Spieth in three-way tie for lead at Sony Open

Spieth in three-way tie for lead at Sony Open
Jordan Spieth lines up his putt on the 10th hole during the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii golf tournament at Waialae Country Club. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 13 January 2023

Spieth in three-way tie for lead at Sony Open

Spieth in three-way tie for lead at Sony Open
  • Spieth said he was confident he could maintain the pace, something that hasn’t always been the case in recent years

LOS ANGELES: Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth fired seven birdies in his 6-under par 64 on Thursday to share the PGA Tour Sony Open lead with Chris Kirk and Taylor Montgomery when darkness halted play.

Spieth and Kirk — who also had seven birdies — — set an early first-round target at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Taylor seized his share of the lead with a birdie at the 18th shortly before play was halted.

Spieth said he was confident he could maintain the pace, something that hasn’t always been the case in recent years as the 29-year-old’s game hit the doldrums and he fought to make changes.

“Days like today I’m not surprised, but what I will say is I’m confident relative to other time periods I’ve been off to similar starts, which is a really good place to be,” said Spieth, who ended a near four-year title drought in 2021 and added a title at the Heritage last year.

“I believe I can shoot five- or six-under each day out here,” Spieth said. “Not to say that that means it’ll happen, but there are other times I would be sitting there going, how do I hold this together, to be honest.”

Spieth opened with a birdie at the 10th and added another at 12. He rebounded from a bogey at 13 with birdies at the 18th and first, then rolled in an eight-footer at the fourth and put himself inside two feet for a birdie at the fifth.

He picked up one more shot with a 27-foot putt at the par-three seventh.

“I feel like I left a couple out, but I also really had fun today,” Spieth said. “It can be a real fun golf course once you start peeling it down these fairways.”

Kirk, back in action after a break of almost two months, said he’d been working on his fitness during the downtime.

Kirk, who finished tied for second at Waialae two years ago as he mounted a comeback to the tour, is seeking a fifth US PGA Tour title and his first since 2015.

“I’ve had a lot of good finishes here,” Kirk said. It’s “just a place where I’m comfortable.”

Montgomery, a Korn Ferry Tour graduate chasing his first PGA Tour title, had joined the leaders with a birdie at the 14th, then bogeyed the 15th before his two-putt birdie at the par-five 18th.

Six players were in the clubhouse a stroke behind the leaders: Harris English, Denny McCarthy, Brendon Todd, David Lipsky, Rory Sabbatini and Ben Griffin.

South Korean Kim Seong-hyeon was also five-under with two holes to play when darkness fell.

A big group on 66 included 52-year-old South Korean veteran K.J. Choi as well as 49-year-old American Stewart Cink.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who said before the tournament he was still battling the neck trouble that nagged him for much of last season, carded a 2-under 68.

T20 break gives longer formats time in spotlight

T20 break gives longer formats time in spotlight
Updated 01 June 2023

T20 break gives longer formats time in spotlight

T20 break gives longer formats time in spotlight
  • Fears franchise cricket remuneration would persuade top players to jettison Test matches proven unfounded

Finally, in the early hours of Tuesday in Ahmedabad, the 2023 Indian Premier League ended after a marathon 74 matches.

Chennai Super Kings triumphed dramatically over Gujarat Titans, last year’s winners, off the last ball, to claim their fifth IPL success.

Attention will now turn away from the Twenty20 format, which threatens to devour professional cricket, to the longer forms, both of which have existentialist concerns.

England began a sequence of six Test matches on June 1. The first of these, against Ireland at Lord’s, represents only the seventh Test played by Ireland since becoming an International Cricket Council full member in 2018. It is a prelude to a five-match Ashes series against Australia. While the match against Ireland will not be sold out, those against Australia will be, for sure.

In between England’s match against Ireland and the start of the Ashes, India and Australia will contest the World Test Championship at The Oval, in London. The two teams finished in the top two places out of nine full members who participated in the 2021 to 2023 cycle.

Each team was scheduled to play six series, three at home and three away. This meant that each team did not play each other equally, playing six of the other eight members. A series consists of between two and five matches, all scheduled to be played over five days.

The unevenness of the tournament led to teams playing a different number of matches. England played the most, 22, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh the least, with 12 each.

Final places were determined by ranking teams according to the percentage of points obtained out of the total number of points contested. Twelve points were awarded for a win, six for a tie, and four for a draw, with points deducted for slow over rates, England being the prime losers in that area. Australia achieved a 66.7 percentage of points available, India, 58.8, ahead of South Africa’s 55.6.

In mid-August 2022, South Africa led the table with a points percentage of 75. After that, they fell away, losing twice to England before succumbing to Australia in December and January.

