National Sports Briefs

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 20, 2011

Associated Press
BELFAST, Northern Ireland ó His picture is everywhere. You can see it in the window of fish shops, or on cupcakes at bakeries.
These are good times for Rory McIlroy, lauded by one politician as ěour Celtic Tiger.î
And when the U.S. Open champion returns home to Northern Ireland this week the player described as golfís heir apparent to Tiger Woods can expect an open-top bus parade in his honor.
McIlroyís record-shattering win at Congressional gave his country a second straight victory in the tournament, drawing tributes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and enrapturing his hometown of Holyfield.
Residents had packed the Holywood Golf Club to watch him play. And right in the middle of the jubilation was McIlroyís uncle Colm, who toasted his nephewís victory by spraying champagne over the 18th tee.
Since the Masters began in 1934, the 22-year-old prodigy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.
It was a victory that united politicians in a country scarred by sectarian violence for decades. Usual business in the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended to allow members to pay tribute.
ěI stand here tired but elated,î said Democratic Unionist Party legislator Peter Weir, who represents Holywood.
Many in the Stormont assembly spoke of McIlroyís modest background and basked in a performance that more than matched the U.S. Open victory by compatriot Graeme McDowell 12 months earlier.
ěRory McIlroyís emphatic win in the US Open is one of Northern Irelandís greatest sporting moments,î First Minister Peter Robinson said.
Another politician, Karen McKevitt, likened McIlroyís game to that of Tiger Woods: ěWe have got our own Tiger. Our Celtic Tiger.î
MINNEAPOLIS ó From dance team members waving pompoms to signs reading “We Love You Ricky!” and a full-page ad in the local newspaper, the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled out all the stops to make Ricky Rubio feel welcome on the day of his long anticipated arrival from Spain.
About 200 people ó many of them Timberwolves employees ó gathered at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport Monday to cheer the 20-year-old point guard as he emerged from customs for his first extended stay in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves, and their downtrodden fans, have waited two years for the flashy passer to come over from Spain. Rubio was drafted fifth overall in 2009, but stayed in Europe for another two seasons until he could afford to buy out his professional contract with FC Barcelona.
Rubio made his official announcement on Friday, a few days after his Spanish team defeated Bilbao in the ACB League finals.
The news has energized fans who have watched the Wolves lose 132 games the last two years, and dozens showed up at the airport to roll out the welcome mat for a player they believe will help turn things around.
ST. LOUIS ó Concluding a news briefing about Albert Pujols’ injury that killed the mood at Tony La Russa’s charity golf event, the St. Louis Cardinals manager let down his guard.
“I’m going to go find a place to cry,” La Russa said.
Pujols will be out an estimated six weeks with a fractured left wrist from a first-base collision over the weekend. Baseball will be without a three-time NL MVP and the Cardinals, tied for first in the NL Central, are left to absorb another devastating blow in a season marred by injuries.
CHARLOTTE ó The owner of energy drink Red Bull plans to leave NASCAR at the end of this season.
Multiple people familiar with the decision say a team official traveled to Michigan Speedway and told industry leaders Sunday of the impending move. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not been made to team employees.
Red Bull is both the owner and sponsor of the two-car NASCAR team. The team has struggled since its 2007 entry into NASCAR and consistently has been plagued by rumors and speculation that the Austrian ownership group will leave the auto racing series.
ORLANDO, Fla. ó A former University of Central Florida wide receiver testified on Monday that teammate Ereck Plancher gasped for breath, fell to his knees as his eyes rolled back into his head and struggled before collapsing during his final workout.
Anthony Davis said that UCF coach George O’Leary ordered all water and trainers out of the indoor fieldhouse during the practice on March 18, 2008. He also testified during the wrongful death trial in Orlando that the coach was yelling obscenities at Plancher as he told him to get up after falling during an obstacle course drill.
Plancher’s parents say in the wrongful death lawsuit that the UCF Athletics Association is responsible for their son’s death. They are trying to prove that coaches pushed him excessively at the practice despite knowing he had sickle cell trait.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. ó Former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart will receive $1.65 million as part of a settlement agreement, the university said Monday.