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World Cup Watch: Tough start at Milan for US defender Dest

MILAN — United States defender Sergiño Dest joined Italian champion AC Milan with the hope of getting more playing time ahead of the World Cup. He’s gotten off to a tough start.“American Horror Story, a 45-minute episode,” was how Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport described Dest’s Serie A debut, giving him a rating of five out of 10 for his performance in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Napoli. Other newspapers labelled it “a catastrophe” or simply “bad.”Dest, who joined on loan from Barcelona on transfer deadline day, had played in both of Milan’s Champions League group games but made his first appearance in the Italian league when he came on as a halftime substitute for Davide Calabria against Napoli.He struggled from the outset and after less than 10 minutes gave away the penalty that led to the opening goal — and Milan’s first loss of the season — when he fouled speedy Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.“Dest is a good player. As is Kvaratskhelia,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “Calabria also struggled against the Georgian.”The 21-year-old Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother and chose to play for the United States instead of the Netherlands, where he was born and raised. He has scored two goals in 17 matches for the national team.Dest started his career at Ajax before moving to Barcelona two years ago for 21 million euros (then $24.7 million) but he couldn’t establish himself as a regular starter.He had plenty of minutes in his first season at Barcelona, under coach Ronald Koeman, but then his playing time gradually decreased. He nevertheless had chances under coach Xavi Hernández in the Europa League last season but also couldn’t take advantage of them.And Dest knew that, with the World Cup approaching in November, he needed to have a regular place in a team.United States coach Gregg Berhalter plans to announce his World Cup squad on Nov. 9, five days before the deadline to submit it to FIFA.Dest is a first-choice right back for the American team and also a backup on the left behind Antonee Robinson.If healthy, Dest seems almost guaranteed to start against Wales in the Americans’ opening group game on Nov. 21 — DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon, Joe Scally are big drop-offs in comparison — but he’ll want to take some form with him to Qatar.WAITING ON REUSGermany faces an anxious wait to see if Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus will be ready in time for the World Cup following a serious-looking ankle injury in the Ruhr derby on Saturday.Dortmund said the 33-year-old Reus will miss three to four weeks because of a ligament injury in his right ankle. It seems an optimistic assessment from a club that has rushed players back from injuries too soon in the past — United States midfielder Gio Reyna had repeated setbacks last season.Reus has only played 48 games for Germany. He missed the team’s winning World Cup run in 2014 with an ankle injury and Euro 2016 with a groin injury. He played at the World Cup in 2018 but skipped the next European Championship to recover after his season with Dortmund.Germany coach Hansi Flick called up Leipzig defender Benjamin Henrichs as a replacement for the upcoming games against Hungary and England.DE TOMÁS’ ORDEALSpain striker Raúl de Tomás thought his chances of making it to the World Cup were surely over when his transfer from Espanyol to Rayo Vallecano didn’t go through in time.Because of the delay, he won’t be able to play in the league again until January.But there was a glimpse of hope for the 27-year-old de Tomás after Spain coach Luis Enrique spoke about his situation last week. The coach didn’t add the player to his latest list for the upcoming Nations League matches, but also didn’t rule him out for the tournament in Qatar.“Each case is different,” Luis Enrique said. “Raúl de Tomás has been called up recently. It’s a completely unusual situation. You don’t always see a player who can’t sign for a team at the last minute and has to be sidelined for a few months. We won’t be able to see him play, but I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s difficult, but I can’t say either way right now.”De Tomás, who blamed Espanyol for not making the deal with Rayo Vallecano work, has four appearances with Spain’s national team, including two this year.PEFOK POISEDUnion Berlin forward Jordan Pefok hasn’t given up on playing for the United States at the World Cup despite his omission from coach Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man roster for warmup matches against Japan and Saudi Arabia.Pefok scored the opening goal in a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on Sunday to help Union stay in first place in the Bundesliga.“Who doesn’t hope to play at the World Cup when his country is qualified?” the French-speaking Pefok asked after the game.“The coach decides. Me, I play the games with happiness, I keep trying to give my best,” Pefok said. “Afterward, as we say in France, it’s at the end of the ball that we pay the musicians.”———AP Sports Writers Ciarán Fahey in Berlin and Tales Azzoni in Madrid contributed to this report.———More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Phillips out of England squad in concern ahead of World Cup

