Woods targets 15th major title at sun-kissed Muirfield

first_imgBy Ed OsmondTiger Woods will start the 142nd British Open at Muirfield on Thursday as favourite to win his 15th major title but the odds on the world number one are in double figures for the first time in 13 years.Defending champion Ernie Els is 25-1 to retain the title at a course where he lifted the Claret Jug 11 years ago and U.S. Open winner Justin Rose is 20-1 to become the first English winner of the tournament since Nick Faldo in 1992.Woods, who has not won a major for five years, is excited by the challenge of playing the course in fine weather conditions, a sharp contrast to 2002 when his hopes at Muirfield were scuppered by a third-round 81 in driving wind and rain.“I’m looking forward to it,” the American told a news conference. “What a fantastic championship on one of the best venues.“It’s playing really fast out there. The golf course has got a little bit of speed to it and I’m sure it will get really quick by the weekend so the golf course is set up perfectly.”Woods said he was feeling very good about his form.“I’ve had a pretty good year so far, won four times even though I haven’t won a major,” he added.“It’s just a shot here and there. It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalising on an opportunity here and there. That’s what you have to do to win major championships.”Els, 43, rolled back the years at Lytham 12 months ago, taking advantage of Adam Scott’s meltdown over the closing holes to seal his fourth major championship.“I just feel this is a great golf course,” the South African said. “It reminds me a little bit of Lytham.“Obviously last week I didn’t make the cut at the Scottish Open but I’ve had some extra time coming into the event and feel quite good about my game. I’m striking it nicely.”American Phil Mickelson, four-times a major champion, won last week’s Scottish Open and is 20-1 to win his first British Open, the same odds as Rose and Australian Scott who made up for his Lytham disappointment by winning this year’s U.S. Masters.BRITISH CHALLENGERose leads the British challenge as the nation’s golfers bid to ride a wave of sporting success that has also brought a rare rugby series win for the British & Irish Lions, Andy Murray’s stunning Wimbledon triumph and a nerve-jangling victory for England in a dramatic first Ashes test.“Rose is a strong contender,” said Faldo who is making a rare appearance in the Open this year.“It’s all been a process. It didn’t happen overnight, this has been a concerted plan for the last four years. Rose’s game has slowly been climbing. He might be strong enough to come out and carry on.”Former world number ones Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will also be flying the British flag as they bid to end their long waits for a first major crown.Twice major winner Rory McIlroy is alongside Westwood as a 25-1 shot to win the Open.The Northern Irishman, however, has struggled since switching clubs at the start of the year and bookmaker Ladbrokes is also offering odds of 4-1 on him missing the cut.The sun is expected to shine throughout the four-day tournament and, if it does, Woods will be a happy man as he wrestles with the unique challenges of links golf.“I fell in love with links golf when I came here 17 years ago,” he said. “Because we play generally everywhere around the world an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop.“Here it’s different,” added Woods who won his third and last British Open title at Hoylake seven years ago.“A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. I just absolutely love it.”last_img read more

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Consecutive defeats expose England’s lowered expectations

