National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Parsons signs 3-year offer sheet with Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks have made a move at small forward, with restricted free agent Chandler Parsons signing a three-year offer sheet worth more than $45 million.

Houston will now have to decide whether to match the offer.

Several photos of Parsons signing an offer sheet were posted on a Cyber Dust account controlled by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and the team early Thursday, when the NBA's moratorium on signing free agents ended. The photos, including one of Cuban posing with Parsons, appeared briefly just after midnight Dallas time.

The Rockets have three days to match the offer, though it wasn't immediately clear if they would do so for the 25-year-old forward who has played for them the past three seasons. Parsons was a second-round pick out of Florida in the 2011 draft.

Dallas got an agreement in place with Parsons even before small forwards Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James announced where they will play, a signal that the Mavericks are most likely out on the two most prominent free agents.

Anthony visited the Mavericks at the start of the free agency period, but Dallas owner Mark Cuban has acknowledged that he couldn't offer the forward a max contract.

Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists last season for the Rockets. He has played 213 games, starting 207 of them, while averaging 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

In Dallas, he would be in a frontcourt with Dirk Nowitzki and recently reacquired Tyson Chandler.

Nowitzki and point guard Devin Harris have already agreed on new contracts that will be able to be signed as early as Thursday. Chandler, part of the Mavericks' only NBA title in 2011, rejoined Dallas in a trade from the New York Knicks.

Shawn Marion, the primary small forward for Dallas the past five seasons, is a defensive specialist and unrestricted free agent.

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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.

Cavs agree to 3-way trade, make room for James

CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers have cleared a path for LeBron James to return to Cleveland.

They've made their moves. They're just waiting for him to make his.

The Cavs created enough salary-cap space to offer the superstar free agent a maximum contract on Wednesday agreeing to trade guard Jarrett Jack, swingman Sergey Karasev and center Tyler Zeller in a three-team deal with Brooklyn and Boston, a person familiar with the deals told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because teams are not permitted to discuss trades until the league's moratorium ends Thursday.

The maneuvering is designed to open room under the salary cap so they can re-sign the Akron-born James, the four-time league MVP and most sought-after player on the market.

With open roster spots, Cleveland isn't done.

Not long after making the trade with the Celtics and Nets, the Cavs had exploratory discussions with the Minnesota Timberwolves about a possible trade for three-time All-Star Kevin Love - if James does return to Cleveland, said a person with knowledge of the inquiry.

The Timberwolves would be looking for No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to be part of any potential package from Cleveland in order to consider parting with Love if the talks were to become more serious, the person said, speaking with the AP on condition of anonymity because neither team publicly announced the conversation.

Whatever the Cavs' next move is - with or without James - they could package together their other assets, including future first-round picks, to make a run at other All-Star players.

Meanwhile, James had his meeting in Las Vegas with Miami president Pat Riley.

James, his agent Rich Paul, Riley and Heat executive Andy Elisburg were at the meeting, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The AP.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither side publicly announced who would be attending the meeting or when it would take place.

James has not made a decision and will not make any announcements before Thursday, the person said.

With nothing finalized, LeBronathon 2014 will last at least one more day with the NBA - and fans in Miami and Cleveland - on edge.

And as he takes fans on another summer thrill ride, James has one more offer to consider in deciding where to play next season: Ohio's Cedar Point amusement park is promising to rename one of its roller coasters "King James" if he returns home to play for the Cavs.

A park spokesman says it's a legitimate offer that originated with the CEO. Cedar Point sent out a tweet with the proposal on Wednesday, telling James, who has visited the park in Sandusky, Ohio, many times, the ball was "in his court."

In the three-team trade the Cavs pulled off earlier Wednesday, Cleveland will receive guard Marcus Thornton from the Nets and send him, Zeller and a future first-round pick to the Celtics. Also, the Cavs are trading Jack and Karasev to the Nets.

Jack, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent last season, was scheduled to make $6.3 million, Zeller will make $1.6 million and Karasev $1.4 million.

In trading those salaries, the Cavs have enough to give James a maximum, $20.7 million contract - if he decides to sign with Cleveland. James played his first seven seasons with the Cavs before leaving as a free agent in 2010, and it's apparent the team is doing everything it can to bring him back.

Under NBA rules, teams must abide by a salary cap set by the league. If the combined salaries of the team's roster surpasses the cap, teams are forced to a pay additional taxes.

Last season, the salary cap was approximately $59 million, and the league announced Wednesday that it will increase 7.5 percent to an all-time high of $63.065 million for the 2014-15 season. The tax level - the point at which a team is penalized for exceeding the salary cap - for next season has increased by 7.1 percent to $76.829 million.

ESPN first reported details of the three-team trade.

Jack's first season with Cleveland didn't go as he or the Cavs had hoped. He signed a four-year, $25 million deal last July after playing in Golden State. The Cavs counted on him being a leader for their young team, but it didn't work out as Cleveland finished 33-49, missed the playoffs and fired coach Mike Brown.

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AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Dodgers found partly responsible in fan beating

LOS ANGELES (AP) A San Francisco Giants fan who suffered brain damage in a beating in a Dodger Stadium parking lot won his negligence lawsuit Wednesday, with a jury agreeing that the Dodgers didn't provide adequate security and were partly to blame for the attack.

Bryan Stow's father said his son probably wouldn't understand the details of the settlement that will give him about $14 million from the Dodgers, "but Bryan will know that he got some help today."

"He's not going to be 100 percent, maybe for a long time, maybe never. What he gets is going to help him through now, and that's what he needs," Dave Stow said.

The jury delivered its verdict in a Los Angeles courtroom after weeks of testimony about the assault after the opening day game in 2011 between the rival teams.

Stow, 45, was left with disabling brain damage and became a symbol of violence at sporting events. He was in the courtroom for part of the trial, his wheelchair positioned front and center so jurors could see the ghastly scars on his head where his skull was temporarily removed during efforts to save his life.

Experts testified that the former Northern California paramedic Stow will never work again and has suffered repeated strokes and seizures. They said he will require around-the-clock care.

Lawyers for Stow claimed the team and former owner Frank McCourt failed to provide adequate security. In split decisions, jurors found that the Dodgers were negligent but absolved McCourt. In civil cases, only nine of 12 jurors must agree on the verdict.

The Dodgers "did have a (security) plan but somewhere along the line that plan broke. And it needed to be fixed," juror Carlos Munoz said after the verdict. "Hopefully we helped to fix it. ... If you're going to own a stadium, do it right."

Jurors determined that Stow suffered about $18 million in damages in the form of lost earnings, medical expenses and pain and mental suffering. The Dodgers must pay $13.9 million of that because while finding the team negligent, jurors assigned it only a portion of the responsibility for Stow's harm.

Stow's attackers shared the rest of the responsibility for Stow's harm, jurors determined. However, they weren't sued and so cannot be required to pay a share of the damages.

Stow's parents pronounced themselves satisfied with the jury's award even though it is less than half of what they had sought.

"We'll make it work for him," said Stow's mother, Ann Stow.

The defense had argued that security was stronger than ever at an opening day contest and contended that Stow was partially to blame because he was drunk.

But jurors were unanimous in deciding that Stow's own negligence wasn't a substantial factor in causing his harm. Stow's mother said she held her husband's hand as the court read that part of the verdict form.

"I was so ecstatic because we know our son and we know that the picture the defense was trying to portray was not Bryan at all," Ann Stow said.