England midfielder Kalvin Phillips withdrew from the national team squad on Tuesday because of a shoulder injury in a concern for coach Gareth Southgate ahead of the World Cup.Phillips was replaced by central midfielder Jordan Henderson, with England playing Nations League games against Italy and Germany over the next week.Phillips, who was a regular in England’s team in its run to the European Championship final last year, sustained a dislocated shoulder in training last week and might need an operation, potentially putting at risk his place in England’s World Cup squad.The 26-year-old holding midfielder has endured a frustrating time since leaving Leeds to join Manchester City during the offseason, with injuries — particularly problems with his shoulder — restricting him to just only substitute appearances totaling 14 minutes. The most recent appearance was a cameo against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week.That offered hope that Phillips was nearing fitness after hurting his shoulder during City’s friendly against Barcelona in August. He sustained two significant shoulder injuries during his time at Leeds.Southgate has linked Phillips with Declan Rice as his first-choice central midfield pairing since Euro 2020, which ended with England losing to Italy in a penalty shootout in the final.It provides Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse with a chance to stake a claim for a starting spot alongside Rice in England’s team for the World Cup.The World Cup begins Nov. 20.———More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

WNBA players skipping Russia, choosing other places to play

SYDNEY — Brittney Griner’s highly publicized legal woes in Russia and the country’s invasion of Ukraine has the top WNBA players opting to take their talents elsewhere this offseason.For the past few decades, Russia has been the preferred offseason destination for WNBA players to compete because of the high salaries that can exceed $1 million and the resources and amenities teams offered them.That all has come to an abrupt end.“Honestly my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home,” said Breanna Stewart, a Griner teammate on the Russian team that paid the duo millions. “I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place,” Griner was arrested in February, then detained and later convicted on drug possession charges amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Griner was sentenced last month to nine years in prison. Now, Stewart and other WNBA All-Stars, including Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot — who also have made millions of dollars playing in Russia — are going elsewhere this winter. All three played for Ekaterinburg, the same Russian team as Griner. That club won five EuroLeague titles in the past eight seasons and has been dominant for nearly two decades with former greats DeLisha Milton Jones and Diana Taurasi playing there.Nearly a dozen WNBA players competed in Russia last winter and none of them are heading back this year. After the World Cup tournament, Stewart is going to Turkey to play for Fenerbahçe. Top players can make a few hundred thousand dollars playing in Turkey, much less than their Russian salaries. Playing in Turkey also allows Stewart to be closer to her wife’s family in Spain.“You want to have a better lifestyle, a better off-the-court experience, and just continue to appreciate other countries,” Stewart said.Like Stewart, Vandersloot also isn’t headed back to Russia, choosing to play in Hungary where she obtained citizenship in 2016. “I am Hungarian. I thought it would be special since I haven’t played there since I got the citizenship,” Vandersloot said.The 33-year-old guard said a lot would have to change before she’d ever consider going back to Russia to play even though she has many fond memories of the Russian people.“The thing about it is, we were treated so well by our club and made such strong relationships with those people, I would never close the door on that,” she said. “The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to think that it’s safe for anyone to go back there right now.”Jones will be joining Stewart in Turkey, playing for Mersin. The 6-foot-6 Jones said she would consider going back to Russia if things change politically and Griner was back in the U.S.The Griner situation also is weighing heavily on the minds of young WNBA players.Rhyne Howard, the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is playing in Italy this winter — her first overseas experience. She said was careful when deciding where she wanted to play.”Everyone’s going to be a bit cautious seeing as this situation is happening,” she said.It’s not just the American players who are no longer going to Russia. Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman, who stars for the Belgium national team, had played in Russia with Stewart, Jones and Vandersloot. She also is headed to Turkey this offseason.The WNBA has also been trying to make staying home in the offseason a better option for players. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at the WNBA Finals that top players could make up to $700,000 this year between base salary, marketing agreements and award bonuses. While only a select few players could reach that amount, roughly a dozen have decided take league marketing agreements this offseason.———AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this story.