first_imgBy Martyn HermanSuccessive defeats at Wembley for the first time since 1977 would have provoked an avalanche of criticism in the more deluded days of old but reaction to a humbling few days for England was relatively muted on Wednesday.The fact that manager Roy Hodgson has not been lampooned as a vegetable, tabloid treatment once dished out to the likes of Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor, highlights just how far expectations have fallen.After Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Germany, four days after a 2-0 loss to Chile, Hodgson was quick to talk up England’s year, even though it has ended with two defeats against high-calibre opposition.“We achieved our goal of qualification,” he said of securing a slot in the World Cup, but he did admit that he was disappointed by his team’s lack of quality.The Daily Mail’s back page said England were ‘second rate’ while talking of the ‘gulf in quality’ between Hodgson’s side and the experimental one fielded by German coach Joachim Loew.The Times said Hodgson had been given ‘cold comfort’ while The Independent at least talked up the contribution of captain Steven Gerrard, described as a ‘relic of a bygone England era’.Unfortunately, the present era looks bleak, with England paying the price for failing to begin a brave new world with fresh blood following the 2010 World Cup exit at the hands of Germany.That is not Hodgson’s fault as he has inherited an ageing squad, too many mediocre players and little time to fast-track younger players into the fold.Simply reaching next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil, having picked their way through a none-too-imposing qualifying group, appears to be reason for Hodgson to be satisfied.There was nothing in the displays against Chile or Germany, however, to suggest that England will make an impact in Brazil.With France and Portugal coming through their playoffs on Tuesday, at least five other European nations will head to South America next year with more probable chance of success.On the evidence of the friendlies against Chile and Germany, England have shortcomings all over the pitch.Without John Terry and Rio Ferdinand to call on these days, they look timid and disorganised at the back with centre backs Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, whichever combination Hodgson chooses, prone to errors and vulnerable to the kind of fast, incisive passing the top nations excel at.The midfield area has plenty of experience with the likes of skipper Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and James Milner but lacks pace and flair with a huge amount of expectation lumped on the shoulders of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.Andros Townsend showed fleeting glimpses of his talent and struck a post with England’s only noteworthy effort on goal as they failed to test Germany’s 33-year-old debutant goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller.Wayne Rooney is England’s one truly world class offensive player (Hodgson would probably like to wrap him in cotton wool for the next six months) but the Manchester United man often looks frustrated in a traditional striking role.The sight of him reduced to chasing down Chilean defenders last week and dropping ever deeper in a desperate search for possession against Germany was a dispiriting one.Daniel Sturridge, in such rich form for Liverpool, has yet to impose himself on the international stage but Hodgson has few top-class options having chosen to discard Peter Crouch, England’s most consistently scoring striker in recent years.At Euro 2012 Hodgson adopted a safety-first policy, packing his side with the tried and trusted with predictably unspectacular results, but he will be under pressure to freshen things up in Brazil with the likes of Townsend, Southampton’s Adam Lallana and Everton youngster Ross Barkley in the frame.However, all three are new to the international scene and with only one friendly against Denmark in March for a final look at his troops, Hodgson has more questions than answers as he ponders his best side for Brazil.last_img read more

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Bayern frontline needs improvement despite win over City

first_imgBy Karolos GrohmannBayern Munich’s last-minute victory over Manchester City may have left fans delighted with a winning Champions League Group E start but highlighted their need to improve their finishing after missing a string of clear chances.Last season’s Bundesliga striker Robert Lewandowski, brought in to boost their frontline, has yet to score in a competitive game for the Bavarians and on Wednesday the Poland international had his own share of missed opportunities.“We are happy with the winning start and the three points but obviously we could have scored much earlier and it may have turned out to be an easier game than it was,” said captain Philipp Lahm.“We had huge chances in the first half and over 90 minutes we had the far better opportunities to score.”Bayern needed a 90th minute goal from defender Jerome Boateng after they saw City keeper Joe Hart deny them on several occasions despite dominating the game and having close to 60 per cent possession.Apart from Hart, they also had their own finishing to blame for not taking an earlier lead with Thomas Mueller and Lewandowski, among other, firing into the side-netting from close range.In their defence, a string of injuries have contributed to the Bavarians still looking for last season’s explosiveness that led them to the domestic league and Cup double.Winger Franck Ribery and playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger are still out injured and while new transfers Xabi Alonso and Mehdi Benatia add confidence at the back, their front line is still far from peaking.World Cup fatigue among many of the Bayern players has also played its role in their less-than-spectacular start as well as the absences of Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber through injuries.“Not everything was super today but we fought until the end and we were then rewarded,” scorer Boateng said.The introduction of Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who had also been out injured for a few weeks, late in the game of Wednesday instantly added spark and pace down the wings and it was a move he started that eventually led to Boateng’s winner.It should be a different picture once coach Pep Guardiola has a full fit squad to choose from and Lewandowski breaks his goal drought with Roma and CSKA Moscow also in their Champions League group.“What is very positive is that we carved out that many scoring chances,” said Robben. “I think we are on the right track.”last_img read more

