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Florida’s Mullen stands by Swamp sellout stance

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Dan Mullen was given several more chances Monday to clarify any confusion regarding his comments about wanting to pack 90,000 screaming fans inside Florida Field during the coronavirus pandemic.

He declined each of them, brushing aside criticism and insisting he’s focused on defending national champion LSU.

He was asked: Did you have any discussions with your boss, athletic director Scott Stricklin, about what you said following a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M?

“No, I’ve been worried about trying to beat LSU,” Mullen said.

Then: Any regrets two days later? Did you talk with school president Kent Fuchs?

“Yeah, I’ve been preparing for LSU. But, I mean, I’ll be honest. I think if you look at what we’ve been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we’re a model of safety of what we’ve been doing during this time period. “So I’m really proud of how we’ve handled everything and how safe we’ve been with everything we’re doing and all the precautions we’ve had in place during this time.” Another follow-up: Do you understand how bad it could be having so many people, with or without masks, in cramped quarters for four hours?

“I think Texas A&M actually, they created a great atmosphere at the game, created an exciting atmosphere, you know?,” the coach said. “I thought they did a great job of doing that. … I haven’t talked to people because I’ve been really focused on trying to beat LSU.

“But, you know, whatever our government officials all say and what everybody does for the game, what we do need to do is however many people they allow into the stadium, we need to try to work as hard as we can — all the Gator fans and all of us — to create the best game-day atmosphere we can.” Mullen raised eyebrows Saturday by calling for fans to pack the Swamp for Saturday’s game against the Tigers. State reopening guidelines under Gov. Ron DeSantis have allowed for full stadiums since late last month.

No college or professional team in the Sunshine State has moved beyond a small percentage of fans in attendance. The Gators had 2,000 of a nearly 17,000 allotment unsold for their home opener against South Carolina two weeks ago.

But Mullen wants more.

“I know our governor passed that rule so certainly, hopefully, the UF administration decides to let us pack the Swamp against LSU — 100% — because that crowd was certainly a factor in the game,” Mullen said after the Aggies upset his defenseless Gators.

Mullen was given an opportunity to back down a few minutes later. Instead, he stood by his comments.

“Absolutely want to see 90,000 in The Swamp,” he said. “I don’t think the section behind our bench, I didn’t see an empty seat. It was packed. The student section, there must have been 50,000 behind our bench going crazy. Hopefully that creates a home-field advantage for us next week because now we passed a law in our state that we can do that. We want our students out there cheering us on to give us that home-field advantage.” Stricklin quickly squashed any thoughts about Florida opening up its campus and increasing capacity.

Fuchs took it a step further Sunday, saying on Twitter that Florida “remains fully and firmly committed to following CDC guidelines for every part of our campus from classrooms to athletic venues as well as the guidance of our own experts and local and state health officials.”

University of Florida students are currently holding all classes online. Campus guidelines mandate physical distancing and wearing a mask or cloth face covering, restrictions that limit how many occupants can be in buildings. But Mullen apparently believes crowded bleachers would be OK.

“These preventative measures remain the most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Fuchs said. “It is important that all members of the UF community and our campus visitors follow this guidance.”

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Follow live: Kershaw, Glasnow face off in Game 1 of World Series

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7th Kiermaier singled to right, Wendle scored, Brosseau to second. 3 8 7th Brosseau singled to right, Margot scored, Wendle to third. 2 8 6th Muncy doubled to deep right center, Turner scored. 1 8 6th Betts homered to right (349 feet). 1 7 5th Hernández singled to left, Smith scored, Taylor to second. 1 6 5th Taylor singled to left center, Muncy scored, Smith to second. 1 5 5th Smith singled to center, Seager scored, Muncy to third. 1 4 5th Muncy grounded into fielder’s choice to first, Betts scored, Seager third. 1 3 5th Kiermaier homered to right (382 feet). 1 2 4th Bellinger homered to right center (378 feet), Muncy scored. 0 2

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Lomachenko recovering from shoulder surgery

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Recently dethroned lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko underwent right shoulder surgery Monday, according to his manager, Egis Klimas.

Lomachenko previously had surgery on his right shoulder in May 2018. Klimas said this surgery was a result of both a pre-existing ailment and an injury suffered during the second round of Saturday night’s decision loss to Teofimo Lopez.

