Is Rory McIlroy the true PGA Championship favorite? Plus, the NFL schedule finally debuts

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Good morning! I hope you’re OK, Dallas fans.

Tee Times: It’s Rory vs. Scottie vs. everyone else

Golfers are set to tee off at the year’s next major in less than an hour, so we have no time to waste in a preview. I wrangled Brody Miller, who’s on site for us at the PGA Championship this week, for three questions: 

We know Scottie Scheffler is the fave. Which other player has the game best-suited for Valhalla?
Brody: Rory McIlroy. “Oh, cool, pick the No. 2 player in the world.” I get it. But if we’re talking about things like fit and form, he’s one of the most valid candidates I can remember. Even beyond the fact he won here at Valhalla 10 years ago, it’s a course that is going to reward length, and McIlroy is still the best driver in the world. Add in that he won last week at Quail Hollow, which just happens to rank as the second-most similar course to Valhalla, per DataGolf. It just makes so much sense. Other possibilities: Bryson DeChambeau, Joaquin Niemann, Ludvig Åberg (if healthy).

Is it passé to pick Ashkay Bhatia as the fresh new face to root for? Or am I missing someone else?
Brody: Not at all. Akshay has a fun personality and plays a style that is fun to watch. He also represents a path we never see. He was the top junior in the country, but instead of becoming a college star, he chose to turn pro and spent the last few years fighting back up to the PGA Tour from the Korn Ferry ranks. On paper, I don’t love his fit here, until I remember he won the Junior PGA Championship here six years ago.

You pick: Scottie vs. the field _____.
Brody: Call me basic. I take Scottie. Obviously, I wonder about his taking three weeks off, but he’s still been playing every day in Dallas. I really, deeply believe he’s having his all-time great moment this year, and he’ll keep it going in Louisville. (Then somebody else wins the U.S. Open.)

Don’t miss Justin Ray’s indispensable preview, which (per usual) is stacked with more facts than I could dream of cramming into a piece. We also have best bets for wager-friendly readers.

Playoff Peek: Yay Dallas, aww Dallas

I assume a scheduling imp with a cruel sense of humor intentionally arranged the Mavericks and Stars to keep having playoff games on the same nights, which has created fascinating juxtapositions of feelings for fans of both teams. Consider last night’s example, as Dallas teams arrived at 3-2 series leads in opposite ways: 

🙂: The Mavericks beat the Thunder 104-92 on the road, which puts them one win away from the Western Conference finals. It was a huge win that saw Luka Dončić reemerge (31 points), while Oklahoma City couldn’t find much firepower outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 

😔: The Stars blew a 2-1 lead at home in their 5-3 loss to Colorado. A win would’ve sent them to their own Western Conference finals. Instead, Dallas heads back to Denver looking to avoid a total collapse. 

News to Know

Netflix takes Christmas
The NFL will air two Christmas Day games on Netflix this winter, a historic first for two reasons: First, it’s the foray into live sports for the streaming app, whose sports content has mostly focused on documentary series like “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” and “Full Swing.” Second, it will be only the third NFL game on a Wednesday since 1948 — most recently, 2020 pandemic issues forced a Steelers-Ravens game to Wednesday. Richard Deitsch says the development is a “fire-breathing shot” from Netflix to competitors. We’ll have more on this Sunday.

Astros pitcher suspended
Major League Baseball issued a 10-game suspension to Astros starter Ronel Blanco yesterday, one day after umpires found a sticky substance on his glove during an inspection. He had been one of the best stories of Houston’s season, having elevated from a no-name reliever to a rotation anchor who threw a no-hitter earlier in the year. Now the Astros’ best starter will miss a key portion of the season after apparently being unaware of the foreign substance rule. Yikes.

More news

Two True Things: Thank you, Chargers

Last night, the NFL finally released its 2024 schedule, an event that’s somehow become a bonanza. Two layers I feel strongly about here: 

  • This entire charade is so tiresome and overwrought. The NFL has built an entire week’s worth of anticipation around a PDF. Maybe I am just a tired parent, but all the hype just feels like hot air. There is no need to schedule hours of primetime programming around this. Just tell me who’s playing. Here’s the helpful info on what to know about that.
  • Certain teams, however, are forgiven here because their social media announcement videos were so good. First place, as always, goes to the Chargers, who executed some high-level comedy via a Sims-style production. Honorable mention goes to the Patriots, Lions and Colts

Thank you for allowing me to berate a cloud.

Things You Need to See: Sign him up

Last night, a raccoon scurried onto the pitch during New York’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia in some prime MLS action:

Maybe even better than the visual was the commentary from Callum Williams and Calen Carr, which you can watch here. I think the field belongs to that raccoon now.

Watch This Game

NHL: Rangers at Hurricanes
7 p.m. on TNT
I’m all about a team possibly coming back from 3-0 to force a Game 7. Carolina gets the chance to do that at home. Tension. 

NBA: Nuggets at Timberwolves
8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Park yourself for this Game 6. The defending champs have won three straight, but you should never doubt Anthony Edwards. I honestly expect this to go seven games. 

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

It’s easy to think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is just a young superstar. As Anthony Slater wrote in a must-read story today, the MVP runner-up has had anything but a normal career — and now, at 25 years old, he’s OKC’s seasoned vet. Some incredible insights in there. 

The Nuggets’ series comeback against Minnesota can actually be attributed to leaving Aaron Gordon out of dinner plans. Sam Amick has the full (and hilarious) story

I found this fascinating: Christopher Kamrani talked to the newest players in the college sports landscape, NIL agents, to find out where they fit in this new world

Keith Law has a new 2024 MLB mock draft, which features a somewhat surprising choice at No. 1. 

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: The box score from Caitlin Clark’s first pro game.

Most-read on the website yesterday: Our report on Harrison Butker’s divisive comments at a commencement speech.

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(Photo: Ben Jared / PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

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