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Paphos Triathlon sees record turnout

first_imgBy Andreas VouThe 2015 Paphos Triathlon saw a turnout of 179 athletes on Sunday, which succeeded in breaking the record number of participants of last year’s event by some distance.Sponsors and organisers were hoping to put the town of Paphos on the sporting map in what was the third annual edition of the triathlon, and that goal was certainly achieved on Sunsday.Hundreds of spectators gathered to witness the three stages of the two enduring triathlon events which began just before 8am on a sunny day in Kato Paphos.The event was split into two different races; the Sprint Triathlon and the Olympic Triathlon. Both featured a lengthy bike ride, swim and run. Of the 179 total participants, 69 of those were comprised of 21 teams of three (one for each of the three stages of the triathlon) while the large part, 116 athletes, competed solo.Stavros Antoniou of the Famagusta Nautical Club crossed the line of the Olympic Triathlon first – it was a new feature to this year’s event which included a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, while Russian athlete Ilya Prasolov came first in the Sprint Triathlon.The highlight of the event was the moment when winner of the women’s Olympic Triathlon, Carmen Macheriotou, upon crossing the finish line ran to her two-month-old newborn child who was awaiting her at the finishing line along with the father. As in the men’s event, the winner of the women’s Sprint Triathlon, Alexandra Razarenova, hailed from Russia. Speaking before the start, the chairman of the Triathlon’s board, Andreas Demetriades, was hopeful that the event could provide a boost to the town on both a sporting and tourism level.“This race is in effect harnessing the popular sports activities in the district and bringing them together so that they can be showcased to the world as a sport and tourism destination,” said Demetriades – with the record turnout on Sunday vindicating the chairman’s optimism.The Paphos Triathlon is one of four such events on the Cypriot Triathlon Federation’s calendar and was organised by Paphos Municipality and Bikin’ Cyprus. Sponsors of the event were the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, the Paphos Regional Board of Tourism, sporting supplement company GU, Bonk Breaker, Mavros and Thanos Hotels.last_img read more

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Ecuador maintains perfect start, wins for Argentina and Brazil

first_imgMidfielder Lucas Biglia scored a 20th minute goal to kick start Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 away win over Colombia at the Metropolitano on Tuesday.It was Argentina’s first win in four qualifiers and leaves them with five points, still well behind leaders Ecuador, who had upset them 2-0 at home in their opening match last month.Biglia began the attack in the Argentina half, Ever Banega carried on the move with a pass out to Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right and his low cross beat David Ospina, allowing Biglia, following up, to tap into the unguarded net.Argentina had chances to make the result safer but substitute striker Paulo Dybala had a goal disallowed and minutes later hit the post.An inspired performance from Douglas Costa helped Brazil to a 3-0 win over Peru on Tuesday and lifted them into third place in the South American qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.Costa scored the first after 21 minutes and then laid on the second for Renato Augusto 12 minutes into the second half. Filipe Luis grabbed a third in 76 minutes after the keeper parried Costa’s ferocious drive from the right wing.“It was very important to win after the draw in Argentina and we did well,” said Luis, who scored his first international goal. “The team is growing and getting better every game and we are finding a style of play that we want.”Ecuador ruthlessly exposed Venezuela’s defensive frailties on their way to a 3-1 win which kept them top of the South American World Cup qualifiers with a perfect record on Tuesday.Jefferson Montero, scorer of the second goal, was at the heart of Ecuador’s best moves as they pulled the hosts apart to make it four wins in as many games in the single 10-team group.Venezuela, who have never qualified for a World Cup, are bottom of the table after losing all four games.After a lively start by the home side, Fidel Martinez had the ball in the net in the 10th minute for Ecuador, but his effort was ruled offside.Martinez made no mistake five minutes later, however, racing through to drill past goalkeeper Alain Baroja after Venezuela lost possession in midfield.Ecuador, who fell at the group stage in Brazil last year, struck the knockout blow in the 23rd when a clearance by Baroja, under no pressure, was intercepted by Miller Bolanos.Bolanos fed Montero and the pair exchanged passes before Montero wrong-footed Baroja with a clever dummy and fired into the net.Venezuela took control in the second half and created several openings but every time they lost the ball, Ecuador, who have already beaten Argentina away, looked like scoring.Felipe Caicedo crowned Ecuador’s performance when he met Montero’s cross with a powerful, looping header from just inside the penalty area to score the third on the hour.last_img read more

