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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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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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