McIlroy chasing first back-to-back at Players Championship

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland putts on the 17th green during a practice round prior to The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 10, 2020 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 12 March 2020

McIlroy chasing first back-to-back at Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, US: Rory McIlroy has his eye on a piece of PGA Tour history this week as he targets a successful defense of The Players Championship.
The world number one arrives at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida aiming to become the first player to go back-to-back at TPC Sawgrass.
"I don't think you ever need an extra motivation when you come to this golf tournament, but to be the first one to defend here would be very cool," McIlroy told reporters on Tuesday.
McIlroy will tee off on Thursday after an encouraging start to the season that has seen him post five top-five finishes in six starts.
He was in the hunt for victory at last weekend's Arnold Palmer Invitational but slid out of contention after two double-bogeys on the final round.
Nevertheless, the Northern Irishman sees similarities between his start to this season and last year, when he bagged the first of four wins in 2019 at The Players after a run of consistent performances.
"It's nice to be back," McIlroy said. "A lot of similarities between this year and last year in terms of how I've played the first few events of the year, given myself some chances, haven't quite been able to capitalize, and yeah, obviously would be wonderful to replicate what happened last year."
Webb Simpson, the 2018 Players Champion, will not be surprised if McIlroy ends up walking away with the $2.7 million winner's cheque this weekend.
Simpson believes the 30-year-old McIlroy is comfortably the world's best player.
"Not needing to say this, but he's certainly the best player in the world right now," Simpson said. "He's floated in and out of the best player in the world for his whole career it seems like.
"His bad play and bad stretches is better than most every guy out here. And when he's playing his best, he's hard to beat.
"He's already created the opinion that he's going to go down as one of the great players ever in golf, which is great for him, great for us, great for our Tour. He's one of those guys that you expect to be in contention every week."
This week's tournament -- often described as golf's fifth unofficial major -- is taking place against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis that has decimated the global sporting landscape.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the tour had set up a task force of officials who were monitoring the outbreak on a day-to-day basis.
"I think it goes without saying that the health, safety, wellbeing of our players, our fans, our tournaments, everybody that's involved in our ecosystem is of utmost importance," Monahan said.


‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.