Week 2 provides a Comeback Sunday NFL hasn’t seen in years

Call it a Comeback Sunday the NFL hasn’t seen in years. The Dolphins and Cardinals made history by overcoming 20-point halftime deficits to win on the same day while the Jets rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final two minutes. Two other teams almost joined the club. The Falcons fought back from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit — that score sounds familiar in Atlanta — only to fall short against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams when Jalen Ramsey picked off Marcus Mariota’s pass intended for Bryan Edwards in the end zone, sealing a 31-27 victory. Joe Burrow helped the Cincinnati Bengals erase a 17-3 halftime deficit in Dallas but Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cowboys a 20-17 win that dropped the reigning AFC champions to 0-2. Two weeks into the season, close games and wacky finishes are a common theme. It’s great news for the league, giving viewers who have no fantasy football or gambling interest reason to stick around until the end. There have been 12 games decided by three points or fewer already, the most through the first two weeks of a season in NFL history. Eight teams have overcome a deficit of at least 10 points to win or tie, the second-most through Week 2, trailing only the 1987 season when nine teams did it.Tua Tagovailoa’s performance was most impressive. He tossed six touchdown passes to lead Miami to a 42-38 win at Baltimore after trailing Lamar Jackson and the Ravens 35-14 going into the fourth quarter.“We basically had to play perfect complimentary football to come back from a deficit like that, and this is a really good team so I couldn’t be happier with him, and his teammates know,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of Tagovailoa. “His teammates learned a lot about him, and I think he learned something about himself.”Tagovailoa improved to 8-1 vs Super Bowl-winning head coaches, the highest win percentage league history with a minimum six starts.His critics should be silent for at least another week.“Mike told us in our team meeting that this is going to be a great opportunity for us that if we do ever get down against these guys, we know that you’re not looking to put your head down,” Tagovailoa said. “We’re always going to be in the game and just play one play at a time. And Mike is always going to say this. This is kind of like the mind-set for our team, that adversity is opportunity. And, that’s how we played.”Kyler Murray put on a spectacular display of his own to help Arizona overcome a 20-0 halftime deficit in Las Vegas. Murray ran in from the 3 on the final play of regulation and made a perfect throw into a tight window through traffic for the 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime.Then, Byron Murphy Jr. returned Hunter Renfrow’s fumble 59 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 29-23 win over the Raiders.“There were so many do-or-die plays, I lost count, where we had to have this stop, had to have this 2-point conversion, had to score, had to have this fourth down, and guys just kept fighting,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Nobody blinked. At halftime, it was ‘Hey, we have to settle in and do what we do.’ We played about as bad as you could in the first half, didn’t play great the second half, but the effort was incredible.”Multiple teams had not rallied from 20-point halftime deficits to win on the same day in NFL history until the Dolphins and Cardinals both did it Sunday. It was the first time that two teams overcame a deficit of at least 20 points at any point in a game to win in the same week since Week 4 of the 2011 season.Of the three teams who blew big leads, the Browns should be most bitter. They would’ve won if Nick Chubb had stayed in bounds instead of run into the end zone for his third touchdown with 1:55 remaining. That score gave Cleveland a 30-17 lead but the extra-point was missed.Joe Flacco tossed two TD passes in a 60-second span sandwiched around a recovered onside kick as the Jets pulled off an improbable victory. Teams had won 2,229 consecutive games when leading by at least 13 points in the final two minutes before the Browns blew it.“I have won on a Hail Mary. I have lost on a Hail Marys. I have won in a last-second game,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “At this point in my life, I’ve experienced all of it, so I’m never surprised at what the league has to offer, but that rollercoaster never changes.” The three comebacks by the Dolphins, Cardinals and Jets — all on the road, too — marked the second time in league history three teams overcame a fourth-quarter deficit of at least 13 points to win on same day.The way this season has started, expect to see plenty more comebacks.——— Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi———More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP—NFL

Analyzing Broncos' coaching blunder, Vikings on the rise, can Bengals adjust?