They said they had not spoken to their son, who did not attend the hearing, but did talk to his sisters and expected they would talk to him.

In San Francisco, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was happy for the family that there was finally a verdict.

"What happened shouldn't have happened. We have to keep that in mind. But also for the fans coming to the ballpark, you need the proper security," he said. "It shouldn't be a situation where you're afraid to go to a game or you can't enjoy yourself."

Dodgers fans Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood pleaded guilty to the attack in criminal court after a lengthy preliminary hearing in which witnesses said security guards were absent from the parking lot where Stow was attacked.

The complicated civil case even threw jurors at one point, who announced last week that they were deadlocked. The judge ordered them to resume deliberations.

"They struggled through it," Dana Fox, an attorney for the Dodgers, said after the verdict. "Remember, after four days they had not found liability on the part of the defendants. That is quite telling, I think, in and of itself."

In the wake of the attack, the Dodgers and Los Angeles police increased their security at games, including adding more patrols and undercover officers wearing rival team jerseys.

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Associated Press writers Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco, and Raquel Maria Dillon and Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Sterling says he won't sell team, calls wife a pig

LOS ANGELES (AP) A raging Donald Sterling denounced his wife, her lawyers and the NBA from the witness stand Wednesday, saying he will never sell the Los Angeles Clippers and vowing a lifetime of lawsuits against the league.

"Make no mistake today," Sterling shouted toward the end of his second day of testimony in the trial to determine his wife's right to make a $2 billion deal to sell the Clippers, "I will never, ever sell this team, and until I die I will be suing the NBA for this terrible violation under antitrust."

He was followed to the stand by wife, Shelly, who tried to approach him in the front row of the courtroom after she was done for the day.

"Get away from me, you pig!" Sterling shouted.

The judge then admonished him to make no further comments.

Sterling began his testimony by saying he loved his wife, but then denounced her. He said she told him to have psychiatric and neurological exams only because he had turned 80, and she was concerned for his health.

"She deceived me. I trusted her," Sterling said. "I never thought a wife wouldn't stand for her husband."

Donald Sterling's lawyers are challenging the authority of Shelly Sterling under the family trust to unilaterally cut a deal for the team with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Before she made the deal, two doctors examined Donald Sterling and declared him mentally incapacitated and unable to act as an administrator of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers.

Sterling said he was certain his wife had never read the trust documents because it was too complicated for her to understand.

During examination by his own lawyer, Maxwell Blecher, Sterling was asked about his wife's position in the trust if he were to be disqualified as a trustee.

"She has no rights whatsoever. She has no stock. She has no standing whatsoever," Sterling said.

He also lashed out at the NBA, saying: "My wife was terrified. She's frightened to death. She thinks the NBA will take away everything she worked for. She was scared out of her mind."

The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life and moved to force him to sell the Clippers after a recorded conversation in which he made racist statements came to light earlier this year.

He denied he was a racist from the witness stand when asked Wednesday.

Sterling at times yelled at his own lawyer as well as the lawyer for Shelly Sterling, and threw a paper down on the witness box.

He was followed to the stand by Shelly Sterling, who said she was a 50 percent beneficiary of the family trust.

When asked by her attorney Pierce O'Donnell if she was "separated" from her husband of 58 years, she said "sort of." But she described herself as his principal caretaker, who takes him to medical appointments, makes sure he takes all of his pills, and is concerned for him.

"Do you love your husband?" O'Donnell asked.

"Yes, I do," Shelly Sterling said.

But she then told of seeing him in an interview on CNN and becoming frightened at his personality change.

"I couldn't believe it, and I started crying," she said. "I felt so bad. I couldn't believe that was him."

She said she contacted a neurologist to examine him and later a psychiatrist, thinking initially that he might have had a stroke.

She said she suggested radiological tests or imaging to examine his brain, and was told eventually that he had early signs of Alzheimer's.

She became slightly tearful as she described her understanding of the disease, which becomes progressively worse.

Her testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday.

NBA owners are scheduled to vote on the Ballmer deal July 15. It's also the day that Ballmer's offer is set to expire - and there is no deal without the judge's approval of the sale.

If the sale isn't completed by Sept. 15, the league said it could seize the team and put it up for auction.

Popovich agrees to extension to stay with Spurs

While the rest of the NBA world waits in limbo for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to decide where they are going to play next season, the San Antonio Spurs just keep quietly making sure the band is getting back together for a run at a second straight title.

In the middle of the James hysteria on Wednesday, the Spurs issued a two-sentence press release announcing that coach Gregg Popovich had agreed to a multi-year contract extension. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

After beating the Miami Heat for the franchise's fifth championship last month, the Spurs quickly found out that Tim Duncan would indeed return next season. Deals with Patty Mills and Boris Diaw ensured that the roster would remain largely intact, so there was little doubt that the 65-year-old Popovich would return for a 19th season on the Spurs bench.

That was confirmed on Wednesday in a presentation that was predictably light on fanfare. No comments from Popovich. No statements from GM RC Buford or owner Peter Holt. No big deal, just the way Popovich likes it.

The talk of his pending retirement has grown louder as the years have gone on, but Popovich showed no sign of slowing down in season No. 18. He led the Spurs to a league-best 62 wins in the regular season, earned his third coach of the year award and then helped the team recover from the heartbreak of last year's loss to the Heat in the finals with an emphatic five-game triumph this season.

"Day after day, year after year, the energy that Pop provides our organization is truly unique," Buford said when Popovich joined Pat Riley and Don Nelson as the only coaches in league history to be named coach of the year three times.

Popovich is 1,116-533, including the playoffs, in a career that started in 1996. He is the longest-tenured coach in any of the four major American pro sports and has led the Spurs to at least 50 wins 16 times, including 15 in a row.

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Almirola: Congrats from Petty a special moment

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Aric Almirola waited two days to experience one of the highlights of his first victory in NASCAR's premier series.

It came during a dinner Tuesday night when he finally saw car owner Richard Petty, whose famed No. 43 racer Almirola put in Victory Lane on Sunday at Daytona International Raceway. It was the iconic car's first victory in 15 years and a span of 544 races.

"When he walked up to me, he gave me a hug and he told me he was proud of me," Almirola said Wednesday, reflecting on his meeting with Petty. "To have Richard Petty come up and tell you he's proud of you, and knowing that you got his No. 43 car back to Victory Lane, is really special.

"I'll take that with me for the rest of my life."

Petty, also known as "The King," is a seven-time series champion who won a record 200 races. Almirola said Petty deserves a lot of credit for making his victory possible.

"The reality is that from 1999 and even before 1999, through that time period and over the last 15 years, Richard Petty Motorsports has not been a race team that was really capable of winning races all the time," Almirola said. "They were doing all they could to just get to the race track."

It was Petty, he said, who finally realized the team could no longer keep its operation in his hometown of Randleman, North Carolina, but had to move to the Charlotte area, where most teams have shops.

"That was the start of them basically remaking the race team," said Almirola, in his third year with RPM. He was contending for a victory at Kansas last season, running side by side with Jimmie Johnson, and dueling Carl Edwards at Bristol this year, but a blown right front tire ruined both runs.

The breakthrough victory came on the 20th anniversary of Petty's 200th victory, and while some fans and other drivers grumbled that the race was called too soon after several rain delays, Almirola isn't apologizing.

"The only way that that would affect me would be if I rode around in 35th all day and everybody wrecked in front of me and I weasled my way through it and got handed the win," he said. "We were capable of winning with or without that happening."

Fellow driver Greg Biffle agrees.