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Former top officials get life bans for doping blackmail

first_imgBy Mitch PhillipsTwo top Russian athletics officials and the son of former world governing body President Lamine Diack were banned from the sport for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test and blackmailing her over it.The bans follow last year’s World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that found a state-sponsored culture of doping in Russia and prompted the country’s suspension from the sport.The report shook world athletics and raised doubts over Russia’s participation in this year’s Olympics Games.Valentin Balakhnichev, the former head of the Russian athletics federation, the country’s former head distance coach Aleksey Melnikov, and Papa Massata Diack, a former marketing consultant to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) were all handed life bans by the IAAF Ethics Commission.“We are angered by the betrayal of our sport by these individuals,” European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen said in a statement, demanding Balakhnichev be stripped of his Honorary Council member status with the organisation.Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, however, accused the IAAF of trying to divert attention away from publication next week of the second part of WADA’s investigation which is expected to criticise the world governing body.“They are correcting their own image,” he told Russia’s R-Sport agency.The IAAF‘s former doping chief Gabrielle Dolle was also banned for five years after all four men were found to have been involved in taking payment for covering up positive drugs tests or turning a blind eye to the activities.The IAAF scandal, which officials accept could extend to other countries, coincides with a corruption scandal shaking world soccer governing body FIFA that has resulted in bans and arrests around the world.Thursday’s sanctions related primarily to the case of Russian former London marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova, who paid $600,000 to have positive dope tests covered up.She was subsequently allowed to compete at the 2012 Olympics and the lucrative Chicago marathon but then gave evidence on the matter to WADA.“The quality of the breaches determined as proven by the Panel need no hyperbolic exaggeration,” the report said.Three senior IAAF officials had, it said, conspired to conceal for more than three years anti-doping violations by an athlete at what appeared to be the pinnacle of her sport.SINS OF OMISSION“The Panel considers in the light of its findings that VB (Balakhnichev), AM (Melnikov) and PMD (Diack) should be banned for life from any further involvement in any way in the sport of track and field.It said that in Dolle’s case “his sins were those of omission, rather than commission”. Balakhnichev and Diack were also fined 25,000 dollars and Melnikov 15,000.The R-Sport agency said Balakhnichev had described the ban as “politicised” and that he intended to appeal; but sports minister Mutko said there was no point in appealing as the ban “had been expected”.“There are no facts, but they make it (look) as if Balakhnichev is the author of the whole system of corruption in world athletics. I’m not surprised by that.”The Monaco-based IAAF, reeling from a succession of doping and graft scandals, said it was “angered to see that individuals have in the panel’s finding ‘conspired to extort what were in substance bribes from the athletes by acts of blackmail’.”“The IAAF has already introduced corrective measures to make sure this sort of interference can’t happen again.”Sebastian Coe, who succeeded Lamine Diack — who is also under investigation by French authorities — as president last August, said: “The life bans announced could not send a stronger message that those who attempt to corrupt or subvert the sport of athletics will be brought to justice.”WADA held back the second part of its report, pending French police and Interpol investigations. The IAAF Commission panel said there had been no requests for an adjournment because of those enquiries.last_img read more

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Van Gaal relief as Man Utd march into FA Cup last eight

first_imgManchester United provided some blessed relief to under-fire manager Louis van Gaal by powering into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 3-0 romp at League One (third-tier) Shrewsbury Town on Monday.Van Gaal, the subject of fierce criticism following Thursday’s shock 2-1 Europa League first-leg defeat at little-known Danes Midtjylland, was given few worries four days later as United strolled to their first victory in four matches.The visitors went 2-0 up through Chris Smalling and Juan Mata after a one-sided first half and a 61st-minute goal by Jesse Lingard made the fifth round tie safe.United, who need to lift the trophy one more time to equal Arsenal’s record haul of 12 FA Cup triumphs, next host in-form West Ham United in the second week of March.last_img read more

