Tiger Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with 1-under 71

Tiger Woods plays his shot from the 18th tee during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 07, 2022 in Augusta, Georgia. (AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2022
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Tiger Woods launches unlikely Masters quest with 1-under 71

  • The 46-year-old superstar had not played in front of fans at Augusta National since his 2019 triumph ended his 11-year major drought 
  • First round leader South Korean Im Sung-jae had three straight birdies to start his round  and finished with five birdies and an eagle in his 5-under 67

AUGUSTA, US: Tiger Woods called on all of his hard-won stamina and the knowledge gleaned in five past triumphs to launch his boldest Masters bid yet with a one-under-par 71 at Augusta National on Thursday.

The 46-year-old superstar, whose February 2021 car crash left him with injuries so severe he feared he might lose his right leg, said just being able to play his first competitive round in 17 months was a victory.

But it might not be the only one he celebrates this week.

"I was able to finish up in the red," Woods said. "I'm right where I need to be."

Woods was tied for 10th, four shots behind South Korean Im Sung-jae, who launched his round with three straight birdies and finished with five birdies and an eagle in his 5-under 67.

Australian Cameron Smith, like Im chasing a first major title, was a stroke back after a 68 that was all the more remarkable considering it was bookended by double bogeys at the first and 18th holes.

Woods had indicated as recently as February that he was unlikely to be ready to tee it up in the first major of the year, and said all week that his biggest challenge would be negotiating the hilly, 7,510-yard Augusta National course on his surgically repaired right leg.

"It did not get easier, let's put it that way," he said after a round in blustery winds that lasted nearly five and a half hours. "I can swing a golf club. The walking's not easy.

"With all the hard work, my leg, it's going to be difficult for the rest of my life."

Woods said he was buoyed by the adrenaline rush of major competition.

"I mean, the place was electric," said Woods, who had not played in front of fans at Augusta National since his 2019 triumph ended his 11-year major drought and cemented his return from spinal fusion surgery.

Woods cut a vibrant figure in a hot pink shirt and black trousers, thousands of fans on the course straining to catch his every move.

A 30-minute delay to the start because of pre-dawn thunderstorms only intensified the anticipation for Woods's appearance on the first tee, where he was greeted with rapturous applause.

Woods was not delighted with his opening drive, which came up short of the right fairway bunker. His approach trickled off the green but he drained a 10-foot par saving putt.

It was just the first par save on a day when Woods hit eight of 14 fairways in regulation and just nine of 18 greens.

"I know where to hit it to a lot of these pins, and I miss in the correct spots and give myself good angles," Woods said.

After watching a 15-foot birdie putt lip out at the fifth, he stuck his tee shot on the par-three sixth two feet from the pin for his first birdie.

After a bogey at the par-5 eighth — where "three bad shots in a row" were Woods's biggest disappointment of the day — Woods two-putted from 24 feet for a birdie at 13.

He gave a shot back at 14, but curled in a 29-foot birdie putt at 16 before draining another par-saving 10-footer at the last.

"You just can't not watch him," said Smith, who admitted he couldn't resist taking note of Woods's progress even as his own remarkable round unfolded.

After his stuttering start, Smith had eight birdies to reach 6-under before he closed with another double.

Meanwhile, first round leader Im — who finished tied for second on his Masters debut in 2020 — powered up the leaderboard with a trio of birdies on his first three holes.

While excited by his first round performance, Im cautioned that he would remain "humble."

"I realize I still have three days to go," he said.

England's Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, Chile's Joaquin Niemann, world No.1  Scottie Scheffler and two-time major winner Dustin Johnson were in the clubhouse on 3-under.

Niemann, 23, played alongside Woods, and said the crowd was so loud that he couldn't hear his caddie at the first tee.

Now Woods fans — and to some extent Woods himself — will spend the night wondering what Friday will bring.

"My team has been incredible at getting me into this position so that I can compete," Woods said. "I'll take it from there."


Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

Updated 17 sec ago
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Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win
BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.
“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said Friday.
It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”
The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win.
He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.
All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Updated 54 min 10 sec ago
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Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.
India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka.
They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024
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Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.