After Three Rounds of the RBC Heritage, Luke Donald Takes a Two-Stroke Lead.

This has been a tough ‘start-stop-start’ kind of tournament here at Harbour Town, with the rain pouring down intermittently, leaving players having to finish their rounds the next day as rain stopped play. Such it was on the third day, where 65 golfers had to finish Friday’s round before they could all start Saturday’s round…

On Friday, the leader was K.J. Choi but, by the time everyone had finished their rounds in the morning on Saturday, he was sharing that lead with Jim Furyk and Ben Martin.

The rain had certainly affected the course. The fairways were running, and the greens were slick so it was tough to stop a chip shot dead.

Once the rounds started, Nicholas Thompson showed the way, getting five birdies on the front nine and was out in front briefly, seven under par. He managed to lose the lead on the back nine after bogeying the 16th and final holes, but still came in with a respectable 68 to keep him in contention.

Another player who started well was Furyk who shot a wonderful birdie on the second hole, but then never seemed to capitalize on his promising start. As winner of this tournament in 2010, don’t count him out…

And perhaps one more player to watch out for is Matt Kuchar. He led the first day with an amazing bogey-free 66, but then faltered on the front nine on Friday and had to stop his round early due to the rain. He made a good showing in the morning, completing the day before’s round, with four birdies and, after a good round on Saturday shooting a 70, will go into Sunday with high hopes.

By far the best player of the third round was Luke Donald with a 66, and he takes a two-stroke lead at the end of the day. Shooting an eagle and six birdies, Donald is confident about the last day of play, “If I can go out as relaxed and confident as I was today tomorrow. If I can control the trajectory as well as I did today, then hopefully I’ll be sitting here as the winner.”

John Huh lies in second place two strokes under Donald, and tied for third place are Ben Martin, Charl Schwartzel, and Nicholas Thompson.

Sources: Kansas City, Delaware Online, ESPN

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New York Knicks President Fires Head Coach Mike Woodson – No One’s Surprised.

Mike Woodson was appointed coach of the New York Knicks back in March 2012 after former coach Mike D’Antoni was fired. Woodson saw immediate success with the team as they went 18-6 to the season end, winning the Atlantic Division title for the first time in nine years.

Even last season, it looked like Woodson was doing everything right. Their performance of 54-28 was respectable, and the thinking was – particularly from the owner James Dolan – that things were in place to win an NBA title in 2013-14 season.

The New York Knicks started this season ranked 10th, and were looking strong in their opening game as they hammered the Milwaukee Bucks in their first first game. However, the rot set in and the Knicks lost 13 of their next 15 games. But that wasn’t the worst of it as February this year saw them lose six out of seven games.

Despite finishing the season with a 95-92 win over the Toronto Raptors at home, the Knicks finished the season with a dismal 37-45 record. Also, the Knicks were eliminated from being in the playoffs with three games still remaining to the season… a disappointing end to an extremely disappointing season.

Commenting to the press about his situation, Woodson said, “This year has been, for me, it’s been kind of a disaster from a coaching standpoint in trying to get players to compete and play at a high level. That’s the frustrating part about it. Because I know we’re better than what we’ve shown.”

Newly promoted to President, Phil Jackson has fired Woodson and the coaching staff. In as statement, Jackson said, “The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”

Perhaps the worst news of all for the Knicks is that superstar and leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, has asked to opt out of his contract and become a free agent in the offseason.

In other coaching news, head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rick Adelman, has announced his retirement. Adelman is one of eight coaches who make up the 1000-win club. Sadly, his last season wasn’t great for the Timberwolves, and their choice of new coach will be crucial if they’re to improve their performance next season.

Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters, USA Today

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Just Days After the Masters, Graeme McDowell Attempts to Defend His Title at Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Golf Links.

After the emotional trauma of battling in the Masters at Augusta, Atlanta, the RBC Heritage tournament at Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Golf Links is perhaps the kind of contest where you can wind down…

Actually, not a bit of it. Defending champion, Graeme McDowell, didn’t make the cut to get into the third round at the Masters, and is very keen to show that he’s good to win again.

And then there are some players who shone in the Masters, like Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth, who are out to win as much as they can this season. And after their amazing performances at the Masters, both players have risen to sixth and ninth in world rankings – an astonishing job by Spieth who was ranked in the 800s no longer than 18 months ago.

Spieth, tied for second in the Masters, is very much looking forward to playing this tournament, “I’m hungry. That was fun [referring to the Masters] but at the same time it hurts me right now. I didn’t come out on top, but I can take a lot of positives away.”

