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Stenson edges Mickelson in classic duel

Henrik Stenson has won the British Open at Royal Troon after a thrilling final round. The Swede clinched his first major title at the 42nd attempt. Phil Mickelson finished three shots behind in what was a classic two-man duel over the weekend. The pair was in a league of their own and finished 11 shots clear of the field.

In claiming the famous Claret Jug, 40 year old Stenson becomes the first Scandinavian man to win a major. In a fierce battle that will be remembered fondly in years to come, the world no.6 Stenson finally broke the deadlock sinking long birdie putts at 14 and 15. Even with two bogeys, he carded a major record-equalling round of 63, just as Mickelson did on Thursday.

Stenson finished at 20 under par which breaks the British Open record, previously set at 19 under by Tiger Woods in 2000. He also equals Jason Day’s all-time major record score set at last year’s PGA Championship.

Mickelson, at 46, was looking to become the oldest Open champion since Old Tom Morris 149 years ago. He shot a fabulous, bogey-free round of six under 65, including an eagle at the fourth. And it should have been enough to secure his sixth major title if it wasn’t for the metronomic Stenson.

The epic showdown evoked memories of the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ Open at Turnberry in 1977 when Tom Watson edged Jack Nicklaus. Right from the start, you could tell it was going to be a special day. Both played clutch golf in an extremely high standard round, even better than the day before. Each time one lifted the bar; the other matched, or bettered. It was that good. Very rarely was a fairway missed. The iron shots were often within ten feet of the pin. And the putts were outstanding.

This win was coming for Stenson, though. Just like Dustin Johnson last month, he was due. After four previous top-three finishes at majors and 19 titles to his name, there was a feeling of inevitability about the Swede eventually winning a maiden major.

“I felt like this was going to be my time. It makes it even more special to beat a competitor like Phil. He’s been one of the best to play the game and certainly in the last 20 years”, said Stenson.

In his acceptance speech, Stenson dedicated the win to a friend from Dubai who died of cancer this week. “I felt like he was there with me.”

Mickelson was magnanimous in defeat. “It’s disappointed to come in second by I’m happy for Henrik. He’s a great champion and we’ve been friends for some time. I played close to flawless golf and got beat.”

 

 

Round 17 AFL summary

Hawthorn has maintained top spot on the ladder after a thrilling five point win over Sydney in what could have been a grand final preview. Cyril Rioli kicked the match winning goal from 55 metres to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It was the Hawks fourth win by less than a goal this season. The real star of the final quarter, though, was Shaun Burgoyne. He kicked two clutch goals and finished with 26 disposals.

Geelong beat Fremantle in an unconvincing performance by 17 points to ensure their top four chances remain alive. In a low-scoring game, Patrick Dangerfield was again outstanding, kicking four goals and racking up 31 disposals to poll a probable three Brownlow votes. Bizarrely, Cats coach Chris Scott said after the game his team does not deserve to be classified as top four material but hopes that chances by season’s end.

Dustin Martin continued his imperious form by helping Richmond beat old rivals Essendon in a hard fought 19 point win. Martin, a lock for the Tigers best and fairest award this year, had a round-high 43 touches and two goals. However, the yellow and black were without Brett Deledio for the second half as he suffered a calf injury. Essendon only trailed by one point with ten minutes remaining, but poor goal-kicking cost them as Richmond kicked the last three goals of the game.

Port Adelaide kept their slim top eight hopes alive and simultaneously put into jeopardy North Melbourne’s in a classic ‘eight point game’. The Power did the damage early with 10 goals to three in the first half to eventually win by 28 points. North had momentum in Q3 were self-combusting because they kicked a horrendous 2.9. Port captain Travis Boak was best on ground with 35 possessions.

Adelaide marked club stalwart Scott Thompson’s 300th game with a 28 point win over Collingwood to move to second on the ladder. Eddie Betts, certain to be the all-Australian team, kicked three goals. The Crows set up the win by kicking the first five goals of the game. It was fairly competitive thereafter, but the damage had already been done. Collingwood can at least be satisfied with their defensive display. It is just the fourth time this season Adelaide has been held to less than 100 points.

