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Russell, 15, makes history with T25 on Korn Ferry

Miles Russell, 15, became the youngest player since at least 1983 ever to finish in the top 25 in a Korn Ferry Tour or PGA Tour event.

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Two days after he became the youngest player ever to make the cut on the Korn Ferry Tour, Miles Russell notched another pretty cool achievement for a 15-year-old.

He finished tied for 20th in the event.

Russell, the reigning American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, closed with a 5-under 66 on Sunday at the Lecom Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, finishing 6 shots behind winner Tim Widing. He became the youngest player since at least 1983 to finish in the top 25 in a Korn Ferry Tour or PGA Tour event.

An amateur playing on a sponsor's exemption, Russell won't pocket any money for the finish. But he did qualify for next week's Korn Ferry event, the Veritex Bank Championship in Texas, as a result of finishing in the top 25.

"It was an awesome week," he said. "It was a blast."

Russell was outside the top 25 entering Sunday, but he surged 28 spots up the leaderboard thanks to a final round that included seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch.

"You're always nervous," he said of the final round. "So definitely the start of the round [I had nerves], but they kind of relaxed as we got kind of settled in and maybe a little bit more toward the end. But it was good.

"I just kind of try to go with the flow and take it as it comes to me and just try and stay cool."

The closing 66 matched his low round of the event; he posted the same score Friday to make history on the PGA Tour's developmental circuit. At 15 years, 5 months and 17 days, he became the youngest ever to make the cut; Gipper Finau, the younger brother of PGA Tour star Tony Finau, had the previous record, doing so at the 2006 Utah Championship, when he was 16 years, 20 days.

Big achievements on the golf course, though, are nothing new for Russell.

In 2023, the left-hander from Florida won the Junior PGA Championship by 7 shots and became the youngest winner of the Junior Players Championship. He won the AJGA Player of the Year award at a younger age than Tiger Woods.

Last month, he lost out in a playoff in a Monday qualifier for the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open.

China's Guan Tianlang is the youngest to make the cut in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event. He was 14 when he made the cut in the 2013 Masters, playing as the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion.

Widing became a first-time Korn Ferry winner, beating Steven Fisk and Patrick Cover in a playoff.
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Report: Nassar victims get $100M for FBI failure

The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to pay around 100 victims of Larry Nassar approximately $100 million for the FBI's failures to properly investigate reports of Nassar's sexual assaults against America's top gymnasts, according to a report.

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The United States Justice Department has agreed to pay around 100 victims of disgraced former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar approximately $100 million for the FBI's failures to properly investigate reports of Nassar's sexual assaults against America's top gymnasts and others, according to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

If the agreement becomes final, it would push the total amount of settlements in the sprawling legal cases against Nassar to nearly $1 billion. Two attorneys, who between them represent more than 300 of Nassar's victims, would not confirm details of the proposed settlement when reached Wednesday by ESPN.

The FBI's failures in the Nassar case are well documented. At a 2021 Senate hearing, FBI director Christopher Wray apologized to survivors of Nassar's abuse, saying it was "inexcusable" that agents "had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed."

After conducting a five-week internal investigation in the summer of 2015, officials from USA Gymnastics first told agents within the FBI's Indianapolis field office that three Team USA gymnasts had said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar during treatment sessions.

A report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found that in the summer of 2015 "despite the extraordinarily serious nature of the allegations and the possibility that Nassar's conduct could be continuing, senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency."

That July 2021 report also found that field agents "did not undertake any investigative activity" for five weeks and then neglected to properly transfer the matter to the field office in Lansing, Michigan, where Nassar continued to treat patients as an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University.

After conducting just one interview in September 2015, the FBI conducted "no investigative activity in the matter for more than eight months" the Office of Inspector General report concluded, while Nassar's sexual assaults continued, involving approximately 100 women.

According to Wednesday's Wall Street Journal report, the claimants in the yet-to-be finalized settlement include former Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and former Team USA member Maggie Nichols. All four women testified at a September 2021 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the human cost of the FBI's failures.

"It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us," an emotional Biles told the Senate hearing.

"By not taking action from my report, they [the FBI] allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year," Maroney testified. "They had legal evidence of child abuse and did nothing."

If finalized, the $100 million paid by the Justice Department to dozens of Nassar survivors would follow a $380 million settlement in 2021 with USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and a $500 million settlement in 2018 with Michigan State University.
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Practice patience with struggling stars

Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses why fantasy managers need to be patient with slow starters like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Julio Rodriguez.

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Panic often runs rampant at this stage of the fantasy baseball season. Annually. If you've played for any length of time, you know that managers can -- on the whole -- be an overreactive bunch during the month of April.

Twenty days of the 2024 season are now in the books, and players' year-to-date statistics look overly dramatic in that small sample, relative to how they will come season's end. Universal No. 1 overall pick Ronald Acuna Jr. has yet to hit a home run, after hitting 41 last season. Rotisserie first rounder and top-25 overall points league pick Julio Rodriguez is batting .206 without a home run and has only nine fantasy points for the season.

It's because these unexpectedly poor stat lines are occurring now, when fantasy managers are most watchful, that breeds this panic. Yes, they represent each player's seasonal output in their entirety. However, a 20-day slump that occurs in July flies much more 'beneath the radar" than one that begins a season.

To illustrate this point, consider that universal top-12-overall player Kyle Tucker hit .242/.288/.355 with just one homer, four RBI and two stolen bases over the 20-day stretch from May 20-June 8 in 2023. His roster percentage in ESPN leagues dipped less than two-thousandths of a point (0.002%, to be exact) over that time.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, has seen his roster percentage decline by 2.7% since Opening Day. Even Acuna (who still has eight stolen bases and 43 fantasy points) has been dropped in 0.003% of ESPN leagues -- more than Tucker's example above!