On the first day of play, last Thursday, Spieth ended up with a two-under-par 69, certainly good enough to get him in contention, just three shots from the lead. Probably what was most important though was that he got to play the first round with none other than the great Tom Watson who dusted off his clubs so that he could check out the potential for his Ryder Cup team.

Another surprise player on the links was Nick Faldo, now 56 years old, and celebrating his win in this tournament 30 years ago. Speaking after his round, he joked with journalists that his preparation for the tournament was driving there, and added, “The problem is as you get older, you can’t run, jump or throw it as far you used to. So, you’d have to have pixie dust so I could play like Nick Faldo used to play. Things change.”

Although Kuchar was on top after day one, Friday was a mess of bad weather, and play was stopped. Right now, K.J. Choi leads the field, and players will be finishing off their rounds on Saturday.

Anything could happen… and probably will!

Sources: Bleacher Report, PGA Tour, USA Today, SB Nation

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Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer and Wawrinka Make It Through to the Semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Of course, the biggest news in the quarterfinals was that David Ferrer won over the #1 seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets. It’s been 10 years since Ferrer has been victorious over Nadal. Since Nadal won the Monte Carlo men’s singles event eight years in a row until last year when he was beaten by Djokovic, he will be sorely missed in the semis.

Not that Djokovic was having an easy time of it. Playing the unseeded Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Djokovic found himself one set down, 4-6. Even in the second set, Djokovic saved a break point in the fifth game, and then two more break points in the seventh game. But building on his momentum, Djokovic then broke Garcia-Lopez twice and took the second set. Garcia-Lopez just seemed to lose his game in the third set, and Djokovic won comfortably, 6-1, to win the match.

Speaking afterwards, Djokovic told the press, “I started very poorly. Garcia-Lopez played well and I had to work for this win. I finally started to play as I wanted in the second set.”

Djokovic meets Roger Federer in the semifinal, their 34th tournament match together. So far this season, Federer won against Djokovic in Dubai, but lost in the men’s singles final to Djokovic in Indian Wells.

Federer beat Wilfried Tsonga from France, but he also didn’t find it easy. In fact, after Tsonga took the first set 6-2, he was 6-5 up in the second set, and he was at 0-30 on Federer’s serve. Just two points away from the semifinals. But that’s when Federer forced a tiebreak, and then won the tiebreak to even up the game. Federer won the last set, 6-1, to win his place in the semis.

Speaking after the match, Federer spoke to journalists, “It was just many things went wrong at the wrong time for me – Jo playing well, me playing wrong at certain times, wrong shot selections. I’m happy I found the way to tough it out.”

Stanislas Wawrinka won his semifinal spot beating Milos Raonic in straight sets, 7-6, 6-2. Wawrinka was feeling confident after his win, “I just feel strong from the baseline. I feel good physically. I know that on clay courts, if I play my best tennis, I can beat those guys.”

Sources: Kansas City, Yahoo!, Sky Sports

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Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal All Make It Into the Quarterfinals at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Although seeded #2 in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, Novac Djokovic is definitely playing some of the best tennis of his career this season, having already won at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. And in the latter, he not only won the title, but beat the #1 seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets to do so.

However, defending champion Djokovic has yet to be tested in this current tournament, and took only 47 minutes to oust Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1. Busta was obviously overwhelmed by Djokovic but, hand it to the crowd, almost the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Busta won his one and only game in the second set.

Speaking after the match, Djokovic told the press, “Lost only two games in the first two matches. Can’t be better than this, for sure. I am confident on the court. I’m coming off a great American hard-court season. I’ve had more time comparing to last year to practice on the clay courts and to get my game to the level where I want it to be.”

Djokovic will play Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinal.

Nadal also had a fairly easy time of it, beating Andreas Seppi from Italy in two straight sets, 6-1. 6-3. This was Nadal’s 300th win on clay, and you know that he’s in the running for this year’s title – as he won for eight consecutive years before Djokovic bested him last year.

Talking to journalists about his performance as well as his next match against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, Nadal said, “Today, I played a little better than yesterday. I was playing at a good level. David is a tough, tough player on any surface.  But here on clay, always a big challenge.”

Roger Federer, seeded #4 in this contest, started off slow in the first set, down 1-3 after four games. But Federer powered up his performance in the fifth game and went on to win 6-4, 6-1.

Federer acknowledged his slow start, “It was a bit rocky in the beginning.”

Sources: Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, Tennis Now

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Real Madrid Beat Barcelona, 2-1, to Win the Copa del Ray.