In particular, South Africa’s batting was disappointing. The team was forced into transition, as some of its best players chose to focus on T20 franchise cricket. Indeed, at least one of them was playing in Australia’s Big Bash at the same time the Test team was struggling in Australia. Given that new T20 franchise tournaments were about to open in South Africa and the UAE, much soul-searching about the future of Test cricket occurred.

It generated various views and suggestions. One was that the 12 full members be divided into two equal groups with promotion and relegation between groups. This was based on the view that, if Tests became too one-sided, spectators would lose interest. Others argued that only by playing the stronger teams would the weaker ones improve.

In any event, the 12 full members have signed up to the Future Tours Program and WTC for the next eight years. The prize money available in the current cycle totals $3.8 million. The winning team will receive $1.6 million and the runner-up, $800,000. Teams placed between third and ninth positions will get between $450,000 and $100,000.

An often-expressed fear is that the remuneration available in franchise cricket will persuade top players to jettison Test cricket. Yet, most of these players continue to emphasize that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, the ultimate test of their physical, technical, and mental attributes.

There is little doubt that Test cricket is alive and well in Australia, England, and India. Concerns exist about other countries, largely because they do not generate sufficient income from Tests, as attendances are low. This means that national boards are either unable or unwilling to pay players sufficient salaries to prevent them turning their heads toward the more rewarding franchises.

Cricket South Africa’s financial problems led to its espousal of a T20 franchise tournament, while constrained opportunities for Pakistani players to boost incomes in the IPL and Indian-owned franchises are well documented.

Many people would like to peer into a crystal ball to foresee the landscape of cricket in 15 to 20 years’ time. In 2002, the prospect of T20 cricket being a dominant mode would have been laughed off. How wrong that view was, the format initially derided as “pyjama cricket.” Now, the straws in the wind appear to be forming a pattern.

T20 cricket, especially in franchise format, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, with one or, possibly, two additional franchises to come – the US Major League will start in July. Certain domestic structures, especially in England, pose challenges to further franchise expansion.

Test cricket is likely to prosper, primarily in three to four countries, with others playing their part according to finances and scheduling opportunities within the FTP.

One-day cricket is under threat but is set to continue at international level in World Cup format, with its extensive qualifying stages, at least until 2031.

There does appear to be a growing consensus among those who hold the future of the game in their gift that strategies to achieve co-existence between the various formats is the optimum way forward.

In moving toward that consensus, it is possible for everyone, or nearly everyone, to benefit. The game is nothing without high-quality players. That is why national boards must keep their elite players sufficiently remunerated. Failure to do so could lead to the crumbling of current structures.

Underneath the elite level, there are already signs of changing allegiances. A prime example is that of England’s Jason Roy, who asked for his incremental contract with his national board to be cancelled so that he could play more profitably in the US.

That does not mean he will never play again for England. However, the agreement signified a recognition by both parties of an action which represents another stage in the shifting relationships between players and boards.

World Rapid Chess champion lauds Dubai-based global league

World Rapid Chess champion lauds Dubai-based global league
Updated 01 June 2023

World Rapid Chess champion lauds Dubai-based global league

World Rapid Chess champion lauds Dubai-based global league
  • ‘It’s exciting for me to do something new,’ says Magnus Carlsen on joining inaugural competition as an icon player

World Rapid Chess champion Magnus Carlsen is looking forward to the “exciting prospect” of the upcoming Global Chess League in the UAE.

A joint venture between Tech Mahindra and world governing body FIDE, the GCL will feature Carlsen, a former five-time world chess champion, as an icon player.

With six teams, the inaugural edition of the GCL will be held from June 21 to July 2 at the Dubai Chess & Culture Club in association with the Dubai Sports Council.

Grandmaster Carlsen said: “It is an exciting prospect for me to be a part of. This will be something new. Something that has not been done this way in over-the-board chess. I am looking forward to exploring this format in the future.”

The league will see each of the six franchises play a total of 10 matches in a double round-robin format, with the winner of each match being decided in a best-of-six board-scoring system played simultaneously. The top two teams will qualify for the final and be crowned the World Champion Franchise Team.

Carlsen, who is known for his experimental views on chess, prefers team-format matches.

“Personally I very much enjoy team events and the team spirit within the group. I am looking forward to meeting the other players in the team, and competing with and against the exciting young generation of Indian players. One of the really good things about this tournament is that men and women can compete against each other at the same stage.”

Carlsen also lauded the Indian talent coming through: “I think India is doing a lot of right things so far, and it is a matter of time before it is clearly the leading chess nation in the world.”

