Karma had a hand in top 5 ‘feel-good’ sports mo­ments of 2019

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By JIM LITKE AP Sports Writer

Karma had a ca­reer year in 2019.

She draped a green jacket on Tiger Woods, handed soc­cer’s World Cup to a tough-as-nails U.S. Women’s Na­tional Team, shipped the NBA’s Larry O’Brien Trophy to a coolas-they-come rookie coach and play­ers from the Great White North, righted a wrong that hap­pened a quar­ter-mile from the fin­ish line at the Ken­tucky Derby, and turned a base­ball trib­ute to a fallen team­mate into some­thing truly un­for­get­table.

So if sports didn’t make you smile at least once in the last 12 months, well, that’s prob­a­bly on you. Here are the top five feel­good sto­ries of 2019 (and one honor­able men­tion): — Four­teen years af­ter his

last Masters win and 11 years af­ter his last ma­jor,

af­ter fight­ing through chronic back prob­lems, mul­ti­ple surg­eries, a bout with painkiller­s and long af­ter just about every­body

had writ­ten him off, Woods claimed his fifth

green jacket in April.

“It’s over­whelm­ing, just be­cause of what’s tran­spired,” he said af­ter­ward. “It’s un­real for me to ex­pe­ri­ence this.”

His win was called the “great­est come­back in sports,” “the feel-good story of the cen­tury” and some pun­dits pre­dicted that peo­ple would for­ever re­mem­ber where they were when Woods walked off the 18th at Au­gusta Na­tional.

But it might not even have been the most karmic mo­ment in golf in 2019.

(Honor­able men­tion) At the Phoenix Open in late Jan­u­ary, PGA Tour pro Gary Wood­land helped Amy Bock­er­stette, a com­mu­nity col­lege golfer with Down Syn­drome, fin­ish off one of the most heart­warm­ing pars golf has ever seen. At the U.S. Open in June, he bor­rowed her mantra — “I’ve got this” — en route to the big­gest win of his ca­reer.

Play­ing with Wood­land in front of a big prac­tice­day crowd at the famed 16th hole, Bock­er­stette sensed he was more ner­vous than she was. So be­fore each shot, she put Wood­land at ease with the words she re­peats when tack­ling life’s other chal­lenges: “I’ve got this.”

Five months later, with Wood­land lead­ing the U.S. Open af­ter three rounds, Bock­er­stette did it again. He’d held the 54-hole lead at a PGA Tour event seven times be­fore and failed to seal the deal. Wood­land said Bock­er­stette’s tweet the night be­fore the fi­nal round helped make a dif­fer­ence this time.

“Amy told me a mil­lion times when we were on that hole … ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got this,’” Wood­land re­called af­ter his win at Peb­ble Beach. “And I told my­self that a mil­lion times to­day, ‘I’ve got this.’”

— The U.S. Na­tional Women’s Team hardly needed re­as­sur­ing. If any­thing, cap­tain Me­gan Rapi­noe and her team­mates were deemed too brash as they gal­li­vanted across France in pur­suit of their third World Cup — and sec­ond in a row. Along the way, they sparred with Pres­i­dent Trump over pol­i­tics and high­lighted a gen­der-dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit against their own fed­er­a­tion in a fight for recog­ni­tion and equal pay.

They scored 13 goals against lowly Thai­land in a group-stage match and caught flak for cel­e­brat­ing too much. They re­sponded by cel­e­brat­ing sub­se­quent tal­lies with snarky golf claps and tea-time toasts, re­main­ing ruth­less un­til the fi­nal whis­tle in a 2-0 cham­pi­onship-game win over the Nether­lands. That’s what hap­pens when you send women to do a job that the bet­ter-paid men’s na­tional team has never come close to com­plet­ing.

“We’ve done ex­actly what we set out to do, done ex­actly what we wanted to do, said what we feel,” said Rapi­noe. “I know some­times my voice is louder, but every­body is in this to­gether.”

— The Toronto Rap­tors, on the other hand, weren’t marked for great­ness un­til that mo­ment in Game 7 of a play­off se­ries against Philadelph­ia, when Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beat­ing, fade­away jumper bounced four times on the rim be­fore cap­ping a 92-90 win.

“It looked like it was go­ing in the whole time to me,” quipped Rap­tors rookie coach Nick Nurse af­ter­ward.