"He wasn't handed anything," Biffle said. "He had a fast car."

Conventional wisdom this season suggests that Almirola can now count on a spot in the Chase for the championship because he won a race, but the driver isn't taking that for granted just yet.

Only eight races remain before the 16 driver field is set in the final regular season race at Richmond International Raceway, and 11 drivers have already won races. If six non-winners thus far win in the coming weeks, there will be more race winners than spots in the playoffs.

It's unlikely, but possible.

"We've got to get through the next couples of weeks and make sure," Almirola said.

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Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

NCAA President calls for 'scholarships for life'

WASHINGTON (AP) NCAA President Mark Emmert told a Senate committee Wednesday he supports "scholarships for life" and other reforms in how athletes are treated, then did such a good job of casting himself as a powerless figurehead that one senator told him: "I can't tell whether you're in charge or whether you're a minion."

Emmert faced a skeptical Senate Commerce Committee and said he feels college sports "works extremely well for the vast majority" and that the overall current model of amateurism should be preserved.

But he listed several changes he'd like to see enacted.

In addition to the end of the standard year-to-year scholarships, he said scholarships should also cover the full cost of attending college, not just basics such as room and board.

He also called for better health, safety and insurance protocols and said universities must confront what he called the "national crisis" of sexual assault.

Emmert said such changes could come about if Division I schools decide to remake their decision-making structure in the coming weeks, giving more authority to the five biggest conferences.

He reiterated that the schools themselves are in charge of the rules and emphasized the challenge of creating a consensus among college presidents, coaches and athletic directors.

That led to sharp words from Sen. Claire McCaskill, who leveled the "minion" statement and added: "If you're merely a monetary pass-through, why should you even exist?"

The Missouri Democrat was particularly concerned with research that showed a significant percentage of universities allow athletic departments to handle sexual assault investigations of athletes.

Emmert said he was "equally surprised and dismayed by" McCaskill's numbers and that he would work to put an end to the apparent conflict of interest.

The hearing came as the NCAA faces pressure from multiple fronts to reform how athletes are treated and compensated.

The organization is awaiting a judge's ruling following a three-week trial in Oakland, California, in which former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and others are seeking a share of revenues from the use of their names, images and likenesses in broadcasts and videogames.

Also, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is leading a push to form the first union for college athletes.

Emmert testified in the O'Bannon trial, where he opposed any effort to pay players because it would destroy the bedrock of amateurism on which college sports is based.

There have been moves, however, to pay more attention to the athlete's concerns. Emmert noted that multiyear scholarships were recently reinstated after being banned for close to four decades. The Big Ten last month came out in support of guaranteed four-year scholarships and improved medical coverage for athletes.

Also testifying was former University of North Carolina football player Devon Ramsay, who spoke of the red tape he had to endure to clear his name after allegations of plagiarism. UNC has been dealing with a long-running academics and athletics scandal, and Ramsay said he came to the conclusion that the school "was more concerned with penalties and losses of scholarships than protecting one of its own."

Ramsay also called for mandatory summer internships that would help prepare athletes for future careers. He said it's "almost impossible" to complete an internship at a competitive football school because of the time demands made by coaches.

"The NCAA as an institution no longer protects the student athlete," Ramsay said. "They are more concerned with signage and profit margins."

Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller also took the bigger view, questioning whether the amateur model is sustainable. He told Emmert: "I think I am just very skeptical that the NCAA can ever live up to the lofty mission that you constantly talk about."

"I don't see how a multibillion dollar commercial enterprise can merely be an amateur pursuit," the West Virginia Democrat said. "I don't see how the NCAA will ever be capable of truly making a safe, quality educational experience for students their No. 1 priority."

Rockefeller said he doesn't plan to drop the issue. He dropped veiled threats of using subpoena power and the committee's special investigation unit should the Democrats retain control of the Senate and the NCAA not move forward with reforms.

Near the end of the hearing, which lasted just under three hours, Rockefeller said too much of the hearing was conducted in "self-protection mode."

"My real feeling from this hearing," Rockefeller said, "is that we haven't accomplished much."

Emmert declined an invitation from Rockefeller to make a concluding statement. After the hearing, Emmert deflected questions from reporters while being led to a freight elevator to leave the building.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Stepan hopes his save starts Rangers' comeback

LOS ANGELES (AP) Although Derek Stepan's goal-line save happened in a frantic blur, the New York Rangers center had a few chances to marvel at the replay in the ensuing 24 hours.

"And I was looking right into the camera when they took it," he said Thursday, laughing about the inside-the-net camera that captured him knocking the puck underneath Henrik Lundqvist. "So it was good timing."

Everything about Stepan's heady play was perfectly timed, but he politely declined credit for saving the Rangers' season in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. He's just glad he helped to prevent a possible sweep by the Los Angeles Kings, who could have tied the game and likely forced overtime with the goal.

The Rangers survived for another trip to Staples Center and Game 5 on Friday night with major help from two fantastic plays by Stepan and defenseman Anton Stralman, who knocked another puck off the line in the first period of Game 4.

Stepan came through with 1:11 left while the Kings pressed desperately for an equalizer. After the puck trickled underneath Lundqvist and came to rest on the goal line, Stepan dived to his knees, knocking it away and then underneath his goalie.

"Most of it is just reaction," Stepan said. "You don't have much time to think in a situation like that. It's just instinct and reaction."

Stepan even had the wherewithal to use the side of his glove so he wouldn't close his hand on the puck in the crease, which would have resulted in a penalty shot.

Although he recognized the importance of the play, Stepan didn't let it go to his head.

"It was a fortunate bounce for us," Stepan said. "I got very lucky pushing it under the goaltender. A lot of times, you push it into the back of your goalie, or you push it to one of their guys."

Dan Girardi also deserved credit for knocking Anze Kopitar out of the play and preventing the Kings' leading scorer from getting a rebound opportunity. The Kings actually weren't near the motionless puck until Jeff Carter took a belated hack at it, but Stepan took care of it.

Stralman made an equally astonishing play in the first period, sweeping a stopped puck off the goal line with his stick while simultaneously preventing Carter from jabbing it home.

Lundqvist made 40 saves in Game 4, but relied on his teammates for two more. After three games of bad bounces and late-game struggles, the Rangers got most of the breaks.

"A couple of times last night, we had that luck that you need in a tight game," Lundqvist said. "Sometimes you say it (and) maybe not mean it 100 percent, but that factor of luck in a series against a good team, you're going to need it to win games. You can't rely on it all the time, but there are moments in games where the difference is so small, that little extra push might help you to get the win."

A few optimistic Rangers fans jumped onto Twitter after Game 4 and compared Stepan's play to Dave Roberts' steal of third base for the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, catalyzing their comeback from an 0-3 series deficit to the New York Yankees.

Stepan knows such optimism is a week premature. The Rangers would have to win four straight games to become the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 deficit - just the second in the finals.

But thanks to Stepan's play, the Rangers have a shot to make it to Game 7 - which just happens to be scheduled for Stepan's 24th birthday on June 18.

"As a group, you gain some confidence, but there's no momentum in a series like this," Stepan said. "You just keep working for the bounces."

LA Kings eager to raise Cup at home in Game 5

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Kings already know there's no place like home ice for a coronation.

They've got the chance to lift the Stanley Cup at Staples Center again when they host the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the finals on Friday night, giving the ultimate celebration to their long-suffering fans for the second time in three years.

Yet the Kings' memories of that night in June 2012 weren't a popular subject Thursday as they prepared for the chance to finish another draining, two-month postseason with one big party.

