Matthew Wolff ties LIV Golf record as Smash takes team lead at Greenbrier

Matthew Wolff ties LIV Golf record as Smash takes team lead at Greenbrier
Matthew Wolff of Smash GC leads by two following round one of LIV Golf Greenbrier. (Sam Greenwood/LIV Golf)
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Updated 05 August 2023
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Matthew Wolff ties LIV Golf record as Smash takes team lead at Greenbrier

Matthew Wolff ties LIV Golf record as Smash takes team lead at Greenbrier
  • The 24-year-old American hit a 9-under 61 to lead the individual competition by two strokes

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS: After a stretch of high scores and frustrating results, Matthew Wolff produced a round on Friday at LIV Golf Greenbrier more reflective of his immense talent with a 9-under 61 that ties with the LIV-record low.

But after taking a two-shot lead after the first round on The Old White course, the young Smash GC star said that his low score was not any kind of statement, nor a reflection of any drastic change in his approach.

“I just go out here and I give it my best every single day. It's golf,” Wolff said. “It's a rollercoaster, and I'm learning to accept the good and the bad as they come and roll with it. I haven't changed anything.”

The numbers certainly were different for Wolff. In his past three LIV Golf starts, he failed to break 70 and averaged 74.6 per round. His best points finish in that stretch was 44th in Andalucía.

On Friday, all that changed. Starting on the par-3 8th, he opened with a birdie, added two pars, then produced a four-hole stretch that included three birdies and an eagle. He then ended his round with three birdies in his last four holes.

The 61 is the fourth in LIV Golf history, tying the 61s shot by Branden Grace, Cameron Smith and Harold Varner III in Tulsa. Varner shot 7-under 63 on Friday to join David Puig as Wolff’s closest pursuers. Dean Burmester and Cameron Tringale are another stroke back after shooting 64.

Wolff looked more like the player who started the season with three consecutive top-12 finishes than the one who has not scored points in the past six events and dropped to 27th in the season-long points standings. Only the top 24 at the end of the regular season, as well as team captains, are guaranteed spots for next year’s LIV Golf League.

“Everyone goes through slumps, everyone goes through bad times, and I'm lucky mine only lasted a few tournaments,” Wolff said. “I started off the year really good, and I'm looking to end it really good.”

Wolff’s low round also helped Smash to grab the team lead at 19-under, with captain Brooks Koepka and Jason Kokrak each contributing 5-under 65s. Koepka is making his first start since the birth of his son last week.

Smash, currently seventh in the season-long team points, is seeking its first win of the season. Koepka’s team leads by four shots over Torque GC, Stinger GC and RangeGoats GC.

Varner, who won LIV Golf DC, the last LIV tournament held in the US, is as focused on his team’s success as much as his own. He desperately wants to catch the league-leading 4Aces GC, who come off a win at London and are in sixth after Friday’s first round. The RangeGoats are currently third, just two points behind second-place Torque GC.

“We need to win,” Varner said after his bogey-free round. “An integral part of winning is playing well, so I’m just trying to play well and help the team as much as possible — and 7-unders will do that.”

For Wolff, 9-under is just the kind of round that could prove to be a turning point for a season that has gone awry lately. But he cautioned on Friday that there is no guarantee.

“It's just golf,” Wolff said. “I mean, you play bad and then you play good. Like I said, I'm accepting the fact that just because I played well today, it might not go the same tomorrow or might go just as well.

“At the end of the day, I'm doing what I can and trying to shoot the lowest score I can every day. I promise, I'm trying.”

 
Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Greenbrier.

