ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tiger Woods was a large part of the conversation on the eve of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And hes not even playing. Woods is missing Bay Hill for only the second time in his career when the tournament starts Thursday on a course that Palmer said is in the best shape ever. Woods has won eight times, including the last two years, but he called the 84-year-old host on Tuesday to say persistent back pain will keep him from playing. "He didnt tell me how bad his back is. I dont think he knows how bad his back is," Palmer said. "I think hes listening to the doctors. And he mentioned that theyre saying that he needs to give it a bit of a rest and see if he can work it out. He was very nice. And I, of course, have great sympathy for the fact that he tried like hell to come here and play. And I appreciate that and the fact that he called. "I think he wanted to play golf this week," Palmer said. "I think that he needs to take (time) -- whether its this week, next week or the following week -- to get ready for Augusta. Certainly, if I were in that position, Id be doing much the same." Most of the chatter was more about the future with Woods. Will he play at the Masters? Stuck on 14 majors for the last five years, can he match or surpass the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus? And what will be the larger obstacle -- his age (38), his health (legs and back) or the competition (long list)? "I dont think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did," Palmer said. "I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. Its going to be tough. Its going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors." Nicklaus won four of his majors after turning 38. Ben Hogan, with battered legs from a car accident, won five majors after turning 38. Palmer, however, believes more than age is at stake for Woods. "These young guys are tough, and theyre strong," Palmer said. "And if they continue to play as well as theyve been playing, its going to be tough for anybody -- whether it be Nicklaus or Tiger or whomever it would be -- to continue to win major championships. And were talking about guys that are playing good and coming on." Palmer actually had a list of players he was talking about. Some of them were young, such as Chris Kirk and Harris English. Others had either won this season (Ryan Moore) or played well recently (Robert Garrigus). "I dont know how many you want me to name," Palmer said. "But really, the strength and the ability of these people is very pleasing to me." Graeme McDowell, a runner-up to Woods two years at Bay Hill, said he can understand what the No. 1 player is going through with injuries. He also believes that competition might be an even larger obstacle than his health for Woods to break Nicklaus record. "Hes a physical player who creates a lot of speed and a lot of power and his body is starting to struggle a little bit, no doubt about it," McDowell said. "But Im sure hell fix it. ... But we all talk about how good the fields are nowadays. Taking Tigers fitness and physicality out of it, winning major championships is getting harder and harder for everyone -- including the best player maybe thats ever lived in Tiger. "Hes got more than just his body to be fighting. Theres a lot of great players in the world now," McDowell said. "Its going to be harder for him to achieve Jacks record. But if anyone can do it, Im sure he can find a way because we all know how good he is." The field at Bay Hill is not as strong as usual, starting with the absence of Woods, the No. 1 player in the world and an eight-time winner of this event. Match Play champion Jason Day (No. 4 in the world) pulled out with recurring pain in his thumb, and Phil Mickelson (No. 5) is not playing this year. Not that it would change the dynamics of what already has been a peculiar season. With 18 tournaments in the books this season, Zach Johnson is the only player to win a PGA Tour event while ranked among the top 10 in the world. The Masters is three weeks away. Is it time for the stars to come out? "Hopefully, this one does," Masters champion Adam Scott said, pointing to himself with a laugh. "But as far as unexpected winners, it seems to me thats happening more and more in golf. There are more and more guys breaking through, putting in a lot of hard work and getting what they deserve. So I think weve seen a bit of a shift in the game over the last couple of years -- a lot less domination by top players." Paul Pierce Celtics Jersey
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. The last team in the NBA that will have any sympathy for the Thunder is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are showing signs of putting everything together after two years of devastating injuries.Two teams in the headlines will do battle in the Western Conference semifinals when the Oklahoma City Thunder host the Los Angeles Clippers in the series-opener Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For the second-seeded Thunder, "Mr. Unreliable" became something of a rallying cry. The Oklahoman ran that headline describing Kevin Durant, who will probably be handed the leagues MVP award before a home game during this series. Durant responded with 36 and 33 points in the final two games against the Memphis Grizzlies, both double-digit victories for OKC in elimination games during the first round. "Hes one of the best players on the planet," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of his superstar. "Hes going to continue to help us win games and move us forward, not only with his shot-making, but his playmaking." Sadly, the Clippers headlines were of a much more serious tone during the first round against Golden State. Their owner, Donald Sterling, was caught on tape making racist comments. It affected the team in its Game 4 loss, then, before Game 5, NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and prompted the Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the team. Through this tumultuous time, the third-seeded Clippers hung on for a Game 7 win over the Warriors. "I just wanted us to win the game," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "Not because of all of this stuff, butt this team just needed this win.ddddddddddddI thought our guys fought. The adversity, they went through it. It drained them and they found enough energy to find a way to win the game." Each team features two superstars. For the Thunder, Durant averaged 29.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 blocks against the Grizz. Granted, Durant shot 44 percent and 32 percent from 3-point range, which are low numbers by his standards. Russell Westbrook averaged 25.6 points in the Grizzlies series, but he took 23 shot attempts a game, which was the same number as Durant. Westbrook shot 38 percent from the field and committed 4.9 turnovers per game. For LA, Chris Paul is the leader and scored 22 points and handed out 14 assists in the Game 7 victory. Blake Griffin blossomed into a well-rounded offensive machine. And special mention to Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 12.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks against the Warriors. During the season, the two squads were evenly matched. The Thunder have won five of the last seven meetings, but the two sides split four games this season and each team managed a win on the road. The Thunder were eliminated in this round last season by the Grizzlies when Westbrook got hurt in the first round against the Houston Rockets. The Clippers have never advanced past the second round in franchise history. Game 2 will be Wednesday night in OKC. ' ' '