"It doesn't matter where you win the fourth," Jarret Stoll said at the Kings' training complex. "This time of year, it's all about the result."

With the weary poise of a team that has already been through three seven-game series this spring, the Kings insisted they're not bothered by their inability to finish a sweep in New York. Mike Richards and the Kings calmly flew home, grabbed a few hours of sleep and focused on a good start to Game 5, figuring it will lead to the big finish.

"It's not going to be easy, but confidence is there," Richards said. "If we play well, we think that we can have success. You don't make it to this point of the season without having confidence in your team."

Stoll is tired of the Kings' weak starts, however. The Rangers have taken 2-0 leads in three of the series' four games, forcing Los Angeles to play catch-up hockey - something the Kings do extraordinarily well, but would prefer to skip Friday.

"We know we can do more, especially at the start of games," Stoll said.

Henrik Lundqvist gave the Rangers hope with his 40-save performance in Game 4, earning another cross-country trip for the Eastern Conference champions. The goalie's unflappable poise - and one or two puck-slowing mounds of snow - helped keep the Rangers in the series with a 2-1 win in Game 4.

And now that they're off the canvas, the Rangers realize they have ample reason to be comfortable at Staples Center, where they never trailed in their two series-opening overtime losses. The Rangers still mixed it up in their return to the visitors' dressing room for practice Thursday: except for their two goalies, every player took a new locker.

"I know if we win (Game 5), they're definitely going to feel the pressure," Lundqvist said. "We were in that spot playing Montreal. The closer you are to your final goal, obviously you tend to think more. That's just the way you work. It's hard not to."

Lundqvist is the Rangers' best hope, and the Swedish star is at his best with the season on the line. He is 11-2 in the Rangers' last 13 elimination games with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .959 save percentage.

"It comes down to how much you want to battle, how much you want it," Lundqvist said. "Not only for me, but for the group. ... Sometimes when everything is on the line, that's actually easier sometimes to focus in on the important thing and not so much on consequences."

Lundqvist's dominance in the Kings' 10th loss of this postseason was frustrating but not discouraging to a team that has repeatedly surmounted all difficulties over the past three years.

Two seasons ago, the Kings had lost just two games in the entire playoffs when they had their first chance to clinch their franchise's first championship. The Devils beat Los Angeles 3-1 at Staples Center in Game 4 and then won again in New Jersey in Game 5, making the eighth-seeded Kings uncomfortable for the first time in their charmed run.

The Kings returned home and won Game 6 in a rout. Most of the Kings' current roster was on that team, and the players remember the innumerable distractions: ticket requests, media pressures and a wellspring of natural excitement.

"I think everyone is more equipped now, or more ready for it, more aware of what the distractions are and how they can present themselves, and what you need to do to push them away," Richards said.

Game 5 is Los Angeles' NHL-record 64th playoff game in the last three seasons, and the Kings will tie the single-season record with their 26th postseason game of this season. The game will be the 93rd of the entire postseason, making it the longest playoff in league history.

But if the Kings are exhausted at the brink of their 10th series victory in the most grueling three-year stretch in hockey history, they haven't shown it. The Kings dominated the Rangers for much of Game 4, outshooting them 15-1 in the third period, but failing to get anything past Lundqvist.

The Kings uniformly scoff at the notion of fatigue playing any role with hockey's ultimate prize just a game away.

"This is why you play the game," Stoll said. "It doesn't matter how many games you play. You've got energy. You've got jump. You should, (if) you realize what you're playing for. Yeah, it's a lot of games, but it's why we play."

Female official hopes to break NFL barrier

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Sarah Thomas starts the day at her second job by tucking her long blond hair inside her cap, so she doesn't get noticed.

On a football field, that's impossible.

Thomas doesn't consider herself a pioneer, just "one of the guys." But as one of two female officials in the NFL's officiating development program, Thomas has a chance to break barriers in a male-dominated profession.

This week, Thomas, a former college basketball player, current college official and mother of three whose full-time job is as pharmaceutical sales representative, worked with a crew of officials during Browns mini-camp. Like the players, she worked on improving her skills and honing her craft.

One day, she hopes to be on the field with the pros. But not because of her gender.

"I am a female, but I don't look at myself as just a female," she said. "I look at myself as an official."

Thomas began her officiating career in 1996, when an NFL scout spotted her working a high school game. From there, she joined Conference USA and was invited to join the NFL's developmental program, now in its second year. Thomas worked some training camps and preseason games last season.

The next step is a regular-season game, and the earliest that can happen is 2015.

It's not her call, so to speak, but Thomas believes she's ready.

If this week was any indication, Thomas could be on her way.

"She's done a good job," Browns coach Mike Pettine said after practice Thursday. Pettine believes it's time for the league to welcome female officials.

"If she's efficient and good at what she does, I have no issues with it," Pettine said. "I think the best compliment somebody paid to her was when someone said, `What did you think of the female official?' And they said, `There's a female official out here?' I thought she was on point."

Browns cornerback Joe Haden joked that Thomas was a little whistle happy.

"She was calling everything," Haden said, smiling. "I couldn't snap on her. I was chilling."

Thomas said her goal is to blend in. She doesn't want to stand out because of her sex - or worse, because she's not competent. She's dedicated to being a solid, fair and mostly unseen, which is why she pulls her hair up under her cap. Still, sometimes players do a double take when they see her on the field.

"I think sometimes they go `What is that?"' she said. "Yes, I do tuck my hair and at first I really wasn't too sure why. But I get it. We don't want to be noticed and anything I can do to blend in - I like it when I leave the field and people go `I told you that was a girl."'

Thomas has two boys and an 18-month-old girl. She said her sons are most interested in her nabbing some NFL attire or autographs, "I can't do that," she said.

Her children have never thought about their mom being anything other than an official, so they don't really grasp that she could make history as the NFL's first female official.

"They just know mom officiates and it's nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything," she said. "I do this."

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

At 32, US's Beckerman gets his shot at World Cup

SAO PAULO (AP) His shirt off post practice with multiple upper-body tattoos on display and dreadlocks as messy as ever, Kyle Beckerman signed autographs through a small space in the fence separating him from a swarm of fans.

For Beckerman, being in Brazil is what he planned all along. Ever since the days he began signing his autograph as an unofficial member of the national team around age 8.

Whether leaving a note to his parents letting them know he'd gone to a friend's house and wouldn't be home for dinner or was off to soccer practice, Beckerman always ended with his signature of Kyle Beckerman, followed by "USA No. 15."

Now, at 32, Beckerman is living it for real.

"Yeah, it's come full circle," Beckerman said. "I didn't know. That's what I wanted to happen, but you never know."

Beckerman knows this will all go by far too quickly, because as soon the Americans are done playing in Brazil he will be back to his job as captain of Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake.

Midfield mate Brad Davis posted a photo on Twitter of him with Beckerman, who gave a thumbs up as they departed for Brazil while carrying a guitar on his back.

The dreads go way back for Beckerman, whose curly hair would easily knot up if he neglected to comb it as a kid - forcing his mom to pull out the scissors. Once out of the house, he let it go for good.

Beckerman keeps things light with his music for the Americans.

"Of course, look at his hair, man, a bit of Bob Marley," Davis said Wednesday. "He's a bit of a free spirit."

While Beckerman didn't play in the first of three sendoff matches, he came in for the second half against Turkey and moved into the starting lineup in a defensive role for the finale against Nigeria as coach Jurgen Klinsmann switched up his midfield.

