Tagged in: championship

Matsuyama makes history with Masters triumph

Hideki Matsuyama made history on Sunday as the first male golfer from Japan to collect a major championship.

Ten years after making a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, Matsuyama claimed the ultimate trophy with a triumph in the Masters.

Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele‘s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.

Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”

So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.

Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth consecutive birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.

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The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced of the hill and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. He wound up with a triple-bogey 6.

Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes.

All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.

That’s what he did, a final bogey for a one-shot victory over 24-year-old Masters rookie Will Zalatoris, who closed with a 70 and stayed on the practice range just in case of a playoff.

Matsuyama ended at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.

He was far from a sure thing, closing at 40-1 to win the tournament at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. Matsuyama could be found upward of 60-1 prior to the tournament at some sportsbooks, making him one of the biggest long shots to win Masters since Danny Willett in 2016.

He was not a popular choice for bettors either. As of Thursday, he accounted for only 1% of the money that had been wagered on the odds to win the Masters at William Hill sportsbooks.

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Novak Djokovic ends Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev’s golden run

Novak Djokovic had a perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, and he was playing almost flawless tennis to protect it.

It didn’t matter that across the net was Aslan Karatsev, a 114th-ranked, 27-year-old Russian who had come through qualifying to make his debut in a Grand Slam tournament after nine failed attempts.

Djokovic made only one unforced error in more than 50 minutes.

It was tight for the first seven games — before Djokovic reeled off eight consecutive points to win the first set — and again when Karatsev went on an all-or-nothing roll late in the second set.

Sensing a shift in support for the underdog — there was a vocal crowd at Rod Laver Arena after a five-day span when fans were barred during a local COVID-19 outbreak — Djokovic moved up a gear and finished off his opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

He’s now 9-0 in semifinals at the season-opening major, and one victory from a ninth Australian title.

“The more I win, the better I feel coming back,” the top-ranked Djokovic said. “The love affair continues.”

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Djokovic, 33, will have a day off Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a five-set victory over Rafael Nadal, meet in the other semifinal. Djokovic said he’d have a rest and get the popcorn ready to watch and see who he gets to face in Sunday’s final.

Given his past success in Melbourne, Djokovic should feel confident going into another championship match.

He already owns a record eight Australian titles, and he’s aiming for an 18th major title, which would reduce the gap to Roger Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record at 20.

Djokovic also is aiming to be only the second man to attain nine or more titles at one of the four Grand Slams. Nadal has 13 at Roland Garros. Djokovic, in Australia, and Federer, with eight at Wimbledon, currently share second place.

“Recovery is the priority right now,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had enough match play, enough practice.

“Right now it’s just gathering all the necessary energy for the most important match of the Australian Open.”

Djokovic has been bothered by an abdominal muscle problem since the third round. He initially stated it was a tear, but has since refused to talk about the details until after the tournament.

After his victory over Karatsev, he said it’s “the best as I’ve felt the entire tournament.” “I felt great. I could swing through the ball. No pain. Best match so far,” Djokovic said. “It came at the right time. I’m thrilled to feel this way.”

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Bills advance to AFC championship with 17-3 win over Ravens

In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson literally stole the show.

If not for the wall separating the field from the stands in the back of the east end zone, the Bills cornerback might still be running after returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years.

Johnson’s pick-6 of Jackson’s pass with 41 seconds left in the third quarter helped secure a 17-3 triumph over the Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.

“We’re excited. It’s not done yet, we’re not done yet,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s just a blessing. Our defense stepped up to the challenge.” Johnson’s return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.

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Jackson, last season’s NFL MVP, was sacked three times and did not return after sustaining a concussion following the final play of the third quarter, and two plays after Johnson scored. He finished 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing, while being limited to 42 yards rushing on nine carries.

Allen, an MVP candidate this year, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

In a season in which the Bills relied mostly on their dynamic Allen-led offense to outscore opponents, the third-year quarterback was gratified to see Buffalo’s defense make a difference in a game the pass-happy attack was kept mostly in check.

The Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1994 on their way to making — and losing — their four consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo also extended a season in which it has broken numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week’s victory over Indianapolis, winning its first postseason match since the same year.

The Bills, have won eight consecutives to match their best streak since 1990 and will play the winner of the AFC’s other divisional playoff between Cleveland and Kansas City on Sunday.

The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) had their season come to an end after leading the NFL in yards rushing for a second consecutive year. Baltimore clinched its third playoff berth in three years by winning its final five regular-season games. The winning streak came after a 1-4 skid capped by a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game rearranged three times due to COVID-19 issues.

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Packers host Rams with NFC championship game berth at stake

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff match Saturday.

“This is what you love,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “These are the type of matchups and opportunities that as a competitor, you can’t wait for.”

Both of these units are at the top of their game.

