Confident McIlroy ready for weather at Merion

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Confident McIlroy ready for weather at Merion

ARDMORE, Pa. -- At some point, Rory McIlroy says, he wants to get into the city of Philadelphia so he can do one thing …

Run up the Art Museum steps like Rocky Balboa.

“I was half thinking of going to the steps in the city -- the Rocky steps -- wherever they are and run up them,” McIlroy said during his media availability for the U.S. Open at Merion East Golf Club.

As far as touristy things to do go, perhaps Philadelphians will catch McIlroy at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall or even Pat’s at 2 a.m. for a cheesesteak.

More likely, though, McIlroy will be front and center when the tournament begins on Thursday, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. That’s the top three-ranked golfers in the world playing together for the first two rounds at Merion.

With any luck, McIlroy hopes to be playing with Woods or Scott in the last group on Sunday.

“It's something that wasn't too much of a surprise. The guys at the USGA have done it quite a few times before,” McIlroy said. “It's always nice to be a part of a group like that. Something that I'm excited about. It's a good thing. I like it because you're in a group like that there's a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it and it gets you focused from the first shot.

“Teeing off on Thursday afternoon, there's obviously going to be a lot of attention on that group and it's just nice to be a part of it.”

A winner of two majors, including a record-breaking performance at the 2011 U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club outside of Washington, D.C., McIlroy could very well remain in the spotlight come Sunday. A lot of that has to do with the condition of the golf course. The heavy rain that has hit the region has turned the grounds at Merion soft. That means the course will be easier and scores will be lower.

Often the U.S. Open is a war of attrition in which the winner is the last man left unbroken by the extreme rough and slick putting surfaces. But the rain takes control away from the course and gives it back to the players.

When McIlroy won in 2011 with the record-breaking score of 268 (16-under), the rain played a major role.

He expects the play at Merion to be very similar.

“I didn't really enjoy the [the 2012 U.S. Open at the] Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf, I guess,” McIlroy said. “When you hit a shot and it doesn't bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it's going to stay. There's still not going to be that many birdies out here. You've still got to hit it on the fairway. It's still a pretty tight golf course. So when you do get it in the rough, you're not going to make birdies out of there. So you're going to have chances, but you're going to have some holes where it's going to be very difficult.

“I expect the scores to be a little lower than what they would be if the course was a little firmer and drier, but I don't think you'll see scores like the scores that were shot at Congressional a couple of years ago.”

Maybe not yet, but the course could become even more water logged.

Forecasters are predicting more rain for Thursday. However, it doesn’t hurt that McIlroy feels confident about his game. In fact, McIlroy pointed out, his game might be in better shape heading into this week’s Open than it was when he won at Congressional.

“I guess that the two majors that I've won I've sort of come in a little bit like that, with low expectations,” McIlroy said. “I feel like coming into the U.S. Open this year, my game's in much better shape than it was last year. I came off the back of three missed cuts in a row and I wasn't playing very well. And this year I feel like my game is actually in good shape. So I feel coming in this year I've got a way better chance than I did last year.”

McIlroy doesn’t need to play alongside of Woods and Scott to get noticed. Chances are the gregarious 24-year old from Northern Ireland would have a large gallery following him around regardless of who he was lined up with.

Better yet, maybe Woods is happy that McIlroy will take some of the attention.

“I think it will be fantastic. I was part of that the first time they did it in ’08 and it was very electric out there,” Woods said. “Normally we don’t get those types of pairings very often. When you do it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Nelson Cruz hit his ninth career grand slam and added a three-run shot, and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched six innings to win his fifth straight start in Seattle's victory over Toronto.

Cruz hit his slam off R.A. Dickey (7-11) in the third, then added a three-run drive off Drew Storen in the eighth for his 20th career multi-homer game. He has 25 home runs this season.

It was the 13th time in team history a Mariners player has recorded seven RBIs. The team record is eight by Mike Blowers, Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer and Nori Aoki had two RBIs and scored twice as the Mariners used a season-high 19 hits to win their third straight. Iwakuma (11-6) allowed two runs and four hits.

Wade LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first save (see full recap).

Stanton leads Marlins past Mets
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton homered and had his first four-hit game since 2012, driving in three runs to give Jose Fernandez all the support he needed, and Miami beat New York.

Miami rocked Jacob deGrom (6-5), who allowed 10 hits and five runs, both season highs, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since August.

Fernandez (12-4) gave up two runs in seven innings to match his career high for victories, achieved in his 2013 rookie season. He also had two hits, hiking his average to .265, and drove in the first run.

Home Run Derby winner Stanton put Miami ahead to stay in the third inning when he hit a majestic two-run homer off the left-field scoreboard above the 401-foot sign. He added an RBI single in the fourth, and singled in the first and sixth, hiking his average to .241 after a prolonged slump (see full recap).  

Dodgers snap Cardinals' 5-game win streak
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez hit his eighth homer, red-hot Justin Turner got two more RBIs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat St. Louis 7-2 on Saturday night to end the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.

Turner's two-run double capped a four-run third. He has 14 RBIs since the All-Star break.

Gonzalez's 429-foot solo blast to center sparked a three-run sixth.

Kenta Maeda (9-7) rebounded from a poor outing against Arizona on July 17, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the Cardinals' first 15 batters was able to hit the ball out of the infield against the Japanese right-hander.

Andrew Toles went 3 for 4 and scored once for the Dodgers. He has reached safely in nine of 10 games since being called up from the minors.

Mike Leake (7-8) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in six innings.

Matt Adams homered for the second consecutive game. His blast to left in the fourth extended the Cardinals' streak of home runs to 14 straight games.

Aledmys Diaz reached safely for the 26th straight game with a first-inning single. Diaz's streak is the second-longest by a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols had streaks of 30 and 48 games in 2001 (see full recap).

Drew's walk-off triple lifts Nats past Padres
WASHINGTON -- Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew hit a game-ending RBI triple in the ninth inning to lift Washington past San Diego,

Anthony Rendon opened the bottom off the ninth with a single off reliever Kevin Quackenbush (6-4). Drew entered with one out and drove a pitch off the center-field scoreboard, and Rendon raced around the bases for the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon (2-2) allowed a leadoff double in the ninth before retiring three straight batters. San Diego left runners in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Washington starter Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings (see full recap).

Giants top Yanks in extras to snap losing skid
NEW YORK -- Mac Williamson homered in the fifth inning and hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th, lifting San Francisco past New York for the Giants' first victory since the All-Star break.

NL West-leading San Francisco had lost a season-high six straight games and had held just one lead since the break -- when Buster Posey hit a go-ahead home run leading off the 10th inning at San Diego on July 16 only to have the Padres rally for a pair of runs in the bottom half against Santiago Casilla.

Williamson, whose fourth-inning error allowed the Yankees' run, began the comeback when he connected off Ivan Nova leading off the fifth.

Trevor Brown hit an opposite-field double to right off Anthony Swarzak (1-1) leading off the 12th, and Williamson singled up the middle with one out, just past the glove of diving shortstop Didi Gregorius. San Francisco was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 7 for 64 (.111) since the All-Star break, before Williamson's single.

Cheered on by hundreds of orange-clad fans in the Giants' old hometown, San Francisco escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when Casilla (2-3) retired Brian McCann on a shallow flyout and Starlin Castro on a foulout. Hunter Strickland pitched a perfect 12th for his second save (see full recap).

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

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Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).