"We've often talked about Kyle, and we keep talking about him because he's a pure giver to that team. He's one that covers other's backs, and that's literally what he's doing," Klinsmann said. "Chemistry-wise, he's an extremely important player to that group, because he has tremendous experience, he's always hungry and you know that when he steps on the field, even if it's a public training session, that he's going to go 150 percent."

Klinsmann could mix and match, yet it looks like Beckerman might start Monday's World Cup opener against Ghana.

"This whole process of being with the national team, you've just got to be ready, ready when your number's called," Beckerman said.

His teammates trust him to be that reliable defensive stopper no matter the situation or who is attacking.

"He's a very disciplined player," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "He's the type of guy that will be that No. 6, that anchor guy that makes sure when players like myself or the outside backs spring forward, that we know he's going to be there covering our backs."

Soccer's showcase event means so much to Beckerman, among the inaugural players to take part in the U.S. under-17 residence program in 1999 along with Landon Donovan, current left back DaMarcus Beasley and Oguchi Onyewu. He helped that American team reach the semifinals of the FIFA Under-17 World Championship.

He's at a different level now.

"It hasn't totally sunk in that this is the team," he said. "I got a little taste of it with the youth national teams, the under-17s but you never know with the full team. It's just amazing that it's come full circle."

Now that he's in Brazil, he wants to savor the experience.

"I've talked to a couple people who played in World Cups before, and they say it just goes by like that. As soon as we get done with this we have our season going on. It's like it didn't even happen. I'm trying to soak it all in for sure and enjoy it."

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AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

Hoyer 'securely ahead' of Manziel for Browns' job

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Johnny Manziel's No. 2 jersey has double meaning.

He's behind Brian Hoyer.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer is "securely ahead" in the competition to be Cleveland's starting quarterback this season, but his lead over Manziel isn't "insurmountable."

After the Browns ended their three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday, Pettine sized up the battle as a friendly fight that will heat up when the team opens training camp late in July.

Pettine said Hoyer, who is recovering from knee surgery and has been limited during practices, still has a grip on the starting job - for now.

"It's been hard to evaluate because Brian hasn't been able to take the 11-on-11 reps, but when we put the depth chart together, Brian will be No. 1," he said.

Pettine agrees with Browns general manager Ray Farmer's evaluation that Manziel, the wildly popular 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick from Texas A&M, has some catching up to do.

Manziel is trailing Hoyer, but maybe not by much.

"I don't think it's insurmountable," Pettine said. "Brian is securely ahead of him right now, but we will compete and we will decide. The issue for us as a staff is finding the right time to name a starter. If you wait too late, then nobody's ready for the opener, if you do it too soon, then it wasn't a true competition.

"That will be part of our discussions as well as far as OK, here's the plan, here's a date that we want to go ahead and name him."

During recent workouts open to the media, Manziel has shown some of the flashes that earned him the Johnny Football nickname in college. But there have also been moments where he looked like another lost rookie.

Pettine made it clear the Browns have not made any decisions and the competition is still in its infancy.

"We haven't really been in the mode of thinking, `He's this far ahead today. How much was the gap closed?"' Pettine said. "They're still learning the basics of the offense. The rookies haven't been here very long. They're playing catch-up from a playbook standpoint. So at this point, we really weren't keeping score. "

Pettine kept Hoyer and Manziel off limits to reporters this week, hoping to contain a story that's expected to only grow.

In the next few weeks, Pettine and his staff will decide how to best divide the snaps between Hoyer and Manziel. Pettine said it's safe to assume the duties will be shared.

"I don't know how even we'll get it, but there will definitely be times when Johnny will be with the ones (starters)," Pettine said. "It would be hard to evaluate if we didn't that. If there wasn't a competition, then it would just be strictly ones and ones, twos and twos. We haven't met to go over that."

Pettine also plans to play Manziel with Cleveland's starting offense in exhibition games.

"If a guy has a chance to be a starter, I would think that you'd want to expose him to a starting defense if he was going to be the guy opening day," said Pettine.

Manziel has made some headlines with his off-the-field antics in recent weeks. He partied poolside in Las Vegas with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and was filmed spraying champagne on patrons in a nightclub. Last weekend, he was in Austin, Texas, where he was photographed lying on an inflatable swan raft in a pool, drinking champagne.

Pettine won't micromanage Manziel or any of his players as long as they're not involved in anything that's criminal or affects their jobs. But with a long break coming up, he's hoping all the Browns steer clear of danger.

"It's nervous any time your entire team is dismissed," he said. "As a coach, you hear your phone ring and you kind of look at it with one eye, hoping it's not an issue coming up. We talked to them about it. We wanted to make sure that they handled themselves well. The advice was: Learn the system, stay in shape, stay out of trouble."

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

No charges in Fla. for Kaepernick, 2 other players

MIAMI (AP) San Francisco 49ers star quarterback Colin Kaepernick and two other NFL players will not face charges in an incident involving a woman at a downtown hotel, prosecutors announced Thursday.

A memo released by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office said there was insufficient evidence that any crime was committed in the hotel room on April 1. Tests indicated the woman was not sexually assaulted and other evidence backed up the players' contention that nothing happened.

In fact, the memo by Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams described the woman as incoherent when police and fire-rescue officers responded to 911 calls to the room at the Viceroy Hotel. She had to be sedated in order to be taken to the hospital, where she was temporarily involuntarily committed for her own safety, the memo says.

"When she heard the officers' voices, the complainant started screaming incoherently about Jesus and devils," Adams wrote.

A hotel security officer told police that when he arrived at the room, the woman began praying, "asking God to forgive her of her sins" and began screaming in words the security officer couldn't understand, according to the memo. She banged her head against the walls and started kicking uncontrollably.

At the hospital, doctors noted that she was "severely agitated" and appeared to be in an altered mental state, although no evidence of drugs beyond marijuana were detected in her system, Adams wrote. The woman had told police she and the three players had drinks and smoked marijuana earlier in the night.

Kaepernick consistently denied any wrongdoing. Earlier this month the 49ers gave the 26-year-old a $126 million, six-year contract extension that will keep him in San Francisco through 2020. He was drafted in 2011 in the second round out of Nevada.

The other players in the room that night were 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton, and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette.

The prosecutor's memo says that an attorney for Kaepernick and Lockette told investigators they met the woman about a year ago in Atlanta and that she and Kaepernick had sex. The woman later told Kaepernick she was pregnant and he cut off contact with her, including changing his phone number, the memo says.

Eventually, she learned Kaepernick and Lockette would be in Miami and made arrangements to visit them, traveling by Greyhound bus. After the woman's behavior deteriorated, Kaepernick contacted a nearby friend and decided to leave the hotel.

"I'm leaving right now I'm terrified," Kaepernick texted the friend, according to the prosecutor's memo.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

Falcons to be featured on Hard Knocks this year

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have announced they will be featured on HBO Sports' documentary series Hard Knocks this summer.

The five-part weekly series debuts Aug. 5 and concludes Sept. 2.

The annual show gives fans an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at the daily lives and routines of players and coaches as they prepare for the upcoming NFL season.

Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank says the team is "excited about the opportunity to give our fans a behind the scenes look at what it takes to prepare an NFL team for the rigors of a 16-game regular season and beyond."

Hard Knocks is now its ninth season.

Other teams previously featured on the award-winning reality series include the Ravens, Chiefs, Jets and Dolphins. The Cowboys and Bengals have each been featured twice.