The Packers have won six consecutive games and have been held below 22 points just once all campaign. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 triumph at Seattle last week.

“They went to Seattle, played a familiar opponent and played really, really well, and they’re coming in with the confidence that they should have,” Rodgers said. “And we’re coming in with confidence as well, the season that we’ve had and what we believe we’re capable of.”

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Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a “great quarterback that’s playing lights out this year.”

Donald leads a defense that permitted the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

“At any time, at any quarter of the game, a different guy could make a big-time play for us,” Donald said. “It’s not just one or two guys. When you’ve got a group of guys – all 11 out there – who are pretty much playmakers who can make that game-changing play at any time, you’ve got a great group.”

This will be the first time the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that year.

This also will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning 28-7 in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

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Masters Tournament delays ticketing process for 2021

The Masters Tournament has delayed its ticketing process for the 2021 championship as it seeks a way to let some spectators to return for the first major of the year.

Dustin Johnson won the 2020 Masters, which was postponed from April to November because of the coronavirus pandemic, before just a smattering of Augusta National members, as the tournament had made the decision to play without spectators.

With just 100 days until the first round of the 2021 Masters arranged for April 8, the club has to make decisions quickly.

“As planning continues on how to stage the 2021 Masters Tournament safely and responsibly, we would like to inform you that Augusta National is delaying the ticket process for Patron Series Badges, which traditionally begins Jan. 1,” the club said in an email to ticket holders.

“Our intention is to communicate our decisions for the 2021 Masters to all patrons of record by the end of January. No further action is needed with your account at this time.”

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Patron Series Badges are good for the four tournament rounds only and do not include practice rounds. The cost of a badge for 2020 was to be $375, and when the Masters announced in August that it would play in November without spectators, it offered to defer those badges to 2021.

Practice rounds are another matter. Those tickets are distributed for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday via a lottery conducted the previous spring. Those tickets were also deferred to 2021.

Because all of these tickets and badges have been pre-sold, Augusta National Golf Club has a difficult problem in figuring out how to proceed with presumably a smaller number of spectators permitted on site. In the email, the club thanked its patrons for “continued patience” as it looks to communicate a definitive answer.

Crowd sizes are not revealed, but it is generally believed that around 30,000 series badges are sold.

Whittling that number to even half would require some ingenuity, possibly allowing admittance for a limited number of days or again deferring attendance a year.

Masters chairman Fred Ridley said in November that he hopes the “tournament in April will be more normal than it is now,” but offered no assurances that it will be any different, given the current uncertainty with the pandemic.

“We would need to see objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the grounds for April,” Ridley said on Nov 11. “I think the vaccine — I don’t want to get into medical prognostications — but just logically as a lay person, the vaccine, while it will be wonderful when it happens, there are all kinds of issues that point to beyond April [for the vaccine] as the silver bullet.

“As it relates to [COVID-19] testing, there are some real opportunities there. Our staff has been exploring those very deeply. We have a number of people who are very interested in helping us. It is something we will be looking very hard at. It’ll be a wonderful circumstance if we could test large numbers of people.”

In November, the Masters required all who would be on the grounds to produce a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted. It administered rapid-response tests through a local pharmacy. But those were administered to a relatively small number of people, perhaps fewer than 2,000.

To have significant numbers of spectators who have to undergo testing would require a huge effort, although Augusta National has the financial resources — plus acres upon acres of parking facilities — to make it possible.

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Australian PGA tour postponed until 2021

With a raft of strict control measures in place across most Australian states, the difficult decision to rearrange the tournament was made in hope restrictions will ease by early next year.

It means fans will have the capacity to see the Australian PGA Championship twice in a calendar year, with the 2021 edition also to be staged later that year.

ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Tournaments Director Nick Dastey said the public health considerations of those that help bring this event to life – the players, fans and volunteers – were pivotal in the decision.

“In conjunction with the Queensland Government and other key stakeholders, we have investigated numerous contingency plans to be able to stage the event in December, including players entering a hub and competing while serving a strict quarantine period,” Dastey said.

“Different from other professional sports, golf is a week-to-week travelling tour and in addition to playing in front of no fans, players would have potentially been required to undertake a further period of quarantine prior to or at the conclusion of the tournament.

“For interstate and international players, additional quarantine measures when returning to their home location or next tournament may have also meant a further 14-day quarantine.

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“While it is not a decision taken lightly these measures would not be in the best interests of our members, our fans, stakeholders and commercial partners, and as such we have made the decision to postpone the event with the hope that restrictions ease by 2021.”

Given the ever-changing landscape and uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman stated the PGA will continue to monitor and review its decision, with a definitive ruling of the event’s scheduling to be made in December.

“The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic makes it extremely difficult to stage events at the level we would normally expect,” Kirkman said.