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Coquelin injury short-term, says Wenger

first_imgArsenal manager Arsene Wenger has allayed fears that Francis Coquelin could face a lengthy spell on the sidelines, describing the midfielder’s knee injury as “short-term”.Coquelin was forced off in the first half of Arsenal’s 3-0 Premier League win over Chelsea on Saturday.The 25-year-old Frenchman missed around two months of last season with a knee injury, but Wenger played down fears of a recurrence ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League match against Basel on Wednesday.“Francis Coquelin is out for the game tomorrow – it should be a short-term injury. The scan was quite positive,” Wenger told reporters on Tuesday.Arsenal drew 1-1 with Paris St Germain in their opening Group A game.last_img read more

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Chelsea beat City, Spurs late show stuns Swans

first_imgChelsea recovered from their shock weekend blip with Eden Hazard’s double securing a nervy 2-1 victory over Manchester City that maintained a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League.Their defeat by Crystal Palace on Saturday re-ignited the title race but Chelsea responded with a gritty display.Hazard’s deflected strike gave the hosts a 10th-minute lead although City keeper Willy Caballero should have saved his effort.Sergio Aguero levelled with a tap-in after 26 minutes following a poor clearance by keeper Thibaut Courtois but Hazard restored Chelsea’s lead against the run of play in the 35th with a rebound after his weak penalty was saved by Caballero.City skipper Vincent Kompany, starting a league match for the first time since November, grazed the top of Chelsea’s crossbar early in the second half.Antonio Conte’s Londoners had to dig deep late on and had one enormous let-off in stoppage time when John Stones fired over the bar with the goal gaping.Tottenham meanwhile produced a spectacular late comeback to beat Swansea City 3-1 with three goals in seven minutes as the clock counted down at the Liberty Stadium. Spurs trailed to an early Wayne Routledge goal heading into the 88th minute but strikes in quick succession by Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen kept Spurs in the title hunt and dropped Swansea into the relegation zone.Elsewhere, Arsenal re-ignited their stuttering top-four challenge, climbing above Manchester United into fifth place, with a 3-0 home victory over West Ham United.Rumours of a fan protest were well founded with many empty seats visible during an otherwise uneventful first hour which yielded few chances before Mesut Ozil curled in a 58th-minute opener.Theo Walcott doubled the Gunners’ advantage, finishing a slick passing move with a close-range finish 10 minutes later, before Olivier Giroud came off the bench and scored a sublime third to seal his side’s second win in seven games.Arsenal have 54 points from 29 games, while West Ham, who suffered a fifth straight loss, are 15th with 33 from 31.Liverpool’s hopes of a top-four finish were dented when Bournemouth’s Joshua King stabbed home an 86th-minute equaliser to rescue a 2-2 draw at Anfield.The hosts, who stay third on 60 points, fell behind after seven minutes thanks to a howler from midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, whose back pass played in Benik Afobe to round the keeper and slot home.Only a terrific challenge from James Milner prevented Afobe doubling the visitors’ lead, but Liverpool regrouped and were level five minutes before half-time as Philippe Coutinho threaded home from 10 metres after being played in by Roberto Firmino.Wijnaldum redeemed himself with a perfect cross for Divock Origi to head Liverpool ahead just before the hour, but the Merseysiders’ hopes of a fourth win in their last five matches were shredded by King’s late intervention.At St Mary’s, Maya Yoshida and James Ward-Prowse spared Shane Long’s blushes as Southampton hit two goals in as many minutes to sink Crystal Palace 3-1.Republic of Ireland striker Long spurned a trio of gilt-edged chances and Saints were almost made to pay for that wastefulness, until Yoshida came to the rescue.The Japan defender’s tap-in seven minutes from time turned this Premier League tie, after Christian Benteke and Nathan Redmond had traded first-half goals.Hull City kept alive their bid to avoid relegation after coming from behind to beat Middlesbrough 4-2 and pile more pressure on their beleaguered rivals.The result lifted Hull out of the drop zone into 17th position on 30 points from 31 games, while Boro remained 19th with 23 points from 30 matches after stretching their winless league run to 13 games..last_img read more

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