By Warren SharpFOX Sports NFL WriterNathaniel Hackett choked. Pure and simple. The goal for every team with Super Bowl aspirations needs to be simple: Win every single game possible. Aim to get the No. 1 seed in your conference, secure the only first-round bye, play one fewer playoff opponent and secure home-field advantage for every game prior to the Super Bowl.Every single game is meaningful. With that in mind, it’s hard to be more disappointed in a coaching debut.This is about winning. But it’s about more than that.It’s about exhibiting intelligence in strategy.It’s about trusting your players.It’s about establishing a winning culture.We could complain about play-calling earlier in the game (and we will, later) but for now, the most critical point in the game:Denver was trailing by one point Monday night in Seattle. The Broncos had the ball and a third-and-14 at their 45-yard line with three timeouts and the clock stopped at 1:11 in the fourth quarter.They threw a running-back screen which set up a fourth-and-5 with 1:03 left.And three timeouts.But they didn’t call a timeout. They walked back to the line and mulled around. At 0:50, 13 seconds later, Russell Wilson called for the team to huddle up.The team remained in the huddle until 0:34.By the time they were set at the line of scrimmage, there were only 25 seconds left in the game, and they were at the Seahawks’ 46-yard line.They then let the clock tick until 0:20, when they called a timeout.And trotted Brandon McManus onto the field to attempt a 64-yard FG for the win.The 43 seconds from 1:03 to 0:20 were some of the most important in the direction of this new coaching staff’s career.Because during those 43 seconds, they made a massive decision considering the context of the franchise.Denver made a massive statement this offseason. They declared they would do whatever it takes to acquire a true, franchise quarterback because they knew they couldn’t win without one.And boy, did they give up a ton to get Russell Wilson.Denver traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks, one fifth-round pick, tight end Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock and defensive end Shelby Harris to the Seahawks.They got Russell Wilson in return. And then they gave Wilson $242,588,246, including $161,000,000 guaranteed. These decisions should have changed the trajectory of this franchise.From the top down, they made a statement: We have our QB. It’s time to win. But they chose not to use their QB when it mattered most.Denver could have called a timeout at 1:03. They had fourth-and-5. And more importantly, they had Russell Wilson.This wasn’t Drew Lock.This wasn’t Teddy Bridgewater.This wasn’t Case Keenum.This wasn’t Joe Flacco.This wasn’t Brandon Allen.This wasn’t Brock Osweiler.This wasn’t Trevor Siemian.This wasn’t Paxton Lynch.This wasn’t Brett Rypien.This wasn’t Jeff Driskel.None of the 10 quarterbacks they tried to win with and couldn’t since Peyton Manning retired.This was a quarterback the Broncos mortgaged massive future draft capital and enormous salary-cap space to acquire.This was a $242 million quarterback.And instead of letting him try to convert a fourth-and-5, Hackett opted to use zero of three timeouts to strategize, bleed the entire clock and have his kicker attempt a 64-yard field goal.Do you know what McManus’ career history was on 62+ yard field goals prior to this attempt? Five kicks attempted. Zero made.Not only that, instead of kicking at elevation in Denver to add distance to the kick, he was playing at sea level in Seattle.Kickers are a combined 2-for-41 on kicks of 64+ yards in NFL history. Yes, they are getting better at hitting from longer distances. But there is no chance that attempt gave the Broncos a better chance to win than asking Wilson to get them five yards. It was completely irrational. Everything about it was irrational.Not using one of three timeouts at 1:03? Irrational.Muddling around with zero urgency after the play? Irrational.Huddling(!) with a ticking clock showing 40 seconds remaining in the game ahead of a fourth-and-5 with three timeouts? Irrational.Deciding your best shot to win involved trusting a kicker who had never made a regulation kick this far at Denver elevation, let alone sea level? Irrational.Not trusting your $242M franchise quarterback to get you five yards? Irrational.I’ve said this time and time again, but I’ve got a simple and completely free piece of advice for every single coach.Playing game after game after game of Madden forces you to assess strategy late in games in tons of situations and to do so extremely quickly. It shows you the importance of late-game decision-making. Have you seen the new “Top Gun” movie? Madden is a flight simulator for NFL coaches.And yet almost across the board, they aren’t using it to train under pressure. Keep in mind, failing