“We will continue to be agile and rely on the expert advice of the Queensland Government to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

“Our new date will be subject to health regulations and will be reviewed again in early December, when we expect to be armed with a more accurate prediction of COVID-19’s impact across the country during summer.

“At that time we will determine whether the event will proceed in February or, as a last resort, cancelled. This will ensure our members and key stakeholders are provided appropriate notice of any decision made.”

One of the Australian PGA Championship’s feature events in its week-long festival of golf, the Greg Norman Medal, will also be rearranged.

The Greg Norman Medal is Australian golf’s highest individual honour for Australian men and women professional golfers and features an honour roll that includes Hannah Green, Minjee Lee, Marc Leishman and Jason Day.

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Ferrari, McLaren and Williams commit to F1 until 2025

Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams have all committed their futures to Formula 1 by signing the latest incarnation of the Concorde Agreement.

The Concorde Agreement is essentially a commercial contract that defines significant commercial aspects of a team’s involvement in F1.

By signing the agreement all three teams have committed themselves to the championship until 2025.

“F1 has taken another important stride on the road to a sustainable, strong future with the new agreement,” stated McLaren CEO, Zak Brown.

“This is the right deal at the right time for the sport, its owners, its teams and, most of all, the fans.

“A more equitable sport is better for everyone: greater balance in the sharing of revenues among all the teams and clearer, simpler governance that cuts through vested interests and puts the sport first.

“This agreement will only make the F1 constructors collectively stronger in the long term.” Louis Camilleri, Ferrari CEO, added: “We are pleased to have signed up again to what is commonly known as the Concorde Agreement, which will regulate F1 for the next five years.

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“It is an important step to ensure the stability and growth of the sport.

“We are very confident that the collaboration with the FIA and Liberty Media can make F1 even more attractive and spectacular, while preserving its status as the ultimate technological challenge.”

The latest incarnation of the Concorde Agreement, which has essentially been in place since the early 1980s, marks arguably the greatest change in its history.

Key among the changes is a more equitable distribution of prize money, helping close the financial gap between those at the front and back.

“The new Concorde Agreement represents a major step forward, for both Formula 1 and Williams,” reasoned Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal of Williams Racing.

“As one of the sport’s longest running teams, we are pleased to see the future direction of Formula 1 confirmed for the next era of racing.

“Our expectation, aligned with Liberty Media, is that this next era will be characterized by closer and more exciting racing as a result of the new platform of regulations, which include more equitable revenue distribution and a first ever cost cap for our sport.

“The Agreement is a major milestone in the development of Formula 1, and also represents a significant opportunity for Williams to continue on our journey back towards the front of the grid.”

All seven remaining teams are estimated to sign the agreement, the deadline for doing so having been pushed back from last week.

Then, Mercedes stated that it was not ready to sign the document, though that position changed over the course of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. The Concorde Agreement came into being in an effort to end the ‘FISA-FOCA’ war that waged between the FIA (FISA) and teams (FOCA) in the early 1980s.

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Free-agent RB LeSean McCoy wants to play 2 more years

LeSean McCoy isn’t ready to retire despite his decline in production the past two campaigns. In fact, he believes he has multiple seasons left in the NFL.

“I really just want to play two more years,” McCoy said Friday in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I talked to Frank (Gore) about this. He always tells me, ‘never put a ceiling on your career. Hey, if you feel good and you do well, do another one year and vise versa. If it doesn’t go well, just let your body talk to you.’ My body feels fine.”

The 31-year-old free-agent running back, who finished his 11th NFL season in 2019, added: “My body feels good. So I will let my body speak for when I want to be done.”

McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, said he has “a couple teams that I’m looking at” as possible fits for himself.

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“I’m just waiting for the right moment. This stuff is tricky now, because there’s no visits. There’s no real activities with the teams as much as it used to be. The thing I can control is just making the right choice, going to an offense that fits. I want to go to a team that’s a winning franchise that has all the right pieces that’s waiting for me. That veteran running back to help the room out. To add a spark. The teams I’m looking at right now are those teams,” he said. “I won’t discuss who they are. I look forward to probably after the draft or right before the draft, signing on with a team.”

McCoy’s playing time with the Kansas City Chiefs diminished as last season went on and he was inactive for the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIV but that didn’t diminish his satisfaction at finally being on a Super Bowl winner and he said in the interview he was happy to cross that off his “bucket list.”

McCoy said he embraces his role as a veteran mentor just like Brian Westbrook did for him when he was a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009.

“If I could be that guy to help that young superstar to emerge into that superstar superstar, I would love to do that,” he stated.

After rushing for 465 yards last campaign, McCoy is ranked third among active players with 11,071 career rushing yards, behind only Gore and Adrian Peterson. Gore also is a free agent and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told NFL Network last month that his client plans to play in 2020.

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