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

US Open under way on a new kind of Pinehurst

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) Daniel Berger hit the opening tee shot in the U.S. Open that illustrated the difference of Pinehurst No. 2.

He hit an iron just short of the sandy area filled with native plants - or weeds - and clumps of wiregrass bushes. In the two previous U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, his ball might have been in thick rough that is typical of the so-called toughest test in golf.

Under cloud cover in North Carolina, the U.S. Open was off to a quiet start.

Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar and former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made birdie on the opening hole. Birdies are expected to be hard to find at Pinehurst, even with its new look. It is reputed to be one of the tougher U.S. Open courses because of its turtleback greens designed by Donald Ross.

For now, the course is the story.

The resort hired Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the natural look of more than a half-century ago to this Ross masterpiece. Some 40 acres of sod was removed, and now there are vast expanses of what appears to be sandy dunes. This U.S. Open effectively has no rough.

The amount of sprinklers was reduced by nearly 60 percent, and they are in a single row in the middle of fairways. So the course has a very brown look to it, especially around the edges. Players have been raving about it all week, even though they knew what was in store for them.

The one player getting plenty of attention is Phil Mickelson.

He teed off Thursday morning in his quest to finally win a U.S. Open. Mickelson holds the record with six runner-up finishes, and that takes on even greater significance because the U.S. Open is the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

As part of this major's tradition, Mickelson's victory in the British Open last summer put him in the same group as the U.S. Open champion - Justin Rose, who denied Mickelson the title last year at Merion. Also joining them was U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Rory McIlroy was among the early starters.

Trial will weigh if Sterling was properly ousted

LOS ANGELES (AP) A trial will be held next month to determine whether Donald Sterling, who opposes his estranged wife's planned sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, was properly removed as an administrator for the family trust that owns the team.

A probate court judge in Los Angeles Wednesday denied Shelly Sterling's urgent request to confirm her authority as sole administrator of The Sterling Family Trust so that she can unilaterally proceed with a $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Instead, the judge agreed to an expedited hearing because of looming sales deadlines.

The development is the latest in a legal tug-of-war following the NBA's decision to ban Donald Sterling for life after racist remarks to a girlfriend were recorded and publicized. Donald Sterling is fighting the decision and suing the league for $1 billion.

The league has contended the comments were bad for business and damaged both the Clippers and the NBA.

The four-day trial was granted exceptionally quickly and will begin July 7. The deadline for the sale is July 15, which also is the date the NBA's owners hope to vote on whether they will approve the sale.

Court filings Wednesday indicated the NBA has set a hard deadline of Sept. 15. If the sale isn't completed then, the league will undertake proceedings to seize and sell the team on its own.

Donald Sterling's lawyer, Bobby Samini, left the courthouse without comment after a clerk announced the trial schedule. Neither Sterling was present.

"I just want to resolve this as quickly as possible," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told The Associated Press on Wednesday in Miami at an NBA Cares event.

The crux of the case will center on the question of whether the 80-year-old Donald Sterling is mentally competent to be a co-trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which gives him the authority to determine the team's future. According to the trust's terms, he can be ruled "mentally incapacitated" after being evaluated by two doctors, said Pierce O'Donnell, Shelly Sterling's attorney.

Shelly Sterling activated that clause in negotiating what would be a record-breaking deal with Ballmer as sole trustee. But Donald Sterling challenged the removal in a letter sent Monday to his wife's attorney said "any attempt to remove me as a Trustee of the Sterling Trust is invalid and illegal. Furthermore, any assertion that I am `incapacitated'... is false and without merit."

According to court documents, two doctors examined Donald Sterling in May and concluded that he suffers from "mild cognitive impairment consistent with early Alzheimer's Disease" or some other forms of brain disease after examining brain scans and having him undergo other tests.

"In my opinion he is substantially unable to manage his finances and resist fraud and undue influence, and is no longer competent to act as trustee of his trust," concluded Dr. James E. Spar, who is affiliated with the division of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA.

Sterling voluntarily went to the doctors at the request of his wife, according to a person with knowledge of the proceedings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly.

A third doctor reviewed the two doctors' findings as well as Sterling's brain scans and concurred with their conclusions that he "lacks the capacity to function as trustee."

Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, contested the doctors' findings in remarks Tuesday to The Associated Press.

"Anybody at his age level on a brain scan would probably show some impairment. But that doesn't mean you forget where your car keys are and you're incompetent," Blecher said. "There isn't the slightest evidence he's incapable of managing his affairs."

Donald Sterling said in a statement that he's not just fighting for the Clippers but taking a stand against the NBA, which he called "a band of hypocrites and bullies" and "despicable monsters" who want "to take away our privacy rights and freedom of speech."

"As I've said previously, if Donald chooses to litigate against us, so be it," Silver said. "So it's going to take longer than we had hoped for this transaction to close, but it'll get done ultimately. It's just a question of time."

Ballmer's attorney, Adam Streisand, said he was pleased with the trial schedule and "confident that after the trial the court is going to bless this transaction."

The NBA's general counsel, Rick Buchanan, warned in a court papers that if the judge didn't confirm Shelly Sterling's sole trusteeship and if her deal with Ballmer "is not promptly consummated, there will be substantial harm" to the Clippers, the NBA and even The Sterling Family Trust - the last of which would be responsible for the NBA's costs related to the legal proceedings that result.

Buchanan said a recent independent survey of more than 500 Clippers fans found the majority would be less likely to support the team if Donald Sterling remained its owner. Buchanan said thousands of NBA fans worldwide have contacted the league directly or via social media to say they're hurt or embarrassed by his views and aren't sure they'll continue supporting the league and its teams. He also cited NBA player worries about the impact for the team with the upcoming NBA draft.

"Mr. Sterling's continued ownership is damaging the Clippers' and NBA's relationships with existing and potential business partners and licenses," Buchanan wrote. He said nearly all of the Clippers' local sponsors have terminated or suspended their relationships with the team, including Adidas, Commerce Casino and Hotel, Red Bull, Mandalay Bay Hotel, Virgin America and Mercedes.

Shelly Sterling's court bid aims to have a judge confirm her authority as sole trustee to ensure the Ballmer sale moves forward.

Blecher said that a representative for Donald Sterling would be at any hearing, and that the next step is to have other doctors evaluate Donald Sterling.

"I have no doubt at the end of the day the court is not going to say he's incompetent," Blecher said. "That's a very high burden in the probate court - otherwise people would get their sisters and wife and brother-in-laws and everybody declared incompetent."

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams

Donovan to analyze US team during World Cup

LOS ANGELES -- ESPN has hired Landon Donovan to offer commentary on the U.S. soccer team he was cut from just before the World Cup.

The 32-year-old Donovan, the American career leader in goals and assists, was dropped last month in a highly debated move by coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Donovan made his debut during ESPN's two-hour World Cup preview show Wednesday.

On Klinsmann's comments that the U.S. isn't ready to win a World Cup, Donovan said on air: "This will come as a surprise to nobody, but I disagree with Jurgen."

Donovan will work out of the company's Los Angeles studios, with a particular focus on his former team. He will provide analysis before and after the Americans' group-stage matches and during halftime. Donovan also will appear on shows such as "SportsCenter."

"Clearly he knows the team," ESPN President John Skipper said in Sao Paulo. "We're going to have him concentrate on the day before the U.S. games, the day of the U.S. games. It is not our expectation to put him on the spot."

