bunker shot on 18. McIlroy flirted with but ultimately avoided trouble and held on.
  • It’s McIlroy’s record third FedEx Cup title (also 2016 and 2019) and his 22nd career PGA Tour win.

In addition to winning the season’s final event, he also won his first event of the season — the CJ Cup at Summit back in October — as well as the RBC Canadian Open in June. But the season also featured plenty of close calls, notably: the Open Championship, where the putter let him down as he blew a late lead, and the Masters Tournament, where he finished second to Scheffler.

It’s fitting that McIlroy, who’s emerged as the biggest supporter of the PGA Tour as it battles with LIV Golf, won the tour title, writes golf expert Kyle Porter.

  • Porter: “What’s maybe more surprising than McIlroy playing great golf is that someone who is generationally talented at this game would also be capable of casting such a strong vision while leading the game into the future with equal parts grace and conviction. McIlroy has clearly been the right man to meet this moment.”

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Northwestern

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THE NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS

It’s a new year for Nebraska, but just because the season changes doesn’t mean the results do. Northwestern rallied for a 31-28 win in Dublin on Saturday to highlight Week 0 college football action.

  • Ryan Hilinksi threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats, and running backs Evan Hull and Cam Porter combined for 213 rushing yards and two scores.
  • Leading 28-17 in the third quarter, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost made the “interesting” (the nicest word I could think of) choice to try an onside kick. It failed. After the game, Frost said, “If I had it over, I wouldn’t make the call.”
  • Northwestern scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession and scored another later on to finish the comeback.

Listen, first and foremost, credit Northwestern. Heck, that’s my alma mater. If I don’t credit them, no one will! Hilinski looked sharp distributing to capable weapons, the backfield is a major strength and the defense made plays. When these two teams met last season, Nebraska won 56-7. That’s also the last time Nebraska won a game, period. The Cornhuskers have lost seven straight. They went 0-8 in one-score games last year and are now 0-1 in one-score games this year.

Now in his fifth season, Frost is 15-30 at Nebraska. There is plenty of season to go. Nebraska can have a successful campaign, but not until they fix the issues that have plagued Frost’s tenure in Lincoln.

As for other takeaways from Week 0…

Not so honorable mentions

Commanders RB Brian Robinson Jr. shot, has non-life threatening injuries

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Commanders

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Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot several times as the victim of a potential attempted robbery or carjacking on Sunday night. He is in stable condition with non-life threatening injuries, including multiple gunshot wounds in his lower extremities.

  • Robinson Jr., 23, was a third-round pick out of Alabama. He won two national titles with the Crimson Tide.
  • He had a strong training camp and preseason and was in line to be a significant part of Washington’s backfield immediately.
  • Robinson Jr. — like most of Washington’s projected starters and key contributors — did not play in Saturday night’s preseason finale against Baltimore.

Robinson Jr.’s timetable to return to the field is unclear. For the time being, the Commanders’ running back room will feature Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

Bills cut punter Matt Araiza following rape accusation

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills

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(WARNING: The following contains subject matter that readers may find disturbing.)

The Bills released rookie punter Matt Araiza on Saturday after a civil lawsuit was filed in California last week alleging he and two of his former San Diego State teammates gang raped a 17-year-old girl at a party last year. Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said the decision to cut Araiza is “more important than playing football.”

  • Beane said the team first learned about this situation in late July.
  • Araiza was with the team but did not play in Friday night’s preseason finale at Carolina and then did not practice Saturday before being released.
  • The lawsuit also named Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, both of whom are no longer on the San Diego State roster. More details of the lawsuit are available here.

  • Araiza said the details of the lawsuit are inaccurate, and Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, said the lawsuit is “a shakedown because [Araiza]’s now with the Buffalo Bills.”

Araiza, a sixth-round pick, won the Bills’ punting job a week ago. Backup quarterback Matt Barkley punted against the Panthers, and the Bills currently do not have a punter on their roster.

Preseason Week 3 takeaways: Steelers QBs play well 🏈

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With under two weeks until the NFL season, 31 NFL teams have decided on their starting quarterback. The only one left seems to be pretty close.

  • Mitchell Trubisky completed 15 of 19 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown while playing with the Steelers starters in Sunday’s preseason finale against the Lions.
  • While rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett also played well, our Steelers expert Bryan DeArdo thinks it’s Trubisky’s job (and our NFL reporter Cody Benjamin named Trubisky one of his winners of the week).

While the last week of the preseason is mostly reserved for players battling for a roster spot, we got to see plenty of rookie quarterbacks in action, and Cody’s top rookie quarterback from the week may surprise you. Unfortunately, with the preseason over, it’s time for roster cuts, and you can keep track of all of them here. Teams must get down to 53 players by tomorrow afternoon.

A cheat sheet for your fantasy football draft 🏆

I have been looking forward to fantasy football season since the moment last season ended. Admittedly, my team’s season ended earlier than I would have liked.

But this year we’re going to be back and better than ever, and you can be, too, thanks to all of the incredible work from our fantasy football staff. You can find pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted in our draft guide right here. This includes…

  • Cheat sheets
  • Player rankings and tiers
  • Sleepers, breakouts and busts
  • Team-by-team previews
  • How to draft from any pick No. 1-12
  • Mock drafts

And for just a little sneak peek, here’s our fantasy expert Chris Towers’ top 10 (sign up for Chris’ Fantasy Football Today newsletter here):

  • 1. Christian McCaffrey
  • 2. Cooper Kupp
  • 3. Jonathan Taylor
  • 4. Austin Ekeler
  • 5. Justin Jefferson
  • 6. Dalvin Cook
  • 7. Najee Harris
  • 8. Travis Kelce
  • 9. Alvin Kamara
  • 10. Davante Adams

For No. 11-200 (yes, 200!), click here. And happy drafting!

What we’re watching Monday 📺

🎾 Serena Williams vs. Danka Kovinic, US Open (first round), 7 p.m. on ESPN

Yankees at Angels, 9:45 p.m. on MLB Network

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