Hailing Tech Mahindra’s involvement with the league, Carlsen said: “I am happy that an ambitious partner like Tech Mahindra has joined the chess ecosystem. I believe this is a positive move for chess.”

Carlsen also reminisced about his chess journey and said that he was thankful for his family’s support.

“My family has always been very supportive without ever pushing me, and for that, I’m very grateful. The year we travelled together when I was 13, earning my Grandmaster norms, will always be a fond memory,” he said.

Formula E returns to Indonesia for expanded double-header race weekend with new leaders in Drivers’ and Teams’ standings

Formula E returns to Indonesia for expanded double-header race weekend with new leaders in Drivers’ and Teams’ standings
Updated 01 June 2023

Formula E returns to Indonesia for expanded double-header race weekend with new leaders in Drivers’ and Teams’ standings

Formula E returns to Indonesia for expanded double-header race weekend with new leaders in Drivers’ and Teams’ standings
  • Nick Cassidy and Envision Racing go into the 2023 GulaVit Jakarta E-Prix on top after overcoming Porsche’s early-season dominance
  • Huge Indonesian fanbase will see the GEN3 race car in action for the first time

JAKARTA: Formula E returns to Jakarta this weekend with Nick Cassidy and his Envision Racing team both leading the ABB FIA Formula World Championship standings after powering past long-time leader Pascal Wehrlein and his TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team last time out in Monaco.

Following the championship’s debut in Indonesia last season and the huge welcome from fans who packed the area around the Jakarta International E-Prix Circuit in Ancol Beach, the 2023 Gulavit Jakarta E-Prix has expanded to a double-header with Rounds 10 and 11 taking place June 3-4.   

Indonesia is home to 273 million people and is a huge contingent of motorsport fans who made last year’s debut the most-watched live race by a domestic audience in Formula E history.

This year, fans will see the Southeast Asia debut of the GEN3, the fastest, and most efficient electric race car built yet. They will also be hoping for more twists in the storyline of this season’s gripping championship following Kiwi Cassidy’s storming drive from ninth on the grid in Monaco to win the race and go top of the standings.

Cassidy led home Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) and was under severe duress from his countryman and factory Jaguar driver until a late-race Safety Car made the win certain.

That victory leaves Cassidy on 121 pts, 20 clear of TAG Heuer Porsche’s long-time leader Wehrlein in the Drivers’ table.

Wehrlein had led the way from Rounds 2 and 3 in Diriyah but a downturn in form for the German has opened the door to the Jaguar-powered Envision and the factory Jaguar TCS Racing outfit, spearheaded by Evans — last year’s winner in Indonesia.

Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) is in third place in the standings on 96 points following a return to form in Monaco with third place in the race. Evans is just two points back on 94 pts.

In the Teams’ standings, Envision Racing has leapt to the top on 182 pts, 14 pts ahead of TAG Heuer Porsche on 169 pts, while Jaguar TCS Racing sits third on 156 pts.

Saturday’s race will be 36 laps and 38 laps on Sunday’s race, meaning teams and drivers will need to adjust their race strategies across the double-header weekend.

Koepka deserves Ryder Cup spot: McIlroy

Koepka deserves Ryder Cup spot: McIlroy
Updated 01 June 2023

Koepka deserves Ryder Cup spot: McIlroy

Koepka deserves Ryder Cup spot: McIlroy
  • Those Masters and PGA results have left Koepka second in the overall US standings for the Ryder Cup team
  • Rahm said in Ohio this week that where players choose to play should not affect Ryder Cup eligibility

WASHINGTON: Rory McIlroy said Wednesday that LIV Golf star Brooks Koepka has earned the right to a place on the United States’ Ryder Cup team following his PGA Championship triumph.

Koepka bagged his fifth major title at the PGA Championship earlier this month, just weeks after a second place finish at the Masters.

Those results have left Koepka second in the overall US standings for the Ryder Cup team, meaning he would normally be a shoo-in to make the American squad.

However, with the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit at loggerheads, it remains unclear whether LIV Golf players will be eligible for Ryder Cup spots.

McIlroy — one of the most vocal critics of LIV Golf — believes however that Koepka should be on the US team that will face Europe at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome in September.

“I certainly think Brooks deserves to be on the United States team,” McIlroy said Wednesday ahead of this week’s PGA Tour Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

“I think with how he’s played, I mean, he’s second in the US standings, only played two counting events.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone else on the LIV roster that would make the team on merit and how they’re playing.

“But Brooks is definitely a guy that I think deserves to be on the US team.”

McIlroy, however, is adamant that former European Tour players who have signed for LIV — including Ryder Cup stalwarts such as Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia — should not be eligible for the tournament.

