Weekend Sports In Brief
Looming at the top of this year’s March Madness bracket: Duke freshman force of nature, Zion Williamson.
The Blue Devils earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, joining Virginia, North Carolina and Gonzaga as No. 1 seeds for the three-week hoops extravaganza that kicks off this week.
Williamson missed five games after wrenching his knee when his Nike sneaker blew out in a regular-season game last month. He’s healthy again, playing well and not concerned about another potential injury that could impact his status as the likely top pick in the NBA draft later this year.
The tournament starts Tuesday with a pair of play-in games, then gets going in full force Thursday.
The Final Four is set for April 6-8 in Minneapolis, where Duke is the early 9-4 favorite to win it all.
The three teams from the ACC as No. 1 seeds ties a record for one conference. Virginia gets a top seed for the second straight year, hoping to avoid another colossal embarrassment; the Cavaliers will face Gardner-Webb a year after becoming the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 since the bracket went to 64 teams in 1985.
The bracket, as always, included a few surprises and a few more debatable decisions from the selection committee that’s been holed up at a Manhattan hotel this week, crunching the numbers. Mid-major Belmont made it off the bubble — one of seven teams from non-power conferences to earn at-large bids. That was the highest number since 2015. Other bubble teams were Temple, Arizona and St. Johns. Missing the tournament were Alabama, TCU and Indiana. Michigan State made a strong bid for a No. 1 seed with its win Sunday over Michigan in the Big Ten title game. Instead, it was put on the ‘2’ line, with a potential Elite Eight matchup against Duke in a tough East region.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Rory McIlroy made two late birdies amid the wild theatrics of Sunday at The Players Championship and closed with a 2-under 70 to win the next best thing to a major. It required a major performance down the scary stretch at the TPC Sawgrass.
McIlroy could not afford to make a mistake over the final hour because of Jim Furyk, the 48-year-old former Ryder Cup captain who nearly pulled off a stunner. Furyk, one of the last players to get in the strongest field in golf, capped off a 67 with a shot so good into the 18th that he started walking when he hit it. It plopped down 3 feet from the hole for a birdie to take the lead. But not for long.
McIlroy, one of eight players to have at least a share of the lead in the final round, was coming off a bogey on the 14th to fall behind and was in trouble with a tee shot that found a bunker right of the fairway. He responded with his best shot of the day to 15 feet for birdie. Then, McIlroy hit the longest drive of the round on the par-5 16th, leaving him a 9-iron from a good lie in the rough to set up a two-shot birdie and the lead. Most important, he found dry land on the par-3 17th, the island green that never looks smaller than on Sunday at The Players.
He was solid to the end on a chilly, cloudy day and finished at 16-under 272 to win The Players on his 10th try.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Italian golfer Guido Migliozzi won his first European Tour title with a one-stroke victory at the Kenya Open on Sunday.
Playing in the 14th event of his first year on tour, the 22-year-old qualifying school graduate shot a 2-under 69 in the final round to finish ahead of a three-way tie for second place between Spain’s Adri Arnaus (70) and South African pair Louis De Jager (69) and Justin Harding (66).
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Busch tied Richard Petty’s NASCAR record with his 200th career victory across the three national series Sunday by using an impressive late surge through the field following a speeding penalty to win the Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch dominated the first two stages, but a pit-road speeding penalty dropped him to 18th with 73 laps to go. He carved through the field in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota then got help from a timely caution. Busch catapulted into the lead for good with 26 laps left by drafting off Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
The win was the third Cup victory at Fontana for Busch and he’s now in position to become NASCAR’s overall career victories leader with his next win. Busch has earned 53 of his 200 wins in the Cup Series, along with 53 in the Truck Series and 94 in Xfinity.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Dominic Thiem edged error-prone Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert.
Thiem trailed 4-3 and 5-4 in the third set before breaking Federer with a forehand winner to go up 6-5. Thiem served out the two-hour match that ended with another error from Federer, a forehand dumped into the net.
Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row. He was beaten in a third-set tiebreaker by Juan Martin del Potro last year. Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently.
Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals. But the 25-year-old Austrian’s solid serve held up against Federer as it had throughout the tournament. Thiem was broken just four times out of 61 service games in the tournament. He didn’t lose serve during his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, facing only one break point in that match.
Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu upset Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the women’s title.
Thiem and Andreescu earned $1.3 million each.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Johnny Football is heading to Memphis to resume his football career.
Johnny Manziel signed with the Alliance of American Football on Saturday night and will join the Memphis Express. The quarterback’s rights belonged to San Antonio of the spring league, but that team declined to sign him and Manziel then was free to join any of the other seven clubs. He was awarded through the AAF’s waiver system to the Express, who have a league-worst 1-5 record.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M had his contract with the CFL terminated this offseason. The Canadian league said he violated his agreement with it, but has offered no specifics.
Manziel was a first-round draft pick by Cleveland in 2014, but quickly fizzled out there with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in 14 games, including eight starts. The Browns released him in March 2016
MIAMI (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick will become the Miami Dolphins’ caretaker quarterback.
The well-traveled veteran agreed to terms Sunday on an $11 million, two-year contract as a replacement to Ryan Tannehill and a placeholder until the Dolphins can draft their franchise quarterback. That could happen next month, but is more likely in 2020.
The 36-year-old Fitzpatrick has a 50-75-1 record as a starter for seven NFL teams. He started seven games for Tampa Bay last year and had a passer rating of 100.4, which ranked ninth in the league.
The Dolphins traded Tannehill on Friday to the Tennessee Titans in a deal that also involved draft picks. Tannehill became Miami’s starting quarterback as a rookie in 2012 and never took a snap in the postseason.
NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Conlan won again on St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden, beating Ruben Garcia Hernandez by unanimous decision.
The former world amateur champion and two-time Olympian from Ireland returned to the arena where he made his pro debut two years ago on the holiday and kept the party that started long before the fight going with a dominating performance Sunday.
Conlan (11-0) won in a shutout, with all three judges giving him every round of the 10-round featherweight bout for scores of 100-90, with the flag waving and singing resuming even before the scores were announced.
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Santa Anita plans to resume racing on March 29, pending approval of new safety and medication rules by the California Horse Racing Board.
Racing has been suspended since March 5 at the track, where 22 horses have suffered fatal injuries since Dec. 26. Limited training is being allowed on the main dirt track while testing of the surface and new rules involving safety and medication are being worked out.
The track, along with Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California reached agreement late Saturday to enact the most stringent medication rules in North America.
All horses born in or after 2018 will race at Santa Anita and Golden Gate with no race-day medication, including the anti-bleeding medication Lasix. That means all 2-year-old horses starting in 2020 and after will race medication-free. All horses born before 2018 will race at the two tracks owned by The Stronach Group under the same guidelines, but Lasix will still be permitted only at 50 percent of current levels.