1. SMASH GC (-19): Matthew Wolff 61, Brooks Koepka 65, Jason Kokrak 65

T2. TORQUE GC (-15): David Puig 63, Joaquin Niemann 65, Sebastian Munoz 67

T2. STINGER GC (-15): Dean Burmester 64, Louis Oosthuizen 65, Branden Grace 66

 T2. RANGEGOATS GC (-15): Harold Varner III 63, Talor Gooch 65, Bubba Watson 67

 5. HYFLYERS GC (-13): Cameron Tringale 64, Phil Mickelson 66, Brendan Steele 67

 6. 4ACES GC (-12): Dustin Johnson 65, Peter Uihlein 65, Pat Perez 68

7. MAJESTICKS GC (-11): Laurie Canter 65, Lee Westwood 66, Ian Poulter 68

8. CLEEKS GC (-10): Richard Bland 66, Bernd Wiesberger 66, Graeme McDowell 68

9. CRUSHERS GC (-9): Charles Howell III 65, Bryson DeChambeau 68, Paul Casey 68

10. FIREBALLS GC (-6): Carlos Ortiz 66, Sergio Garcia 69, Eugenio Chacarra 69

 11. RIPPER GC (-5): Matt Jones 66, Cameron Smith 69, Marc Leishman 70

 12. IRON HEADS GC (+2): Scott Vincent 69, Danny Lee 71, Sihwan Kim 72


Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe reacts. (Reuters)
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe reacts. (Reuters)
Updated 27 sec ago
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Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe reacts. (Reuters)

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has come out fighting after talk of his Newcastle United future in the media linked Germany head coach Julian Nagelsmann with the job.

Howe has come under pressure from a minority of Newcastle fans due to poor performances, an increasingly concerning defensive record and a slide down the Premier League table. The Magpies are currently 10th in the top-flight standings, with likely eight places set to result in European competition qualification for next season.

And that has seen speculation build, particularly in the European press. Reports from Germany suggest current Germany boss Nagelsmann would be interested in replacing Howe, if Newcastle decide a change is in order this summer. That is, at this stage, not thought to be the position of the Magpies’ hierarchy.

Howe said he had seen the Nagelsmann talk and it did not concern him, insisting his future will be defined by his own actions, not those of others.

“Genuinely it doesn’t affect me. I’m here. I’m sitting in the seat. My future will be defined by what I do, no one else,” he said when quizzed on the matter.

“It’s up to me to continually prove myself. I back myself and my ability. I know my qualities. I know what I bring to the job and I have ambitions for the team and the club and I can’t control what people write and what speculation there is in every sense. I don’t try to get involved in it.”

Howe was then asked whether he felt support from the club’s owners. Newcastle are 80 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia; the other 20 percent is split between RB Sports & Media (roughly 14 percent) and Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi (around 6 percent).

The Newcastle boss said: “It’s difficult for me to speak for them, but I have felt a support and an understanding for the season that we have had, and things that have been thrown at us and things that have happened. That’s really important from my side that I do feel that support.

“I’m not going to try and put words in people’s mouths or anything like that, but I think they have seen from afar how difficult this season has been.”

Having won on the road in the cup, it is back to St. James’ Park and the challenge this weekend of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who edged ahead of Newcastle last weekend in the top-flight standings. Victory at the weekend would be Newcastle’s first win at home in all competitions since mid-December, a record which is the antithesis of their form in the 12 months previous to that, where they were near unbeatable on home turf.

Howe said: “We’re not at our fluent best but there is a lot of good. There is some frustration that we’re not quite ourselves, but I think that will come. I have no doubt, once we’re back to full strength, hopefully you’ll see the real Newcastle again.

“The last few games have been frustrating because possibly in the months gone by, they were games that we would have won or found a way to win. For whatever reason they’re games we didn’t win.

“Looking back on those games, it was also important we didn’t lose those games and to have shown the battling and fighting qualities to fight back from losing positions, which is great to see. I'd like to see us, of course, return to our best performances at home.

“I think the environment we've had to play in has been incredible; I have to thank the supporters for that. They haven’t seen us win for a while but they’re still backing us and supporting the players in the time that they’re playing. Hopefully that’ll make the difference.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle's reward for edging past Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup is a last-eight tie at current holders Manchester City.

On hearing the draw, Howe joked: “I was driving at the time and I almost swerved off the road.

“It wasn’t the draw we wanted, that’s for sure. I don’t think any team wants to play Manchester City four times in a season but we’re looking forward to the game. I believe we can beat anybody when we’re at our best. We’ve had three really tight games against them this year.