Western Bulldogs thrashed an injury-depleted Gold Coast in Cairns by 48 points to move to third on the ladder. Picking on a team missing Gary Ablett, among others, was easy meat for the Dogs but the win may have come at a cost. Jake Stringer, a player who has been a match winner at times this season, suffered a suspected shoulder injury from a Steven May bump. Koby Stevens and Marcus Bontempelli were two of the Dogs best.

West Coast survived a late Carlton fightback to win by seven points at the MCG. This win did little to shorten the Eagles premiership but coach Adam Simpson will just be relieved to bank the four points. Sam Docherty was inspiring for the Blues but ultimately West Coast had too many avenues to goal with Jamie Cripps kicking three and Mark Lecras among a group of three others with two goals.

St Kilda beat Melbourne by 36 points at Etihad Stadium to keep alive a faint chance of making the top eight. Tim Membrey was awesome for the Saints kicking four goals and grabbing 10 marks. Maverick Weller and Leigh Montagna were also noteworthy contributors. For the Dees, Max Gawn and Jack Viney impressed. Melbourne continues their horrible record at Etihad. They’ve now won one out of their last 25 games.

Brisbane hit rock bottom in a 79 point loss to GWS. It was a club record 12th consecutive loss and the crowd attendance of 10,195 was the lowest ever crowd at the Gabba for a Lions match. Josh Kelly and Callan Ward were gold class for the Giants, each kicking three goals and starring in midfield. Stephan Coniglio and Dylan Shiel also had over 30 touches to show just how much midfield depth this team has. GWS dominated the middle two quarters, kicking 17 goals to five.

 

 

Mickelson misses history-making 62

Phil Mickelson lit up the opening round of the 145th British Open, just missing out on a history-making 62. Instead, he carded just the 28th round of 63 in major history to lead Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer by three shots at eight under.

“It was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played”, said Mickelson.

The American, nicknamed ‘Lefty’, made four birdies on the front nine including one on the famous Postage Stamp – Royal Troon’s signature eighth hole, a short par three. He went on to make another four birdies on the much tougher back nine and had a chance to be the first golfer in history to shoot an elusive 62. He was so close, millimetres away in fact.

The winner of five majors, including the 2013 British Open when it was held in Muirfield, had an 18-foot birdie putt on the last. And Mickelson was about to jump in celebration before agonisingly seeing the ball lip out of the hole.

On a stunning day of sunshine and hardly any wind, rare for the Scottish west coast, Mickelson could not really enjoy shooting the equal best round in major history, instead lamenting his miss on the 18th hole.

“I was able to take advantage of these conditions and yet I want to shed a tear right now. That putt on 18 was an opportunity to do something historical. I knew it, and with a foot to go, I thought I had done it. I saw that ball rolling right in the centre.”

“I went to go get it. I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62 and then I had the heartbreak that I didn’t and watched that ball lip out. It was, wow, that stings. It was just heartbreaking.”

 

Once Mickelson wakes up tomorrow, he’ll realise he can’t be too heartbroken because he’s ahead of world no.1 Jason Day by 10 strokes. Of the other pre-tournament favourites, Rory McIlroy carded 69 while Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth made even par 71s.

At 46, Mickelson has the chance to make more history on Sunday. He can be the second oldest Open champion since Old Tom Morris at Prestwick in 1867.

 

 

 

French Open 2014 Preview

In the history of tennis, never has a player monopolised one of the four Majors like Rafael Nadal at the French Open. 

No one even comes close to his 59-1 record at Roland Garros. Since 2005, he’s come to Paris nine times and lifted La Coupe des Mousquetaires on eight occasions – his lone blemish came in 2009, a loss to Robin Soderling in the Round of 16.

But Nadal has been uncharacteristically shaky on clay this season. Although he’ll probably start favourite again, his aura of invincibility is a little diminished this year. Rare losses on clay to compatriots David Ferrer (Monte Carlo) and Nicolas Almagro (Barcelona) were compounded by the crucial loss to arch-rival Novak Djokovic in the Rome final. That was a huge psychological win for Novak giving him plenty of belief. Some betting markets have even installed him joint favourite with Rafa.