in a late-game situation in Madden will not cost you a shot to win a game and take you one step further away from winning a Super Bowl.Hackett established he doesn’t trust his team’s best player in a key situation.Which is why it’s more than just one win he cost his team. It’s the opportunity cost of establishing a winning culture.Look at this juxtaposition:Let’s compare two rookie head coaches in their first games.Brian Daboll isn’t just 1-0. The first-year Giants coach won over his entire team. He demonstrated trust in his players. He endeared himself to New York. He became a beloved coach. He established an aggressive mentality.Nathaniel Hackett is everything Daboll isn’t. He not only hurt his chance to start his career 1-0 but also cost himself a shot at all the other critically important upsides that came with Daboll’s win.As embarrassing and frustrating as those 43 seconds were, the rest of the game was puzzling for Hackett as well.The Broncos ran 10 plays inside the Seahawks’ 10-yard line on three different drives.They came away with zero touchdowns and totaled -13.1 EPA on the 10 plays.They lost two fumbles on two runs from shotgun just inches away from the end zone:You are inches away from the end zone, and instead of sneaking the ball with your quarterback (optimal) or allowing your RB to gain momentum, they handed him the ball standing still, four or five yards away from the end zone, and asked him to just erase that distance to the end zone before the defensive linemen and linebackers standing inches inside the end zone got any penetration at all.The game was exhilarating and fun. It capped an absolutely incredible Week 1 of the NFL season. We won our bets on it and I should be feeling happy.Related: Warren’s Week 1 picks include Vikings, Ravens Instead, I’m feeling disappointed that, in 2022, we are seeing coaches make obvious errors that are worse when applying the context of who your quarterback (finally) is and what you gave up to acquire him.Hackett can recover. The Broncos can get back on track. But they will never get that win back. And he will always remember how he cost himself a chance at gaining much more than just one win.What else did I notice in Week 1?The Ravens RB-run game was severely lacking in Week 1.In the first half against the Jets, Ravens running backs averaged -0.86 EPA (expected points added) per attempt and 1.2 yards per carry. Both ranked worst in the NFL.They averaged -0.5 yards before contact per attempt, meaning their offensive line allowed penetration, and the running backs were hit a half-a-yard before the line of scrimmage.Things didn’t improve much in the second half, and over the course of the entire game, their RBs ranked third-worst in rushing efficiency. And that was against a Jets defense which ranked 26th in rushing efficiency last year.Left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s ankle injury still wasn’t healed enough, and Baltimore just lost Ja’Wuan James, who started in his place at LT. The Ravens are now going to have to find an offensive tackle to help support depth and are down to their third-stringer.They then had to rely a lot on Lamar Jackson, who had to do everything for this offense once again. Yes, he threw three touchdowns, but his success rate was 22nd in the NFL, and he averaged the NFL’s highest air yards in the league last week.We hoped the Ravens would have more support on the ground in 2022 after losing many of their running backs and offensive linemen to injuries in 2021. They had better improve, and quickly, as they play the new and improved Dolphins this week.Pittsburgh’s upset began when they increased their usage of Cover-2Against Joe Burrow in Week 1, Pittsburgh doubled its usage of Cover-2 from 2021.2021 season: 13.7%2022 week 1: 28.7%No QB faced more Cover-2 in week 1 than Burrow. And against that coverage, Burrow threw three interceptions, took three sacks and averaged -0.29 EPA/dropbackMore teams will use Cover-2 against the Bengals this year. Cincinnati expected it. But they weren’t sufficiently prepared to handle it. I expect they will fare much better against the depleted Cowboys this week, but this late-slate game will be a meeting of two extremely desperate 0-1 teams, and the Bengals cannot take Dallas lightly.Related: NFL power rankings: Bills on top, Jets at the bottom — and how far do Cowboys fall?Frank Reich’s early-season struggles continueI’m big on coaches making adjustments when something isn’t working and even proactively making improvements even when things are working.But for the Colts early in the season, the results have been clear as day.Frank Reich Weeks 1-5: 8-12 (40%)Frank Reich from Week 6 on: 29-16 (64%)He has not won a Week 1 game as a head coach. Ever.So why would you not understand this and make wholesale changes to your approach in the two weeks