- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BASEBALL

NEW YORK (AP) - Even before the first pitch of the 2015 season is thrown, an eye-popping baseball record will be set.

The average salary when opening-day rosters are finalized Sunday will break the $4 million benchmark for the first time, according to a study of all major league contracts by The Associated Press. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw tops players at $31 million and Los Angeles projects to open the season with a payroll at about $270 million, easily a record.

Fueled by the largest two-year growth in more than a decade, the average salary projects to be about $4.25 million, according to the AP study, with the final figure depending on how many players are put on the disabled list before the first pitch is thrown. That is up from $3.95 million on the first day of last season and $3.65 million when 2013 began.

Baseball’s average was approximately $50,000 in 1976, the last year before free agency. Back then, many players took offseason jobs to pay their bills.

Now almost all of them do their heavy lifting in gyms, not warehouses.

GOLF

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Tiger Woods played a practice round Tuesday at Augusta National, a strong indication that the four-time champion could make his return at the Masters.

Mark Steinberg, his agent at Excel Sports Management, confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that Woods played 18 holes. Still to be determined is whether he returns for the Masters next week.

Woods has not played since he withdrew at Torrey Pines on Feb. 5 after 11 holes because of tightness in his back during a chilly, fog-delayed opening round. A week later, he said he would return to competition when he had the game for it.

AUTO RACING

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - NASCAR levied harsh penalties against Ryan Newman’s race team after determining Richard Childress Racing manipulated the tires Newman used at Auto Club Speedway in California.

There had been rampant speculation throughout the Sprint Cup garage that teams were drilling tiny holes in their tires to allow air to escape during a race. The process is known as “bleeding tires” and NASCAR last week at Martinsville Speedway warned crew chiefs about the penalties that would be levied against any team caught.

Newman’s crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 and suspended for the next six races. The suspension also includes the All-Star race in May. Lambert was also placed on probation through the end of the year.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - When he gave his farewell press conference after an unwanted exit from Texas, Rick Barnes predicted he’d be coaching again “quicker than you probably think.”

It turns out Barnes already had a pretty good idea where he’d end up.

Barnes had begun talking to Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart about the Volunteers’ coaching vacancy Saturday, the day before his departure from Texas was announced. His move from one shade of orange to another became official Tuesday when Barnes was introduced as Tennessee’s new men’s basketball coach.

Barnes agreed to terms on a six-year contract that will pay him $2.25 million annually. The 60-year-old Barnes will be Tennessee’s fourth coach in six seasons, and the Volunteers are counting on him to provide stability. Barnes went 402-180 in 17 seasons at Texas, including a Final Four appearance in 2003.

HOCKEY

WASHINGTON (AP) - Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 50th goal, reaching that mark for the sixth time and tying a team record with the 472nd of his career, and added an assist in the Washington Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

With his team pushing to make the playoffs, the three-time NHL MVP got No. 50 at 11:12 of the first period, giving Washington a 2-0 lead when he took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and sent a shot from just inside the left circle past goalie Cam Ward.

Only five other players reached the half-century mark at least six times: Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy had nine such seasons, and Mario Lemieux, Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur had six.

TENNIS

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) - Before the first set ended Tuesday, Novak Djokovic had busted a racket in anger, drawn jeers from the crowd and received two code violations, which cost him a point penalty. There were no further outbursts, and as Djokovic’s play improved, so did his mood. He rallied from a break down in the second set and beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-0 in the fourth round of the Miami Open.

Venus Williams’ recent resurgence stalled when she lost in the quarterfinals to No. 12-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro 0-6, 6-1, 7-5. The 34-year-old Williams was broken six times in the final two sets and double-faulted twice in the final game.

Her sister, seven-time champion Serena Williams, will play in the quarterfinals Wednesday against No. 27 Sabine Lisicki.

With Rafael Nadal already eliminated and Roger Federer skipping the tournament, the No. 1-seeded Djokovic’s most likely opponent in the final would be No. 3 Andy Murray, who became the ninth active man to win 500 matches by beating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

AMERICA’S CUP

SAN DIEGO (AP) - America’s Cup teams have voted to reduce the size of boats to be sailed in the 2017 regatta in Bermuda, a cost-cutting move that could lead to the two strongest challengers dropping out.

In a statement Tuesday night, organizers said only that a majority of teams favored the move from 62-foot catamarans to cats in the 45- to 50-foot range. They also said the majority of challengers favor all racing being held in Bermuda rather than having a qualifying regatta in Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s believed Italy’s Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand voted against the unprecedented proposal to change the size of the boat in mid-cycle.

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