“When you have time to analyze things and go through it like you do mentally, you realize that to win the FA Cup you’ll probably have to beat Manchester City at some stage in the competition. So that’s been moved forward from our (point of) view and I just think we have to look at it and give everything to try and win. It will be difficult but we can do it.”

 


Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race
Updated 57 min 33 sec ago
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Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race
  • Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter
  • Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League

FREIBURG, Germany: Bayern Munich were held to a 2-2 draw at Freiburg on Friday, an 87th-minute equalizer from Lucas Hoeler giving leaders Bayer Leverkusen a chance to go 10 points clear.
Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter, before Jamal Musiala’s spectacular solo effort looked to have snared the three points for Bayern.
Hoeler however had other ideas, chipping a volley through a crowded Bayern penalty area and past a helpless Manuel Neuer.
Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen can go 10 points clear of the Bavarians with a win against lowly Cologne on Sunday.
Guenter blasted the hosts into the lead after 12 minutes, unleashing a spinning rocket from outside the box and into the bottom right of the goal.
The goal was the Freiburg captain’s first of the season and the club’s only strike from outside the box this campaign.
Not content to allow Guenter to dominate the highlights reel, Tel hit back with a dream goal of his own, curling in a long-range effort on his second league start this season.
With 15 minutes remaining and Bayern dominating possession but failing to carve out clear chances, Musiala dribbled past at least three Freiburg defenders and blasted a low shot into the right corner.
Despite holding the lead Bayern grew passive, dropping deep to defend their goal and hold onto their slender lead.
With just three minutes of regular time remaining, Hoeler held off several Bayern defenders and chipped a volley over Neuer and into the goal, sending the home side into raptures.
The draw spoilt the first day at work for Bayern sporting director Max Eberl, who said during his unveiling this week the side would still push Leverkusen for the title.
The point sees Freiburg finish the night in ninth place in a crowded Bundesliga table, with only five points separating seventh and 15th places.


Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone
Updated 01 March 2024
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Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone
  • Goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid made sure 18-time champions now nine points clear of Riyadh rivals in second

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the stands in disbelief on Thursday as Al-Nassr were held to a 4-4 draw at home against bottom team Al-Hazm. Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy.

Thanks to goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid, the 18-time champions are now nine points clear of their Riyadh rivals in second, and as Al-Hilal have now won their last 25 games in all competitions and a record 15 in the league, few would now bet against the Blues.

It was an entertaining Saudi Classico, but once Al-Hilal took the lead in the second half, there was always likely to be just one outcome and it was a deserved win.

Al-Ittihad, the defending champions, had opportunities but against the runaway leaders more than one needed to be taken.

But the visitors, who were missing star striker Karim Benzema through injury, started strongly and took the lead in the 12th minute. With all the attacking talent on the pitch, it was a little surprising that N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with his first goal for almost six months. It was a cracker too.

The former Chelsea midfielder started the move and after laying the ball off, sprinted for the penalty area. He was there just in time to meet the left-sided cross from Zakaria Al-Hawsawi and no one was prepared for the sight of Kante flying through the air to send a header past Yassine Bounou and into the net. It stunned fans in the Kingdom Arena and probably those watching around the world. 

A few minutes later it was almost 2-0 as Faisal Al-Ghamdi shot just wide from outside the area with Bounou scrambling to get across. Al-Ittihad have been in good form and were seemingly growing in confidence.

But slowly Al-Hilal began to wake up and six minutes before the break were level. Abdullah Al-Mayouf punched a Salem Al-Dawsari corner clear but it fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and while the Portuguese star’s shot was blocked, there was Al-Shehri, in the starting lineup to replace the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic, to pounce and fire home.

Almost immediately, the visitors thought they had a penalty as Kalidou Koulibaly was judged by the referee to have been tugging the shirt of Ahmed Hegazy. VAR thought differently, however.

Both teams continued to push forward and just before the hour the hosts took the lead. It came shortly after Al-Ittihad had claims for a penalty waved away, and Al-Hilal broke. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic chipped over a perfect cross from the left for Malcom — who was given far too much space on the edge of the six-yard box — to head home.

