Sports briefs for 4-27-14

BETH HARRIS AP Sports Writer Published:

MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Phelps tied the fourth-fastest time in the world this year swimming the 100-meter butterfly in his first competition in nearly two years. His comeback has gotten off to a strong start albeit with a much different approach than he took in winning 22 medals over three Olympics.

After a 20-month retirement, Phelps resumed training last September with his longtime coach Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Center in his hometown. But he didn't pick up the grueling regimen that had ruled his life since he was a teenager.

Phelps has slowly started back and now trains just once a day in the afternoon. No double or triple sessions or plowing through thousands of meters a day.

Call this comeback Phelps 2.0.

While his workload will go up eventually, for now Phelps is doing half the amount of training he did during the height of career, when he won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I'm sort of experimenting with stuff that I didn't have the guts to do before, like not swim as far," Bowman said. "I'm very pleased with how he's doing."

This relaxed approach appears to suit both Phelps and Bowman just fine. Their decades-long partnership -- rare in a sport where swimmers frequently change coaches -- survived fiery clashes as Phelps grew up and rebelled against Bowman's hard-nosed ways.

• Football

Northwestern union vote: In a historic vote, Northwestern University football players cast secret ballots on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes -- a decision that could change the landscape of American amateur sports.

The results of the closely watched vote will not be known for some time. After two rounds of voting on this 19,000-student campus, the ballot boxes were sealed and will remain so for weeks, months, perhaps even years as the university challenges the effort to unionize the team.

Panthers exercise option: Cam Newton is now under contract with the Carolina Panthers for the next two seasons.

The Panthers exercised the fifth-year option on Newton's contract, meaning the former No. 1 draft pick will be with the team at least through the end of the 2015 season. The team made the announcement after previously indicating it hoped to sign Newton to a long-term deal.

• Baseball

Injured Reds: The Cincinnati Reds placed catcher Devin Mesoraco (hamstring) on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a strained left hamstring, and injured closer Aroldis Chapman made a "big step" in his recovery from facial fractures.

Chapman was hit by a line drive during an exhibition game on March 19, breaking his nose and a bone above his left eye. The left-hander looked strong while throwing 43 pitches in batting practice before Saturday night's game against the Braves.

Rules clarification: Baseball clarified the meaning of possession for infielders trying to turn double plays on forceouts, saying they must have complete control of the ball but may drop it after intentionally opening their gloves for transfers to their throwing hands.

Pine tar use: Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says the sport will wait until after the season to study whether the rule preventing pitchers from using pine tar should be changed.

• Basketball

NBA investigating report: The NBA is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man purported to be Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling makes racist remarks while speaking to his girlfriend.

Kentucky twins returning: Kentucky twin freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for a second season to a stocked Wildcats squad coming off an NCAA championship game appearance.

McGary turning pro: Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary is entering the NBA draft, saying he had little choice after testing positive for marijuana during an NCAA tournament he couldn't play in because of an injured back and because he was facing a one-year ban.

Nene suspended: Washington Wizards forward Nene has been suspended by the NBA for Game 4 of the team's first-round series against the Chicago Bulls for head-butting and grabbing Jimmy Butler around the neck with both hands and attempting to throw him down.

• Golf

Bogey free through 54: Seung-Yul Noh became the first player to complete 54 holes at the TPC Louisiana without a bogey and strung together three birdies late in his round Saturday to surge two strokes ahead of Keegan Bradley atop the Zurich Classic leaderboard.

Levy up three: France's Alexander Levy followed his career-best 62 with a 2-under 70 in pelting rain and gusting wind to take a three-stroke lead into the final round of the China Open.

• Elsewhere

Nadal's struggles continue: Top-ranked Rafael Nadal's clay-court struggles worsened as his 41-match winning streak at the Barcelona Open ended with a three-set loss to Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals.

Harvick wins Nationwide: Kevin Harvick pulled away on a restart with 47 laps to go and ended Chase Elliott's two-race winning streak in NASCAR's Nationwide Series with a dominating victory early Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.

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