Novak Djokovic has six Majors to his name but the only Grand Slam trophy eluding him is the French. But he’s in prime position to complete the career Grand Slam this time round. Djokovic knows it, Nadal knows it, and the whole tennis world knows it! Djokovic is definitely Nadal’s biggest threat on clay. He played out of skin in the second two sets in the Rome final. It wasn’t the first time Novak has beaten Nadal on clay either. In fact, on all surfaces, Djokovic has won the last four encounters with Nadal. The rivalry is arguably surpassing the Federer-Nadal one. But beating Nadal in best of 5 is that much harder and last year, Novak came agonisingly close in the semi, losing 9-7 in the fifth! It was a classic! This year, they’re the top 2 seeds and they’re slated to meet in the final. If it eventuates, it promises to be another battle royale.  

Stanislas Wawrinka is surely in the top 6 favourites. It has been a break-out season for the Swiss, surging to a career high no.3 in the world after winning his first Grand Slam of his career and, to show it was no fluke, won his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo. Besides those two highs, there have been some troughs, so it’s just about consistency for Stan.

I’m writing off Andy Murray’s chances already. I love the guy but, coming back from back surgery, he has had his worst start to a season in recent memory. And besides, not once in his career has he even made the final of a clay-court event, let alone win one. His one glimmer of hope came when he thrashed Nadal 6-1 in the first set in Rome. He’s still likely to make the last 16 or thereabouts, but definitely won’t win it.

Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, Ernests Gulbis and Jerzy Janowicz are among the young guns waiting in the wings after the “Big 4” era dies down. Nishikori has been the most impressive of the lot in the European clay-season, climbing to a career-high no.9 in the world. His form compels me to have him in my top 6 favourites. He was up a set and a break against Nadal in the final at Madrid before his back started to spasm and eventually had to retire. He is as solid as a rock mentally and his backhand hardly ever breaks down. My only concern is will his body hold up over seven best of 5 set matches?

In short, I’d have Nadal and Djokovic as the two clear cut favourites. Then daylight. Then Federer, Wawrinka, Nishikori and Ferrer in no particular order in the second line of betting.

For the women’s draw, defending champion Serena Williams returns to Paris as the favourite. At 32 years of age, she continues to be at the top of her game, and that means, at the top of women’s tennis. Should she win the title, it would her third French Open and 18th Major triumph overall, tying her with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth on the all-time list. To give you an idea of how good that is, Serena will have one more Grand Slam than Federer’s tally! Serena comes in with good form as well, winning the Italian Open for the third time. The two previous wins in Rome (2002, 2012) were followed by wins at Roland Garros, so that could be a good omen!

2012 winner and last year’s runner-up, Maria Sharapova, would have to be the second favourite after winning clay titles in Stuttgart (for the third year in a row) and Madrid. For a woman who once described herself on clay ‘like a cow on ice’, Sharapova is astonishingly more consistent at the French Open than any other Grand Slam.

A good tournament from Li Na, could see her within touching distance of the world no.1 ranking because she has hardly any points to defend after a second round exit last year, while Serena has 2000 points to defend.

With six different winners in the last six years, Other contenders include Ana Ivanovic, Sara Errani, Agnieszka Radwanska, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur and Simona Halep.

Halep continues to be one of the most under-hyped players in recent times. She has won seven titles in her career, all coming in the last 12 months to skyrocket from no.47 to no.4 in the world. Her ascension up the WTA rankings is reminiscent to Caroline Wozniacki’s, in the sense that the Dane won a lot of smaller titles to surge up the rankings but underperformed at the Majors. If the Romanian can make it to the quarters or semis, she can really make her presence felt.

Notable absentees this year include two of my favourite players: Victoria Azarenka and Juan Martin Del Potro.

Purple Day

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On March 26th, Jetts Gym in Epping, were doing their part in Purple Day to try and raise as much money for epilepsy.

To make things more interesting, gym manager Mark Eaton set a challenge to row the combined length of the Yarra River (242km) between us.

Mark also had prizes for most kilometres rowed in 30 minutes, most kilometres rowed overall, and best dressed — there was a purple theme — as an incentive to spark the competitiveness in his clients.