And that's just addressing the very tippity-top of the fantasy baseball rankings.

A full 22 players have been dropped in at least 20% of ESPN leagues since Opening Day (in the U.S., that is). Among that group are a handful of logical, "out for the season" cuts, in Shane Bieber, Eury Perez, Trevor Story and Spencer Strider, as well as Matt McLain, whose best-case scenario to return from shoulder surgery is August. Another two are closers-no-more Alex Lange and Jose Leclerc.

However, that group also includes some surprising names who were selected within the first 12 rounds of ESPN leagues (on average) in the preseason: Hunter Brown (down 34.8% in that time), Nick Castellanos (down 25.8%) and Nolan Jones (down 26.5%).

Further down on this "most-dropped during the season" list are seven players who were selected on average among the top-100 picks (which encompasses slightly greater than the first half of a standard ESPN draft), but have been dropped by at least 10% since Opening Day: Chris Bassitt (down 12.7%), David Bednar (down 14.7%), Alexis Diaz (down 10.6%), Nico Hoerner (down 15.1%), Jesus Luzardo (down 11.5%), Brandon Nimmo (down 12.1%) and Gleyber Torres (down 15.1%). We'll exclude Luis Robert Jr. (down 11.4%) as an eighth name here, being that at the time of his IL placement, he was projected to miss 6-8 weeks.

If you're in an ESPN standard league, with its nine-man starting lineup and seven pitching spots, cycling your players around their hot streaks makes a degree of sense -- certainly much more so than in an old school 12-team mixed league or a 15-team mixed, or an AL/NL-only league, all of which dig far deeper into the player pool. However, there's still something to be said for patience. That's most true for your most foundational pieces exiting your draft, and said truth extends deeper in correlation with the depth of your league.

Let's use the 2021-23 seasons as examples of the value of patience.

There were 21 players selected among the top-25 overall (on average) during those three seasons who, in the respective season's first 20 days, underperformed their projected fantasy points per game averages by at least 25%. Note that this excludes players whose first 20 days were interrupted by injuries or other circumstances that kept them off the field. Eleven of these players rebounded to score within 0.5 points per game of their initial projections the rest of the way. Another two finished within 0.8 points of said average.

Among the players who least improved from this bunch were a quartet of 2023 starting pitchers: Sandy Alcantara, Corbin Burnes, Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer. All four of those pitchers still scored 300-plus fantasy points for the year, while Burnes (10th), Nola (24th) and Scherzer (27th) all finished among the position's top 30 in fantasy points. Another two from 2022, Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray, finished that year fifth and 32nd at the position in fantasy points. Add all of the above up and that's essentially 19 out of 21 players who rebounded with meaningful rest-of-season fantasy stats, even if some performed at a degree beneath what their preseason projections hinted.

Effectively the biggest disappointments from among this group were the 2018 and 2019 NL MVPs, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, who met the qualifications for their poor 2021 campaigns.

Expanding the scope to top-50 overall picks on average, 40 players underperformed by 25% or worse during the season's first 20 days and, among that group, 20 scored within 0.5 points of their projection from that time forward. Another five were within 0.75 points (that represents 63% of this group).

Starting pitchers remained among the biggest offenders, with Jose Berrios (2022), Freddy Peralta (2022) and Alek Manoah (2023) being the three picked between 26th and 50th who were least able to recover from a poor start.

Of the players selected on average among the top 100, 57% (48 out of 84) recovered to score within 0.5 points of their preseason projections after having similarly underperformed over the season's first 20 days. Twelve more scored within 0.75 points (71% among this group). Starting pitchers were again more responsible for the failures than those at any other position with only 38% (8 out of 21) rebounding.

And, since you might be curious how the players who encompass the entirety of ESPN standard drafts might have similarly fared, a near-identical percentage of top-200 overall selections -- 57% (108 out of 190) -- enjoyed that same within 0.5 points recovery. Add those who were within 0.75 points and 71% qualified.

Yes, more often than not, that player you invested heavily in on draft day quickly rights the ship. If said player isn't a starting pitcher, your odds are only better. Tuck that away, if you're a Rodriguez, Aaron Judge, Torres, Alex Bregman, Hoerner or Francisco Lindor manager. In the absence of an injury or other factors that clearly indicate that the player's skills have dramatically changed for the worse, there's too great a likelihood that he'll straighten things out soon ... and often quite swiftly.

As for those starting pitchers, their poor rates of recovery shouldn't come as a complete surprise, bearing in mind the wear and tear their arms take and the degrees to which their velocities, command or pitch movement can shift -- not just from season to season, but sometimes from start to start. This is why the chatter surrounding the velocity drops occasionally exhibited by Max Fried and Kevin Gausman, or the inflated walk total of Jesus Luzardo, rings so loudly.

Gausman, with his shaky velocity and much worse numbers in terms of preventing hard contact (17.6% Statcast Barrel and 50% hard-hit rates allowed), is the one who most concerns me at this early stage. That he dealt with shoulder issues throughout spring training only contributes to that skepticism.

Beyond that? Give your best players at least another week or two to turn things around or, if you're in an ESPN standard league, be calculated about your prospects of reclaiming any player you cut if he manages to improve immediately after you let him go. It's not gift-giving season (certainly not in fantasy baseball leagues) and this is the time of year where an erroneous early cut represents quite the generous offering to your competition.
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