• NASCAR: Five Sprint Cup Series drivers to watch this season

    With two races already completed, here’s a quick look at five drivers to watch in the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season.

    Jimmie Johnson

    It wouldn’t be wise to count out the five-time champion. He’s looking for his “six-pack,” and his Daytona 500 victory was a good start to getting it. Johnson had a shot a victory lane last weekend in Phoenix as well, finishing second. He’s currently the leader in points, and a smart early-season pick for the championship.

    Brad Keselowski

    The defending Sprint Cup champion is off to a strong start, with back-to-back fourth place finishes in the first two races of the season. The Penske Racing organization switched from Dodge to Ford this season, a move Roger Penske said he did to keep his teams competitive. So far, Keselowski seems to be fairing alright.

    Kevin Harvick

    After finishing in the top 10 of the final standings the last three seasons, Harvick is in his last season with Richard Childress Racing. He has driven all 12 seasons of his career for RCR, but will move to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. Will he finally be able to win a championship at RCR in his last season?

    Danica Patrick

    Before the season, Patrick caused a media frenzy after announcing she is dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. She then proceeded to win the pole at Daytona, and made history with her eighth-place finish. But she blew a right-front tire in Phoenix and finished 39th. Expectations are high for the former Indy driver in her rookie season, and the hype is here to stay.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    NASCAR’s 10-time most popular driver went through a detox diet in the offseason to slim down and make his firesuits fit a little better. Maybe it helped, as he finished second at Daytona and fifth at Phoenix, a strong start for a driver still looking for his first championship.

    Last year’s Kobalt Tools 400 champion, Tony Stewart, will look to defend his title at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 10. Television coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. on FOX.

  • WGC Accenture match play does not disappoint, bizarre and interesting throughout

    A lot went on over the past two weeks in the world of golf, from snow in desert Arizona to many shocking upsets and it all happened during the same tournament, the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. This tournament is always a unique one because of its format, which is a 64-player tournament in the spirit of the famous NCAA March Madness tournament, which determines the champion of the Division I collegiate basketball world. The tournament is held every year at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. While there’s nothing strange or unique about a golf tournament in Arizona, but snow in the Southwest, that definitely makes things interesting.

    Round 1 was postponed with many of the matches still in play because of the unusual precipitation. The continuation of Round 1 on Day 2 saw two huge upsets that resulted in first round exits from the world’s No. 1- and 2-ranked golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. Both No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, the career multi-major winners fell at the hands of 16 seeds Shane Lowry and Charles Howell III who combine for a total of four professional wins and just two PGA tour wins, both belonging to Howell. The world’s No. 1 golfer fell to Lowry by just one hole, while Woods fell to Howell III by two. However, seeding upsets aren’t too uncommon in match play. In Round 1 alone 15 out of the 32 matches had the lower seed move on to the next round, including two No. 2 seeds in Lee Westwood and Adam Scott falling in their respective opening matches along with two No. 3 seeds and two No. 4 seeds falling to their opponents.

    Round of 32 to Final Four

    Most of the Cinderella stories struck the cliché midnight in round two as only one of each of the 15 and 16 seeds advanced to Round 3. No. 16 seed Shane Lowry and No. 15 seed Tim Clark took their second round matches before falling in the elite eight. Only two of the elite eight golfers were seeded below eight, No. 11 seed Jason Day and No. 9 seed Robert Garrigus. Garrigus fell Matt Kuchar by three holes with two remaining in the match, while Day prevailed edging out No. 5 seed Graeme McDowell by one hole. This gave us a final four consisting of (11) Jason Day going up against (6) Matt Kuchar with the winner taking on the victor of the other final four match between No. 3 seed Ian Poulter and No. 6 seed Hunter Mahan. The two No. 6 seeds, Mayhan and Kuchar, were dominant and both cruised their way to victory with four-hole victories ending play in each match with three holes remaining. 

    Mahan-Kuchar Final Round

    In the championship matchup between the two six seeds, Matt Kuchar came out strong, capitalizing on Mahan bogeys on the 4th and 5th holes, getting on holes No. 6 and 8 to go up by four holes after the front nine was completed. Mahan immediately recovered to kick off the back nine, taking the 10th and 11th holes thanks to a Kuchar bogey on 10 and a birdie on 11 to chop the lead in half to two. The two tied on 12 with birdies on the par three before Kuchar birdied the 13th hole versus a Mahan bogey to stretch the lead to three with five holes left. Mahan did not let that discourage him as he would take the 14th with a birdie. The two would pencil in birdies on 15, and Kuchar bogeyed 16 to which Mahan pulled within one hole by taking advantage with a par and two holes to go. Kuchar finished off Mahan who conceded hole 17 to give Matt Kuchar his first PGA tour victory of the 2013 season and the fifth PGA Tour win of his career.  

  • Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander among top fantasy starting pitchers for 2013

    Many avid fantasy baseball managers stress the importance of loading up fantasy rosters with big hitters in the early rounds of the draft, but in my opinion, many of them overlook the value of snagging a few starting pitchers in the early rounds. Don’t get me wrong, you should by all means build your team around a few hitters that you know will consistently produce for you all year long, but having a few top-notch pitchers can really carry a team throughout the season and especially down the stretch when many of your sluggers might be battling fatigue and injury. Here are my top three fantasy starting pitchers:

     1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

     Some might be surprised to see Kershaw at the top of the list, but after posting 14 wins last year on a Dodgers team that struggled to consistently score runs, if he stays healthy he can easily record anywhere from 17 to 20 wins. Last season Kershaw recorded 229 strikeouts and led the MLB in ERA. Fantasy owners can expect him to continue to improve on these numbers as he heads into his sixth season in the majors. One thing to consider before drafting Kershaw is that he was bothered by a hip injury last September, but honestly this should not scare anyone out of drafting him in the early rounds as he is only 25 years old and is typically not injury-prone.

     2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

    Verlander is more than just a talented starting pitcher; he is durable and consistent. These are two qualities that fantasy owners always want to hear associated with their top draft picks and Verlander embodies both of them. Since 2006 he has started 30 or more games in each season and in that same span he is averaging right around 17 wins and 220 innings pitched per season. All that together is the definition of consistency. He is also coming off a two-year period in which he won the American League Cy Young Award (2011) and then finished second in voting (2012). Overall Verlander is a great pickup because you can count on him to produce consistently and you can be sure that he will have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers.

    3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    I know it may seem odd that I am actively endorsing Strasburg as the third starter off the draft board after his last season was cut short by Nationals management in early September, but last year when he pitched he was as productive as any fantasy pitcher in the league. In just 28 starts last season, he recorded 15 wins, 205 strikeouts and 159.1 innings pitched, not to mention a pretty solid ERA of 3.16. If Strasburg is able to pitch for an entire season, fantasy owners should definitely expect these numbers to improve. Another thing to consider is that after being cut off in the middle of a hotly contested playoff race last season, Strasburg will most likely start this season with a chip on his shoulder and be ready to prove to everyone that he is durable enough to pitch for an entire season.

    Some avid fantasy players may wonder why Felix Hernandez didn’t make the cut for this list and the main reason for that is the worry that the Mariners will not be able to provide enough run support for him to post the kind of numbers he is capable of. Last season Hernandez started 33 games and posted an ERA of 3.06 but because of a lack of run support, he only ended up with 13 wins the entire season. Moreover, fantasy owners must be careful when drafting starting pitchers in early rounds and must be aware of each starter’s particular situation. But after all factors have been considered, drafting a pitcher in an early round can actually end up being very beneficial for fantasy owners.