Lomachenko was very cautious in the first half of the contest, when Lopez built a significant lead on the scorecards. His late-rounds rally fell short, and Lomachenko lost his WBC, WBO and WBA titles.

He was examined Monday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache (who also oversaw his operation in 2018) and was told he would need surgery that day.

Lomachenko should be able to resume training by mid-January, according to Klimas.

“When he arrived to the States to prepare for the fight, he said in the Ukraine he felt the sharp pain in his right shoulder,” said Klimas, who noted that an MRI didnt reveal any significant injury to the shoulder. “We took him right away to Dr. ElAttrache to examine him.”

At six weeks out from the fight, Lomachenko was given an injection and alerted both the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

“We lost one week of training. We lost one week of sparring because the doctor forbid him to do much for a week after the injection,” Klimas said.

Klimas added that a few weeks later the pain flared up again during a sparring session. At that juncture, Lomachenko was given another injection and his father and trainer, Anatoly, “wanted out of the fight,” said Klimas.

Vasiliy Lomachenko said he would not pull out of the fight and made it clear to his team that if he dropped out, he would retire.

While news of the injury came out quickly after Saturday’s loss, Klimas insisted: “We didn’t want to look like we were looking for excuses or something.”

When Lomachenko heals up, Klimas says he wants a chance to get back the belts.

“If it’s possible, we would like to have the rematch,” Klimas said. “If they are so tough … are they willing to come back and do that?”

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Tiger considers playing in Houston before Masters

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Tiger Woods is defending his Zozo Championship title this week with an eye on the Masters in three weeks.

And the run-up to what usually is the first major championship of the year is strange to say the least, he said.

So odd, in fact, that Woods said he is considering adding another tournament before the Masters, the Houston Open.

What?

“I think my plan is just to play and practice,” he said at Sherwood Country Club, where the relocated Zozo Championship begins Thursday. “I don’t know if I’m going to play Houston or not. I’m not playing next week, and we’ll see how this week goes and make a decision from there.”

It would have been a good bet to figure that this week’s tournament would be the only one before the Masters, simply because Woods has never played the week before the Masters in any year since playing his first as a pro at Augusta National in 1997.

Asked how he would try to replicate his run-up to the Masters, Woods said: “You can’t.”

“It’s not normally this time of year,” he said. “It’s not normally played this way, the configuration of events. We’re not in a Florida swing. This is all different. This whole year’s been different for all of us.

“The fact that the Masters will be held in November, it’s unprecedented, never been done before. I can’t simulate the normal ramp-up that I normally have, and I don’t think anyone else can either. It will be different for all of us.”

Woods is making only his sixth start on the PGA Tour since the resumption of play following a 13-week pandemic shutdown. His best finish is a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship in August. He has slipped from 13th to 28th in the world.

His last start was a month ago at the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut and struggled again with back stiffness.

Woods played nine holes at Sherwood on Tuesday and looked good, something that can be said of many of his practice rounds. What he brings to the course when it counts is what ultimately matters; so far this year, he’s never had a reasonable chance of contending going into the weekend.

He has played only seven times in 2020, his best finish a tie for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.

“My game’s definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open,” he said. “I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better, and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course.”

His Zozo victory in Japan seems ages ago. Woods went there with low expectations after taking a nine-week break following arthroscopic knee surgery. And after a slow start, he shot consecutive 64s to open the tournament and posted a three-shot win over Hideki Matsuyama.

It was his 82nd victory on the PGA Tour, tying the mark of Sam Snead.

As a past Masters champion, Woods is an honorary member of Augusta National, meaning he can play the course whenever he wants. He has done so numerous times in preparation for the Masters, but said he’s done so only once in November back in the fall of 2001 after the club made numerous changes to the layout.

He recalled cool, difficult conditions. “It can be awfully difficult and long and much different than what we play in April,” he said.

Woods said he has not been back to Augusta National since his stirring 2019 victory, his fifth Masters title. Everything about it this time will be different, from no spectators to different colors and to perhaps a more strenuous golf course.

Another huge difference would be Woods playing the week prior.

“The whole idea is to be ready in a few weeks and whether or not that’s playing one more event, whether that’s Houston or just playing here at Zozo, just making sure that I’m ready for Augusta,” Woods said.

Woods does have a strong history at Sherwood Country Club, which he played 12 times when it hosted his World Challenge charity event that has since moved to the Bahamas. Woods won that tournament five times and was runner-up on five other occasions.

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