If you didn’t already know, the Copa del Ray is ‘King’s Cup’ translated from the Spanish. The full name of the contest is Campeonato de Espana Copa de Su Majestad el Rey… and that’s why they just call it Copa del Ray! Held since 1903, it’s an annual soccer competition for clubs only in Spain.

And just so you know, Barcelona has won the cup 26 times and finished as runners-up 11 times.

Real Madrid looked the stronger team in the first half, dominating play throughout but, aside from Angel Di Maria scoring in the 11th minute, never seemed able to capitalize on their strong attack strategies. They also seemed slow to react in defense – but that changed in the second half.

However, being one goal up seemed to put the game into stalemate, Real Madrid unable to score again, but putting up such a strong defense so Barcelona could never get through to score.

Everything changed in the 22nd minute of the second half when one of the Barcelona defenders, Marc Barta – who everyone thought would miss the game through injury – headed in a corner kick and the Real Madrid goalkeeper, Iker Casilla, let in his first goal in the entire competition.

The game even, it was like everyone snapped back to attention and the final 20 minutes of the game produced some of the most exciting soccer we’ve seen from these two teams this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to play on the Real Madrid side due to injury, but in the last few minutes of the game, it was like he was there in spirit. There couldn’t have been a person in the stadium who didn’t remember Ronaldo snatching the title from Barcelona in the last minutes of the final back in 2011. And this time, it was all down to Welshman, Gareth Bale.

With just five minutes left in regulation time, Bale got the ball on the left-hand side of the field just inside the Madrid half. Running down the left wing, he literally outran the defender, took the ball into the penalty area and knocked the ball under the Jose Pinto, the Barca goalkeeper.

The Barcelona manager, Gerardo Martino, had this to say about Bale’s amazing run, “It is difficult to see a player be able to sprint like that at that stage of the game.”

Sources: Sports Illustrated, BBC, NESN

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NASCAR Giant, Gene Haas, Is Accepted by the FIA to Enter Formula 1 Motor Racing.

Applications had to be in by February 10th and decisions should have been made by February 28th – but better late than never the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) – the Formula 1 governing body – has accepted the application made by NASCAR’s Gene Haas to enter his own F1 race team.

The FIA is also considering another application from Colin Kolles – former principal for Jordan, Midland, Spyker, Force India and HRT – for Forza Rossa.

In a statement released by the FIA, it was announced, “In close consultation with the CRH [commercial rights holder], the FIA has accepted the candidature of Haas Formula LLC and are in the process of conducting further investigations for Forza Rossa.”

Speaking to the press about the successful application, Haas said, “Obviously, we’re extremely pleased to have been granted a Formula One license by the FIA. It’s an exciting time for me, Haas Automation and anyone who wanted to see an American team return to Formula One. Now, the really hard work begins. It’s a challenge we embrace as we work to put cars on the grid.”

Founded in 1983, Haas Automation is the one of the biggest machine tool builders in the world and has an amazing track record in NASCAR racing, winning the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2011. Haas teamed up with Tony Stewart in 2002 to form the Stewart-Haas race team sporting drivers that include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Danica Patrick.

The Haas company also operates the world’s most sophisticated wind tunnel in the world, Windshear, which will be a huge advantage to the new team as they’re building formula 1 cars.

The last time anyone tried to put together an all-American F1 team, the effort failed due to lack of funding. With the Haas organization behind this new application, that shouldn’t be a problem.

In other FIA news, they’re discussing the new V6 turbo hybrid engines that F1 cars are using now. The problem? They’re too quiet. Fans are complaining that the lack of engine noise is spoiling their enjoyment of the live experience of Grand Prix. More to come on that when the FIA next meets in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss…

Sources: Reuters, Bangkok Post, Sports Illustrated, Independent Tribune

 

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Fernando Verdasco Beats Nicolas Almagro to Win the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Let’s face it, Spain has a lot of great tennis players – there’s Rafael Nadal right on top of the pack, and another seven Spaniards in the top 50. And on Sunday, at River Oaks in Houston, Texas, two of the finest that Spain has to offer were battling it out in the final of the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

If anything, Nicolas Almagro was the favorite. He was not only the third seed for this tournament, but he was also the runner-up in last year’s final to John Isner. He’d also had less playing time as he got a walk-over in the semis as Sam Querry was suffering from back injuries.

The number four seed, Fernando Verdasco was all over Almagro in the first set and, although every point was hard-fought, Verdasco won comfortably, 6-3.