A veteran of three World Cups, Donovan can provide inside analysis of the Americans.

"We're much more interested in tactics and his reaction to how they are playing," Skipper said. "He knows the team."

Donovan scored a U.S.-record five World Cup goals, including a stoppage-time goal against Algeria sent the Americans to the second round four years ago.

Former teammate Jozy Altidore said in Sao Paulo he wasn't too surprised by the move.

"He's a smart guy. He knows the game very well," Altidore said. "It was always going to going to happen - right? - him to be a commentator."

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya agreed that "I don't see any problem with it."

"I feel like people are probably going to want to tune in on that, yeah," he added.

US Open to start its 2-week experiment

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) Too bad the USGA couldn't get Ernie Banks on the first tee Thursday to announce, "Let's play two!" Banks was known as "Mr. Cub," and he loved baseball so much he wished there could be a doubleheader every day.

That's effectively what awaits the USGA at Pinehurst No. 2.

For the first time in history, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open will be held on the same course in consecutive weeks. USGA executive director Mike Davis is excited about the grand experiment, though he's making no promises.

"Let me just stay that for the two weeks, our intent is to try to test both groups of golfers in a like manner," Davis said Wednesday. "Whether we're actually able to pull that off or not is another story that I think a lot of us - including me - are still waiting to see, although we're confident we can get pretty good at it."

The idea is to have men and women approach the greens with roughly the same type of shot.

Pinehurst will play 7,562 yards for the men and 6,649 yards for the women.

"If it happens to rain a lot in week two versus week one, we will take that under consideration in terms of how the golf course is set up," Davis said.

The comparison with men and women in golf is always the speed of the green. Davis said he intends to keep the putting surfaces at 12 on the Stimpmeter for both weeks. The difference is the greens for the Women's Open will be less firm.

"So if a male hits a 6-iron in, it reacts the same way as a 6-iron hit by the female," he said.

The big question has been divots that 156 players take over two days, and then roughly 70 more players take on the weekend. Davis doesn't expect that to be a problem. Playoff from divots is part of the game, anyway.

Davis thinks it will be a great week. If nothing else, he expects it to showcase women's golf. But he can't make any promises.

"I will acknowledge, this sounds swell on paper," Davis said. "Trying to execute it perfectly, I can almost guarantee you we won't do that."

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PEBBLE FUTURE: LPGA Tour players celebrated when the USGA announced nearly a decade ago that Pebble Beach would host a U.S. Women's Open. Seven years ago, when the U.S. Women's Open was at Pine Needles, former executive director David Fay said of the Women's Open going to Pebble, "We know the year - it's 2014 - but we have not finalized the date."

The year is 2014. The women are at Pinehurst No. 2.

As for Pebble Beach? That's no longer in the picture, at least for now.

USGA President Tom O'Toole said when the U.S. Open was at Pebble Beach in 2010, it was announced that the course along the Pacific Ocean would celebrate its centennial by hosting the 1918 U.S. Amateur and the 1919 U.S. Open.

"In those discussions, we mutually withdrew the concept of going there for `14 for the women," O'Toole said. "We will continue to advance the idea of taking the Women's Open to Pebble Beach.

"The conventional thinking was, `OK, we won't burden them in `14,"' he said. "We'll go there in `18, `19, and we'll talk of a future Women's Open thereafter."

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NEXT UP FOR PINEHURST: Pinehurst No. 2 is hosting its third U.S. Open since 1999, the most any golf course has hosted an Open in such a short period of time in more than a century. It also had the U.S. Amateur in 2008.

The next USGA championship is right around the corner for the resort.

USGA president Tom O'Toole said Wednesday that Pinehurst has been selected to host the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship the last weekend in May.

Because there will be 256 players - 128 two-man teams - Pinehurst No. 2 and Pinehurst No. 4 will host the qualifying in stroke play, and then No. 2 will take the 32 teams who qualify for match play. Fourballs is also referred to as "better ball" in America.

The new championship starts next year at Olympic Club. It replaces the U.S. Amateur Public Links.

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MICKELSON'S BEEF: Phil Mickelson said Pinehurst No. 2 was simply awesome. At least 17 of the holes.

His only complaint is how the USGA switched up the par 5s on the front nine. The fourth hole played as a par 5 the last two times at about 565 yards. The fifth hole was a par 4 that measured about 480 yards.

For this year, No. 4 is a par 4 at 529 yards, while No. 5 is 576 yards and a par 5. Mickelson loves the change - he just doesn't like the extra length on No. 5

"When they made No. 5 a par 5, I thought it was the greatest decision because that green is the most difficult green out here and I thought it sure would be exciting to see us hitting long iron shots into a par 5 trying to make birdies and eagles," he said. "But when the tee boxes were moved so far back to where it's not reachable, now the shot we're hitting into that green is a 50-yard pitch shot.

"That's just not exciting, challenging, and won't have the same type of drama that it would have if those back tees were removed and the green was reachable in two."

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WHAT, NO FOOT WEDGE?: Rory McIlroy isn't one to tinker with his clubs, but he's swapping out one of the four wedges he usually carries to make room for a 3-iron in the bag this week.

With Pinehurst No. 2 stretched to 7,562 yards this week, the former U.S. Open champion expects to use the 3-iron off several tees to keep the ball in the fairways on tight par 4s.

"I played, last Tuesday, I played one ball around here, tried to keep score, and I only had three wedge shots into greens," McIlroy said.

He's also planning to use the long shot on the par-5 10th.

"I'll play that as a three-shot hole. The par-3 sixth hole is another one that a 3-iron is going to be needed," he said. "I just felt like there's a few more 3-irons needed on this course."

Column: McIlroy gets some tips from the old master

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) The one thing Rory McIlroy won't lack heading into this U.S. Open is advice. In the few weeks since his breakup with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, only some of it has been worth much.

Gary Player told him to lay low. Jack Nicklaus told him not to be afraid to change the way he plays, even in the middle of a round. Smartly, he only followed up with one of them.

"Do you just ring him up," a reporter asked about McIlroy's budding relationship with Nicklaus, "and say, `I'm popping in?"'

"I don't ring him up," McIlroy chuckled, "I ring his secretary up and say, `I'd like to schedule a meeting, please.' But it's been great to spend some time with him. I feel like I've got a really good rapport."

The two had lunch in Florida a week after the Memorial, the PGA Tour stop where Nicklaus plays the gracious host but isn't shy about asking tough questions. Not about relationships, mind you, unless you count questions about where to slot the club at the top of the backswing.

"He said to me, he goes, `How the hell can you shoot 63 (in the first round) and then 78 (in the second)?"' McIlroy recalled. "I said, `I wasn't meaning to, Jack. I'm trying not to."'

That began a conversation between the two on the subject of trust. Nicklaus told him the moment he sensed his swing was sliding off the rails in that second round, he would have made a change "right then and there."

"The mental strength to be able to do that," McIlroy paused, still marveling at the idea.

"Hopefully," he added a moment later, "some of those little nuggets of wisdom that he passed on to me might help this week."

Success came so fast for the 25-year-old Northern Irishman it was easy to assume he'd mastered most of golf's lessons. But it took an old soul like Nicklaus to point out where some of the big gaps remained.

When McIlroy wins, he usually wins big, running away from the field the way he did at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. What he has yet to prove is whether he has the patience and toughness to grind out victories, a trait that served Nicklaus and Tiger Woods well over decades. If nothing else, the back-and-forth with Nicklaus has put the idea in his head.