The general rule was to donate at least $10 per 30 minute row. And you could go for as many times as you want.

After a quiet first half to the day, I reminded Mark of the enormous task to which he replied “please don’t mention that” with a cheeky grin on his face.

Thankfully in the second half of the day, as school and work finished, more and more people streamed in to participate and the goal looked a little more achievable.

Although they could not quite get there — finishing on 224km — it was still an enjoyable day and very worthwhile raising $267 for the Epilepsy foundation.

Purple Day is an international public effort dedicated each year to increasing awareness about epilepsy right across the world.

For those who are unfamiliar, epilepsy is a chronic condition of the brain that includes having seizures that do not seem to have an obvious cause.

The condition is more common than one would think; roughly 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide, that’s approximately one in every 100 people. And in 50% of cases, the cause is unknown.

The most worrying thing is that there is still no known cure for epilepsy and that is exactly why there is a growing effort to increase awareness and raise money to help fund research so that hopefully one day a medication will be found.

Melbourne v Newcastle – Preview

On Monday night at AAMI Park, Melbourne Storm will take on the Newcastle Knights, the same team that unexpectedly knocked them out of last year’s finals series.

While the Storm have started the season with two dramatic one-point victories over Manly and Penrith, Newcastle remain winless, although their line-up hasn’t been at full strength because of injuries.

Despite this, Cooper Cronk was adamant they are capable of being a dangerous side.

“The way they play, they are very aggressive with a big forward pack that likes to dominate. Defensively they will be rushing our attack so we need to make adjustments there. Also they are a team that like to spread the football a lot.”

Craig Bellamy has named an unchanged 17 while Wayne Bennett has included forward David Fa’alogo as the 18th man but is expected to miss the final cut. The valuable Darius Boyd (hamstring) and Jarrod Mullen (hamstring) remain sidelined.

Melbourne lead Newcastle 5-1 in head to head meetings at AAMI Park – That one win for the Knights was 18-16 in week two of last year’s finals series.

I think if the Melbourne defence is good enough to prevent wingers Akuila Uate and James McManus from finding space out wide, they should win comfortably and continue their unbeaten start to the season.

Tip: Storm by 8.

Melbourne v Penrith – Review

Melbourne celebrated millstone games for Cameron Smith and Billy Slater with their second consecutive one-point win, 18-17 over Penrith at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

On what was a wet and stormy night, Smith was playing a club-record 263rd game, surpassing Matt Geyer for the mark. Slater, who is currently third on that list, was playing his 250th game.

In a thrilling last ten minutes, when scores were tied 16-16, Cooper Cronk, playing his first match since shoulder surgery, nailed an ugly but effective field goal to put the purple outfit in front.

That was cancelled out by Penrith’s Peter Wallace, and it looked like we might have our second golden point match in a row. But another Cronk drop goal with thirty seconds to go once again put the Storm ahead by a point.

But just as the fans thought it was over, there was another twist in the tale.

Penrith were awarded a penalty with seconds on the clock and the 13,952 in attendance had to hold their breath one last time as Wallace had a chance to kick the go-ahead 2 points which would have spoiled the script.

Wallace failed in his attempt from 42 metres out, well right of the posts and the Storm were finally allowed to rejoice the narrowest of victories.

Earlier on, Penrith had the better of possession and territory in the opening 10 minutes but, against the run of play, it was the returning Cronk who dummied inside before assisting Proctor to open the scoring.

Although Smith missed the conversion, he cleverly produced a perfect kick in the in-goal to force a goal-line drop-out. From the ensuing play, Slater linked with centre Mahe Fonua to score.

Kevin Naiqama got Penrith on the board in the 26th minute, scoring in the right corner after some overlap play by Wallace and Jamal Idris.

Opposing wingers Sisa Waqa and Naiqama traded tries in the last 10 minutes of the half. And when Smith converted a penalty, Melbourne went into the interval with a 14-10 advantage.

Three minutes after the break, Josh Mansour scored the first and only try of the second half.  

Penrith remain winless in Melbourne since 2005.