The second set was even tougher, with amazing baseline contests between the two players that had the crowd cheering with excitement. Games went to server throughout the set, and the only nail-biter came in the ninth game with Verdasco serving. Alamgro missed five break points to break Verdasco’s serve, and the set ended up in a tiebreaker which Verdasco won to win the title.

Speaking to the press after the game, Verdasco said, “The key was my mentality during the week. I keep going on every point no matter how tired or how good I was feeling. I didn’t finish perfect because we [plus David Marrero] lost the doubles final, and we were very close to winning. But it was great I was able to win today.”

Talking about his performance, Verdasco added, “We both in general played good. I think I took more chances than he did and that’s why I won the first set. But all the time against Nico there are difficult matches. I know I need to be 100 percent on every point. It is a tough situation. We have been playing many times, knowing each other for a long time. At the same time you are feeling so happy you have won you are also feeling bad for him. I know how hard it is to lose a final.”

Sources: Chron, Sky Sports, Washington Times

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Bubba Watson Takes a Three-Stroke Lead to Win his Second Green Masters Jacket.

After three grueling rounds of golf at the Augusta National course in Atlanta, the day started off with the lead shared by Bubba Watson – winner of the Green Jacket in 2012 – and the youngest player ever to share the lead, 20-year old Jordan Spieth.

And it looked as though history was going to be made as Jordan Spieth began his round, and was two strokes up over Watson as he strolled on to the eighth tee. But then the tables were turned, Spieth missed an easy five-foot putt to bogey, while Watson made a birdie.

And again, on the ninth hole, it was deja vu as Spieth missed a five-foot putt for par while Watson hit a tough 12-foot putt through all kinds of curls to make his birdie and go two strokes up.

Speaking after the game, Spieth told the press, “Two two-stroke swings in a row, on this golf course, is very difficult to come back from. Hats off to Bubba.  When he’s playing like that it’s hard to catch him.”

Watson bogeyed the 10th, but then skillfully managed Amen Corner – the famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National that have been the downfall of so many golfers. While Spieth bogeyed the 12th, Watson made careful pars and then birdied the par-three 13th putting him three strokes in front of his rivals.

After the match, Watson told journalists, “I don’t remember the last few holes. I just remember hanging on. I was just thinking, ‘Make pars. Make pars.’”

And that’s exactly what he did, shooting a three-under par 69 to win his second green jacket.

Jubilantly, Watson told the crowd at the 18th hole, “I never loved green so much. After giving away that jacket last year, I wanted it back.”

Watson is the now the 17th multiple winner of the Masters tournament, and this is his sixth major career title.

Sharing second place were Jonas Blixt and Spieth, with Miguel Angel Jimenez coming in fourth.

And just a few words on the fortunes of young Spieth. A year and half ago, he was ranked as #810 in the world, 10 months ago he was #276. After his performance in the Masters, Spieth is now ranked as the ninth best golfer in the world. Watson moves from #12 to #4.

Sources: Business World Online, CBS Sports, Christian Science Monitor

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Bubba Watson Takes Over the Lead After Day Two of the Masters at Augusta National.

It was good to see young Bill Haas leading the way on the first day of the Masters – that’s certainly something to write home about. But the first day is the first day, and Haas had a lot of people on his tail who have now overtaken him on the leaderboard – sadly, Haas does not even appear in the first 15, finishing the day with a two-over-par, 78.

Bubba Watson played an exceptional round on day one, bogey-free, ending up three under par, 69. That put him one stroke behind the leader, and perfectly in place for the second day. And what a day, Watson was on fire from the tee, his fairway shots were superb and, after a few holes, his putting was exactly how he’d want it to be.

Perhaps the finest part of his performance on Friday was in the middle of his round when he birdied five holes in a row, from the 12th through the 16th. Watch the entire tournament and you probably won’t see a finer streak of golfing genius.

Watson’s four under par 68 now places him three shots ahead of his nearest competitor.

Speaking after his round, Watson told the press, “Just got to keep my head down – same thing I’ve been doing the last two days, same thing I did earlier this year. Just keep my head down and not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff. Trying to stay level; not too energized, not too excited.”

While Watson’s up front, there’s a bunch of guys just waiting for their chance at stealing the limelight. John Senden is just three strokes behind Watson, and one stroke after him, there’s a tie for third place between Thomas Bjorn, Jonas Blixt, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth.

Somehow, Rory McIlroy – who seemed to be having no end of bad luck on the course – managed to make the cut. But there’s a few who didn’t, including Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Trevor Immelman.

Sources: ESPN, SB Nation, UK Independent

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