"It's going to be a test of patience," McIlroy said about Pinehurst No. 2. "And I think I am better equipped than I was a few years ago. The U.S. Open I won was a very ... was abnormal. It was wet. It was low scoring. I haven't won a tournament whenever it's been like this. That's why I'm relishing the challenge.

"It's conditions that I haven't won in before and I'd love to be able to prove to myself, but also prove to other people that I can win in different conditions. It's a great opportunity to do that this week."

While Nicklaus will be McIlroy's model this week, he hasn't ignored Player's advice altogether. In the wake of his very public breakup with Wozniacki, he has lowered his social media profile and already won once. He concedes that balancing his public life he has with the private one he wants is an act he's still working on.

"It's nice when you get out on the golf course because you've got five hours of you're just out there with your clubs, with your caddie, trying to shoot the best score possible," McIlroy said. "That's the approach that I'm sort of adopting from now until whenever."

The conversation with Nicklaus appears to be taking hold. Much harder to learn will be the desire that catapulted Nicklaus to 18 major victories - the stubborn pride that made him back off a 4-footer on the last hole of a tournament he wasn't going to win even in the final years of his career, because it mattered to him to shoot 77 instead of 78.

"Golf has sort of been a nice release for me the past few weeks. I just want to try to keep focused on that," McIlroy said.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://www.twitter.com/JimLitke

Letarte gets Earnhardt in a groove in final season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) It took Steve Letarte 51 races to return Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Victory Lane, where the duo celebrated at Michigan in 2012 a turning point in their pairing.

Letarte, a career Hendrick Motorsports employee, had been tasked with rebuilding the confidence in NASCAR's most popular driver and teaching him how to win again. The confidence part wasn't difficult - it took discipline, raised expectations and a schedule Earnhardt was expected to follow.

The winning? Well, it didn't come as often as driver and crew chief would like.

Earnhardt didn't win again in 2012 or all of 2013. His next victory didn't come to this year, the season-opening Daytona 500. But, he added a second win last Sunday at Pocono, and now heads his weekend back to Michigan International Speedway, site of his first victory with Letarte two years ago, in the midst of his first multi-win season in a decade.

The irony is that the success is finally coming as he and Letarte are set to split.

Letarte announced in January this year would be his last with Hendrick Motorsports and as Earnhardt's crew chief. He's moving into an analyst role with NBC and will be in the television booth when the network takes over a portion of the NASCAR schedule next year.

Letarte, despite the success he's finally achieving with Earnhardt, is at peace with the decision.

"You guys only get to see the great stuff, which is a win at Daytona and a win (at Pocono)," he said. "But Saturday of Kansas, my little girl had her first communion and I was in Kansas. When moments like that happen it reaffirms why I made my decision."

Letarte was 15 when he became a part-time employee with Hendrick Motorsports in 1995. In the 20 seasons since, he progressed through the organization and became one of the team's veteran crew chiefs. He also got married and had two children, but the demands of his job prevented him from being the husband and father he wanted to be.

"This is my life, this is how I was raised, but I chose ... to have a family, and when I made that decision, that was not a casual decision, that was a decision for forever," he said. "As much as I love my job, they have to come first."

Earnhardt understands that Letarte must move on for his own personal reasons, and he's genuinely happy for his crew chief - "he's going to be able to spend a ton of time with his kids, play as much golf as he wants to play. He's getting a steal compared to what he's doing right now."

But he didn't feel that way last November when Letarte told him after the season finale that he was leaving the team at the end of 2014.

"I broke down," Earnhardt admitted. "It was the hardest thing to have to hear, but at the same time, I thought, `Well, we've got one year together, and as much fun as we have and as good a friends as we are, I feel lucky to have one more year."'

So their goal is to put together the strongest season possible, to win races and make a run at the Sprint Cup title.

"It would be very disappointing and sad if this was his last year and we struggled," Earnhardt said. "But we've won two races, and I won my first Pocono race, he won his first Daytona 500. It seems a bit storybook, and we're having a real thrill."

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NO TIME TO PARTY: Ed Carpenter got very little time to celebrate following his IndyCar Series victory at Texas last Saturday night. The owner/driver returned to Indianapolis early Sunday morning, and was back to work a day later.

Carpenter and his Ed Carpenter Racing crew were on the road first thing Monday, headed to Iowa Speedway for the first of three test sessions in nine days. The team was also scheduled to test at Milwaukee and Pocono.

"I guess there is no rest for us right now," said Carpenter, who led 90 laps at Texas in grabbing his first win of the season. "We need to use this break to get ready for the next oval races. It's tough on the whole team after more than a month of work. But that is why we love to go racing."

Carpenter turned over his car this season to Mike Conway for races on road and street courses. Conway took the team to Victory Lane in April at Long Beach, and Carpenter made his season debut as driver at Indianapolis, where he won the pole for the Indy 500.

A crash ended his race early, but he rebounded two weeks later to score his first career victory at Texas.

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LE MANS COVERAGE: Bob Varsha will lead Fox Sports coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of10 on-air personalities and analysts assigned by the network to the race.

Varsha, a veteran race broadcaster, will be host and play-by-play announcer when coverage of the world's most famous sports car endurance race begins Saturday morning. Brian Till will take over for Varsha when the on-air teams rotate in multi-hour segments in similar fashion to the multi-driver entries.

Analysis will be provided by Calvin Fish, Dorsey Schroeder, Tommy Kendall and Darren Law. Fox Sports has tabbed Justin Bell, Jamie Howe, Andrew Marriott and Greg Creamer to report.

"Some events need no hype whatsoever; think The Masters, the Kentucky Derby, the Tour de France," said Varsha. "Le Mans is one of those. Dale Earnhardt once told me it was the one race he wanted to do outside of NASCAR, and I'm sure Mario Andretti would tell you that, for all he achieved, Le Mans was the one that got away. That's how the drivers see it. It's that big a challenge, and that rewarding."

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MUSTANG TO PACE FIELD: Ford will continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mustang this weekend when the iconic pony car makes its debut as an official pace car in Sunday's race at Michigan.

The field will be led to the green flag by a 2015 Mustang GT fastback driven by Joe Hinrichs, Ford Motor Co. president of The Americas.

"With its proximity to the Motor City, Michigan International Speedway is a showcase for the auto industry," said Chantel Lenard, Ford's director of U.S. marketing. "To have Mustang, a brand born of racing, in this special anniversary year, leading some of the world's best drivers to the green flag, is special."

Built in Flat Rock, Michigan, the 2015 Mustang is all-new from the ground up. The sixth-generation, rear-wheel-drive car has the long hood and short rear decklid proportions of its most iconic predecessors, as well as a low, wide stance.

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SPIRIT AWARD: Lynda Petty, the late wife of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, was named the first quarter recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association's Spirit Award.

Petty was one of the founding members of the Racing Wives Auxiliary, a charitable organization that provided assistance to those in need within the racing community. The group is now known as the Women's Auxiliary of Motorsports, and seeks to enrich the lives of women, children and families through various education and wellness programs.

Petty died in March at 72 after a long illness.

The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, quarterly winners are chosen, and an overall winner is selected by a vote of the NMPA membership.

Also, The Petty Family Foundation this week announced it will use the numerous donations made in Petty's memory to contribute to four organizations.

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THEY SAID IT: "Some of the stuff the haters say is the funniest stuff. The real short ones, like `You suck,' those are the best ones. I just favorite them and block them," Dale Earnhardt Jr., who joined Twitter in February, on how he handles hateful tweets.

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