“I have different feelings about the European team and the other side and sort of how that has all transpired,” McIlroy said.

“I don’t think any of those guys should be a part of the European team.”

Europe were initially due to be captained by Sweden’s Henrik Stenson at this year’s Ryder Cup. Stenson was stripped of the captaincy however after joining LIV. He was subsequently replaced by Luke Donald.

Spanish star Garcia — Europe’s all-time leading Ryder Cup scorer with 28.5 points from 10 appearances — said recently that Donald had already told him he had “no chance” of making the European team as a captain’s pick.

That decision was greeted with dismay by Garcia’s fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm.

Rahm said in Ohio this week that where players choose to play should not affect Ryder Cup eligibility.

“It’s a little sad to me that politics have gotten in the way of such a beautiful event,” Rahm said on Tuesday.

“It’s the best Europeans against the best American, period. And whatever is going on, who is playing LIV and who is not playing LIV to me shouldn’t matter.”

Rahm added that Garcia’s exclusion from Ryder Cup contention was hard to stomach.

“I have a hard time to believe that the best player Europe has ever had, the most successful player Europe has had on the Ryder Cup isn’t fit to be on the team,” Rahm said.

“It’s unfortunate. I will miss him.”

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes center-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes center-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo
Updated 01 June 2023

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes center-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes center-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo
  • Al-Ittihad celebrated in Jeddah their first league title since 2009

The pressure may have been off Al-Ittihad in Jeddah on Wednesday but the celebratory atmosphere will never be forgotten by those present at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium. The memories will last longer than the 2-0 win over Al-Tai as fans heralded their heroes and first title-winners since 2009.

As expected, the hosts had the better of the 90 minutes but with the job already done, few of the home fans cared much that there was only a second half penalty to show for their efforts and then an injury time strike.

As well as a first domestic championship win for coach Nuno Santo, it was clean sheet number 19 for Marcelo Grohe and a third golden boot in Saudi Arabia for Abderrazak Hamdallah. The Moroccan scored from the spot with 17 minutes remaining against a backdrop of thousands of phones recording history and a moment that will be replayed again and again. 

The goal took his tally to 21 for the season. There was just enough time for Helder Costa to add a second, a fitting way to end as the winger was brought over by Santo, his former coach at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Hamdallah finished a goal ahead of Anderson Talisca of Al-Nassr.

Al-Ittihad’s Hamdallah lifts the trophy. (@ittihad)

In the absence of Ronaldo who picked up a muscle injury at the end of last Saturday’s draw with Ettifaq that left the Yellows five points behind the leaders, Talisca took centre-stage as they defeated Al-Fateh 3-0. A smart low Abdulaziz Al-Aliwa pass found the Brazilian who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home from close range. Shortly before the break, he netted again but this time the goal was ruled out. No matter, it came midway through the second half with a smart first time shot from just inside the area. Talisca then assisted Mohammed Maran to make it 3-0.

In third, Al-Hilal ended an up and down season with an up and down performance, taking a 3-0 lead over Al-Raed before being pegged back to 3-2. It has been a good campaign for teenage midfielder Musab Al-Juwayr who opened the scoring after 17 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani added a second before the break and Abdullah Otayf, in his last appearance in the blue shirt, made it three with ten minutes remaining. Two late goals from the visitors showed that there is work to do however. 

There are sure to be plenty of changes at the club over the coming weeks. Already head coach Ramon Diaz is back in Argentina and a number of the foreign players look to be on their way out. For now, though, finishing third, winning the King’s Cup and reaching the final of both the Asian Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup finals will have to do. For most clubs, that would be seen as quite a season but Hilal, who are now able to sign players after being banned from doing so in the past two transfer windows, are going to go again.

Al-Ittihad players celebrate the title. (@ittihad)

Al-Shabab, who once looked like they were the team to beat for the title, ended a run of five defeats in six with a 4-1 win over Damac. Aaron Boupendza signed off with all four. There should also be praise given to Al-Taawoun who won their last six games, including against the new champions, to finish fifth, just a point behind.

While everything at the top had been settled there was still the issue of which team will join Al-Batin in the second tier next season. Al-Adalah and Al-Khaleej had been finding their form of late to leave Al-Fayha looking nervously over their shoulders. In the second half, Al-Khaleej looked to be heading down as they were a man down and drawing 1-1 at home to Abha but then Morato intervened to score twice to give three points and another season in the top flight. Al-Adalah dropped.

It has been a season to remember and it will take time to digest everything that has happened. Not much can be said about next season but there are going to be a lot of changes in the next few weeks. A thrilling season is going to be followed by a busy summer.