Kante almost equalized within minutes, firing a low shot just wide of the post. It was a great chance and, had it been taken, the game could have turned out very differently.

As it was, midway through the second half, Abdulhamid netted a third. Milinkovic-Savic slipped a pass into the right side of the area for the full-back to twist and turn past two defenders before shooting home at the near post. Not for the first time in the evening, Neymar, still recovering from his serious injury, was on his feet.

Unlike Al-Nassr, who four times threw the lead away against Al-Hazm, Al-Hilal were not going to be denied and the celebrations at the end reflected an unstoppable winning machine.

There is a quick chance for revenge for Al-Ittihad as the two giants meet in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final next week, but Al-Hilal surely know that with the domestic title almost sewn up, they can now turn their full attention to continental concerns.

For Al-Ittihad, now 25 points below the leaders in fifth, their season now depends on the clash.


Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner
Updated 01 March 2024
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Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner
  • Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session
  • “It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.
His success, which he admitted was “a little bit unexpected” arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.
This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behavior.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it’s been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.
“In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I’m very happy to be on pole.”
He added: “To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car.”
He forecast a close race on Saturday.
“We look good for the race and that’s the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”
Ferrari’s Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Leclerc.
“But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year.”
Russell praised Mercedes for producing a car that he could build on. “P3 is a good place to start,” he said.
Qualifying got under way with Horner, who has always categorically denied any wrongdoing, under renewed pressure despite being cleared in Red Bull’s investigation led by a London lawyer.
Horner, who turned up at the track on Thursday to oversee the start of the new season, said: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.”
Verstappen ensured events on the track went more smoothly and he will be favorite to emulate last year’s result when he won the first of 19 races as he swept to his third title.
The session began in cool conditions as temperatures fell under the floodlights at Sakhir’s International Circuit where Bahrain’s maiden race took place 20 years ago.
The air temperature was 18, the track 21.
The first qualifying segment ended with Sainz on top as the Alpines made an early exit along with both Saubers and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
After topping Thursday’s opening practice, Hamilton squeezed through in 15th place.
Leclerc topped the times on the second runs of Q2 and Sainz was third, sandwiching Verstappen in second, while Hamilton was fourth with a late lap.
In the final seconds of the top 10 shoot-out Verstappen improved to 1:29.179, enough to resist Leclerc by 0.228 seconds to launch his 2024 season in ominous fashion.
Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement
Updated 01 March 2024
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Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement
  • “I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well,” said Fernando Alonso
  • “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest”

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Fernando Alonso on Friday qualified in sixth place for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and declared he felt “great” two days after hinting at retirement.
The 42-year-old Aston Martin driver said he had not expected to be so competitive, but added that he hoped he might be in contention to repeat his surprise podium finish last year.
The two-time world champion on Wednesday said he would decide his future after the “first few weeks or races” because of the demands of this year’s unprecedented 24-race calendar.
“Well, first of all, I need to decide if I want to keep racing and that will be the first thing that I need to decide — in a few weeks or a few races,” he said when asked if he was interested in joining Mercedes to succeed Lewis Hamilton next year.
“I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well, which maybe are tempting or maybe not, I don’t know.”
After qualifying, however, the evergreen Spaniard, who has adopted a new diet and fitness schedule, said: “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest.
“Winter testing was ok, but I think we are not in the pace of the leaders.
“Free practice was competitive, but we found also last year that sometimes in free practice we are running in a different engine mode and in qualifying everything is a bit more realistic.
“It’s going to be difficult in the race, very tight in a group which will damage the tires even more when you are in traffic. So, I think it’s going to be a question mark for everyone. Let’s see.”
He made no further comments about his future, having declared that 24 races is “well over the limit.”
“When I started, we had 16 races, then it was 18 and then I think Liberty (the American owners of F1) came and we had 20 in a season and that was the limit, 20 races, but now we are up to 24.
“It isn’t sustainable for the future, I think, not for anyone.”