Lucky or not, the Rap­tors turned that break into a ti­tle. They out­lasted Mil­wau­kee in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal and rid­ing Leonard’s mas­ter­ful per­for­mances on both ends of the floor, ended the Golden State War­riors’ dy­nas­tic dreams in six games.

Not long af­ter the cham­pi­onship pa­rade wound its way through Toronto, Leonard an­nounced he was leav­ing town to join the Los Angeles Clip­pers. Un­daunted, Nurse went back to work and has the Rap­tors back in con­tention. Over more than three decades, he’d coached in Great Bri­tain, at G-League stops in Des Moines, Iowa, and Ed­in­burg, Texas, and start­ing over was noth­ing new.

“He looks young,” Rap­tors guard Kyle Low­ery said, “but he’s pretty old.”

— A drench­ing early May rain­storm turned the Churchill Downs track sloppy even be­fore the start of the 145th Ken­tucky Derby. But the real mess ma­te­ri­al­ized at the end, when Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity, the first horse across the fin­ish line, also be­came the first win­ner dis­qual­i­fied for an in-race foul.

Track stew­ards pored over re­plays for 22 ag­o­niz­ing min­utes be­fore award­ing the win to Coun­try House, rul­ing that Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity had drifted into the path of War of Will, set­ting off a dustup that af­fected at least two other horses. That de­ci­sion turned the tote board up­side-down and handed Bill Mott, a train­ing leg­end who’d won ev­ery­thing else rac­ing has to of­fer, his first Ken­tucky Derby.

“I’m glad I wasn’t in their shoes,” Mott said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to make the de­ci­sion in front of over 100,000 peo­ple and the mil­lions of peo­ple that are watch­ing this on TV and around the world.”

— The sud­den death of pop­u­lar Los Angeles An­gels left-han­der Tyler Sk­aggs in early July rocked the base­ball world. His death was later at­trib­uted to an over­dose of opi­oids, spark­ing a rare agree­ment be­tween Ma­jor League Base­ball and the play­ers union to add a treat­ment-based ap­proach and eval­u­a­tion pro­to­col re­gard­ing opi­oid use to the cur­rent drug-test­ing pro­gram.

But the An­gels weren’t think­ing long-term when they planned to honor Sk­aggs in their first home game — against the Seat­tle Mariners — af­ter more than a week away. They wanted his team­mates and fans to re­mem­ber a promis­ing young pitcher whose per­son­al­ity lit up the club­house.

The An­gels play­ers donned jer­seys with Sk­aggs’ name and his No. 45 on the back. His mother, Deb­bie, threw out the first pitch. Then the magic started.

Mike Trout hit a 454-foot home run to open the scor­ing. Pitchers Tay­lor Cole and Felix Pena com­bined to throw a no-hit­ter — the 11th in fran­chise his­tory, which was the num­ber Sk­aggs wore in high school. Af­ter scor­ing seven times in the first in­ning, the fi­nal score was 13-0, which aligned with Sk­aggs’ 7/13 birth­day.

Af­ter the fi­nal out, the An­gels ven­tured out to the mound and laid their jer­seys on the bump.

“Ev­ery time you’d go up to him, he’d have that smirk on his face. Ei­ther sar­cas­ti­cally, jok­ingly, or he was try­ing to put a smile on your face,” Trout re­called. “We’re al­ways go­ing to be think­ing about him.”

ALESSANDRA TARANTINO - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FILE - In this July 7, 2019, file photo, United States’ Me­gan Rapi­noe lifts up a trophy af­ter win­ning the Women’s World Cup fi­nal soc­cer match be­tween U.S. and The Nether­lands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, out­side Lyon, France. “We’ve done ex­actly what we set out to do, done ex­actly what we wanted to do, said what we feel,” said Rapi­noe. “I know some­times my voice is louder, but every­body is in this to­gether.” FILE - In this July 12, 2019, file photo, mem­bers of the Los Angeles An­gels ob­serve a mo­ment of si­lence for team­mate Tyler Sk­aggs be­fore the team’s base­ball game against the Seat­tle Mariners, in Ana­heim, Calif. The sud­den death of pop­u­lar Los Angeles An­gels left-han­der Sk­aggs in early July rocked the base­ball world.

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