leading into the season? Do something different to prepare your players. Do something different to game-plan better. Be more aggressive to prioritize an early lead. Something.But the Colts didn’t. Their first drive was a three-and-out. They didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:On deck is a trip to Jacksonville. The Colts are currently four-point favorites. They are 0-6 in Jacksonville since 2016.Illegal Contact does nothing to the betting marketAll offseason, I was hearing how people were going to “bet overs” because of the new emphasis on illegal contact penalties.But no one bothered to look at the data.I wrote back in August that these penalties are unlikely to send games over the total.Well, Week 1 is officially in the books, and here’s what we saw:11 unders (69%)5 overs (31%)I hope the “bet overs” crowd didn’t lose too much of their bankroll after just one game.Once again, don’t say I didn’t warn you.Huge Vikings win changes odds massively in the NFC NorthThe Vikings opened +300 to win the NFC North, and just before the season started, they were +240 to emerge over the Packers, Bears and Lions.Today? They are down to +130 to win the division.That’s a 110-percent move from one win against presumed favorite Green Bay! Absolutely massive. Behind the scenes on Aaron Rodgers during Packers’ loss to the Vikings
FOX Sports lead NFL producer Richie Zyontz’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ on Aaron Rodgers during the Green Bay Packers loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
But it wasn’t just the win. It was about how it looked. Minnesota looked totally in control. Aaron Rodgers looked concerned and upset after the offense could not score more than seven points. Related: Takeaways from Vikings win over Packers, Justin Jefferson’s career dayNext on deck? The 0-1 Packers host the 1-0 Bears on Sunday Night Football, while the Vikings travel to take on the Eagles in a battle of undefeated teams with aspirations of winning the entire NFC.Warren Sharp is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He is the founder of Sharp Football Analysis and has worked as a consultant for league franchises while also previously contributing to ESPN and The Ringer, among other outlets. He studied engineering before using his statistical acumen to create predictive football models. You can follow Warren on Twitter at @SharpFootball Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more. in this topic

Column: Jimmy Walker steps away, LIV gives him path back

Jimmy Walker quietly stepped away from the PGA Tour in April, not sure whether it was lingering effects of Lyme disease or mounting frustration — probably both — that led to the decision. He just knew he needed to get away for the rest of the year, maybe two, maybe longer.And then LIV Golf came along.The Saudi riches didn’t land at his door in San Antonio, and Walker isn’t sure he would have been interested. “History is powerful and it’s what that doesn’t have yet,” he said.Walker watched from the sidelines, not begrudging anyone who chose to go to the rival league. What he didn’t realize was that for each player who signed up for LIV Golf — and was suspended by or resigned from the PGA Tour — it only helped him.The phone call on Labor Day surprised him.Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman were among the latest to leave, allowing Walker to move up nine spots to No. 50 in career earnings on the PGA Tour. That gave him access to a one-time exemption for the new season that starts Thursday.Walker was happy at home behind a grill, on his lawn mower, going to the gym or chasing after his two boys. He still played golf with friends, the show-up-and-swing-it variety. That was fun.“I’ve been running and gunning at this professional sports job for 20 years,” he said. “I just needed time to not do a damn thing.”Walker also knew this chance wouldn’t be around next year if he didn’t take it.“I had no plans to play and I didn’t know when I would play again. I might have been done,” Walker said. “Is it fate that this is happening? I don’t know.”Leave it to the words of a child.Walker figures he could have retired and been satisfied with a career that brought him a major championship and two Ryder Cup teams. He is 43 and still feels he can do more. So he asked his sons, 12-year-old McClain and 9-year-old Beckett, if they wanted him to go on the road again.“The youngest, Beckett, said to me: ‘Can you be great again? If you think you can do that, I want you to go.’ That was a real tear-jerk moment,” Walker said.Beckett was 3 when Walker scooped him into his arms on the 18th green at Baltusrol after his one-shot victory in the 2016 PGA Championship. Can he deliver another moment like that? He figures it’s worth a shot, especially when the decision was made for him.Walker is one example of how LIV Golf has provided a path that players weren’t expecting.Another former PGA champion, Jason Dufner, moved into the top 50 in career money to get his card. Rory Sabbatini landed in the top 25 in career money because of LIV suspensions.And that’s what had Walker on a commercial flight Monday from San Antonio to Oakland, California, and then a short drive — no courtesy car this week — to Napa for the Fortinet Championship and the start of a season he wasn’t planning to play.He was so determined to make a clean break from golf that Walker stayed home instead of playing the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where he made his pro debut in the 2001 U.S. Open. That would be coming full circle. He preferred full stop.“I’ve had a great career,” he said. “I can hang my hat on that.”It took Walker 178 starts on the PGA Tour before he finally won the season opener at CordeValle in 2013 by beating Brooks Koepka, a sponsor exemption who had earned his European tour card that year. Koepka was one of the players who signed with LIV and enabled Walker to move up the career earnings list.Walker still holds the Sony Open record with a nine-shot win in 2015. He peaked a year later when he captured his lone major and played on his second straight Ryder Cup team, this one a U.S. win at Hazeltine.A hunting trip to King Ranch that fall is where he suspects he got Lyme disease, though it took months of symptoms and uncertainty before he received the diagnosis on the Wednesday before the Masters.The road back seemed to get longer the harder he worked.He felt fine one week, terrible the next. Medication made him sensitive to the sun. He started struggling with chipping and putting, the hallmark of his game. He was happy at home in San Antonio, increasingly grumpy on the road.Now it feels like a fresh start. Walker has played long enough to know what’s ahead.Golf is getting younger and better. Only the top 70 keep their cards in this new season of big prize funds, another change brought on by LIV Golf.“I had mixed emotions leaving,” Walker said during a layover Monday in San Diego. “I know what it entails, the hard work and all that. I’m nervous. Honestly, I don’t feel super prepared. But there’s not a better way than to jump right back into it.“It could be amazing, or it could be a disaster.”Either way, it’s something Walker wasn’t expecting. He has LIV Golf to thank for that.———More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

No. 1 Alcaraz already back in Spain for Davis Cup Finals

MADRID — It was a quick turnaround for tennis’ new No. 1.Hours after celebrating his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, Carlos Alcaraz arrived back home to try to help Spain in the Davis Cup Finals.“I’m very proud to arrive as No. 1 and do my bit for the team,” Alcaraz said Tuesday. “Playing the Davis Cup is always special. It’s a unique atmosphere and I’m looking forward to being with the team.”Alcaraz made it to Valencia the day before Spain was to debut against Serbia in the group stage on Wednesday.It wasn’t yet clear in which condition Alcaraz arrived after having to play a grueling series of matches on his way to the title in New York.“Hopefully he can recover as soon as possible,” Spain captain Sergi Bruguera said. “We don’t know yet if he will be able to play on Wednesday.”Many expected Alcaraz to skip the Davis Cup after defeating Casper Ruud in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, which allowed him to become the youngest man to lead the ATP computerized rankings since they began in 1973.The 19-year-old Alcaraz said following Monday’s traditional Times Squad photo shoot that he “woke up dead” after the four-set final against Ruud.“We will see how he is feeling, we will discuss it with him,” Bruguera said. “The sooner he can play, the better.”Before the final, Alcaraz had three consecutive five-set victories, including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal match against Jannik Sinner.“We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later,” Bruguera said. “But the way he won three matches in five sets is an incredible effort mentally as well as physically. Being the youngest No. 1 in the world, there aren’t any words.”After facing Serbia, which is without Novak Djokovic, Spain takes on Canada on Friday and South Korea on Sunday in Group B. The top two teams in each of the four groups will advance to the quarterfinals, which will be played in November in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.Alcaraz made it to Spain’s Davis Cup team for the first time last year, but had to withdraw from the tournament after testing positive for the coronavirus just before the competition was to start.———More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports———Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni