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Saturday sports: Fowler leads U.S. Open; Oakland A's on the move; cycling cheaters

DON GONYEA, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

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GONYEA: The latest from the U.S. Open. The Oakland A's close in on Las Vegas. And a cycling scandal in Italy.

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GONYEA: Michele Steele of ESPN joins us now. Good morning.

MICHELE STEELE: Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: So let's start with golf. The U.S. Open is underway in Los Angeles. It's the first tournament since the PGA and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour announced their controversial merger. Where do things stand after two rounds? Bring us up to date.

STEELE: Yeah, headed into today, Don, there's a lot of talk at the Los Angeles Country Club about Rickie Fowler at the top of the leaderboard. Through 36 holes, he's birdied 18 of them. That's really, really good. That's the most birdies at the halfway point of a major in the last 30 years. Now, if you're familiar with Fowler, you know he was once ranked top five in the world. But, you know, his game has really slumped over the last couple of years or so. So, you know, it would really be something to see him win his first major at age 34, Don, but a lot of guys in the hunt this weekend.

GONYEA: OK. I'm interested in what the atmosphere is like for the players. Any tensions among those? I mean, some had stayed with the PGA. Some went with LIV. Now this merger happens, and here we are.

STEELE: Sure. You know what? Just a month ago at the PGA Championship, we saw LIV golfers, like Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka - they were being booed. DeChambeau says it's a bit more comfortable now at the U.S. Open than before. He says it's a good thing for the game of golf. But you know what? There is a lot to sort out on a very complicated deal between LIV and the PGA. Let's not forget they were sworn enemies until last week.

GONYEA: Exactly.

STEELE: So, Don, yeah, we'll see if this holds.

GONYEA: Let's turn to baseball. The Oakland A's relocation drama continues. Fans in the Bay Area are really pulling out all the stops to try, try, try to keep the team in Oakland. But the state of Nevada is making a big push to lure the team to - where else? - Las Vegas. How likely is the team to relocate?

STEELE: Yeah, those bright lights are attracting a lot of teams right now. But if you're a baseball fan, it's really hard to imagine the A's anywhere but their home over the last 55 years - Oakland. But that team did clear a big hurdle this week after the governor - you mentioned it - signed a bill making $380 million of Nevada public funds available to a major league team. Obviously, big question - where would the money go? Well, if the A's manage to get to Vegas, the money would go to team owner John Fisher. He's the son of the founders of clothing retailer Gap. He has a net worth north of $2 billion.

And as you can imagine - I spoke to some fans this week - they are devastated at the prospect. And despite a roster that's been decimated by cuts and trades, Don - it's hard to find anyone recognizable on this team - they packed the stadium - the fans did - to show that they love this team despite its struggles. Many of them wore shirts that said, sell, on the front. Now, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about that display this week, and he appeared to kind of kick those fans when they were down, saying sarcastically, it was great to see an almost average crowd in the facility for one night. And, Don, that didn't go over too well in Oakland.

GONYEA: They called it a reverse boycott.

STEELE: Yeah, they did. Most fans stay away when the team isn't doing too well. They're in last place in the division. They did just the opposite just to show that it's not the fans' fault that they're having attendance issues. They want to see more investment in the team.

GONYEA: And we have one more thing - cycling, the Under-23 Giro d'Italia, one of the world's most prestigious cycling events. I'm shocked to hear that there's cheating, but it's a different kind of cheating. Tell us about it.

STEELE: Yeah, here are some news you can use this morning, Don. If you are in a bicycle race, you cannot hold on to cars and expect to win. But that's what happened - 31 cyclists DQ'd, caught on video holding on to the back of cars and motorbikes. Now, in their defense, they were on a climb, and I'm sure it was really hard. But you can't do that. The race crowns a winner tomorrow, who, presumably, Don, did not hitch a ride from anyone else.

GONYEA: But it makes those hills so much easier (laughter).

STEELE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's so much easier.

GONYEA: Michele Steele of ESPN, thank you very much for joining us.

STEELE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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