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Tiger Woods eyes 2020 Olympics but also faces questions

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods knows how tough qualifying for the 2020 Olympics will be — tougher than qualifying for any PGA Tour event. The question is, will he go all in to make it to Tokyo?

“Would I like to play in the Olympics? Yes, I’ve never played in the Olympics, and I’m sure that I won’t have many more opportunities going forward at 43 years old now to play in many Olympics,” Woods said ahead of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Tuesday. “Yes, that would be a first for me and something that I would certainly welcome if I was part of the team.”

To be part of the team, Woods must be ranked in the top 15 in the world and be among the top four ranked Americans on June 22, 2020. Via his Masters win, Woods is currently third among Americans in the Olympic golf ranking, according to Twitter guru Nosferatu.

It’s a precarious position with the likes of Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas just off the bubble. Come next spring, when more Olympic qualifying points will be up for grabs, will Woods play more non-major tournaments to boost his ranking?

“Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part,” he said. “How many events — how many events do I play, do I add a couple more to get in? These are all questions that will be answered going forward. I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, things will take care of itself.”

True. Take the Masters win (although, come June 2020, it will have little effect on his Olympic ranking as more weight is given to 2020 events than 2019 ones).

Woods improved from seventh alternate for the U.S. in early April to the No. 2 American behind Dustin Johnson. He has since fallen behind Rio Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar into third place, proving just how volatile qualifying can be.

In 2015, Woods said qualifying for the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years in Rio was “very important.” September 2015 back surgery ended that Olympic bid, however.

In Rio, only three male golfers from the field of 60 were older than Woods will be come July 2020 — Thongchai JaideeAlex Cejka and Padraig Harrington. None of those men had to be ranked in the world top 15 to make their nations’ teams. That’s a necessary floor for a U.S. man given the depth.

A month before the Rio Games, Woods said he would prefer if the top 50 in the world automatically made the Olympic field.

“I just wish they would have had more quality of a field, similar to what we face in major championships, or the world golf championships, or the Players [Championship],” he said then. “We have these top-heavy fields, and I think the Olympics really deserve that.

“But I understand they’re trying to promote the game of golf and give more participants a chance to be part of the Olympic experience and be a part of golf. And try to get more of these countries that have not traditionally been part of golf to be a part of it, and for them to grow.”

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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