Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Anything possible for Mr 55 at Open

With good reason, Aussie battler Rhein Gibson feels like anything is possible at this week’s British Open.

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After all, a world record round of 55 doesn’t happen by accident.

Gibson, ranked 997 places below world No.1 Adam Scott, will make his major tournament debut at Royal Liverpool having qualified with a fourth-place finish at the Australian Open.

Lining up alongside the world’s best will be “the experience of a lifetime” for the 29-year-old New South Welshman but he’ll tee off on Thursday knowing he’s capable of something no other man in the field has achieved.

Gibson shot a 16-under-par 55 at the River Oaks Golf Club in Oklahoma in 2012, a performance recognised by Guinness World Records as the lowest round in history.

And going low hasn’t been a one-off occurrence for Gibson.

He’s twice shot rounds of 60 and fired a 10-under 62 in the final round of the Indonesia PGA Championship in March.

“I’ve gone low quite a bit so knowing that coming here is definitely a positive,” Gibson said on Tuesday.

“But I don’t want to be just known for that (the 55).

“Hopefully it’s just another feather in the cap of a long career.

“Hopefully my golf can shine for years to come.”

Gibson, who lives in the US but plays predominantly on the OneAsia Tour became a beneficiary of the R&A’s new qualification system that offers British Open spots for the top three finishers at the Australian Open who haven’t already qualified.

After placing tied-fourth in a stellar field behind Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and compatriot Scott, Gibson wasn’t even aware he had clinched an Open berth when he walked off the 18th at Royal Sydney.

“These two guys in suits came up to me and I thought `s**t, what did I do wrong?’,” Gibson said.

“And they were like `we’re from the R&A and you’ve got a spot in the Open’.

“It was surreal to be honest and just capped off an already-good week.”

Gibson says his first crack at the highest level is both about the experience and a possible stepping stone to future success.

There won’t be any 55s at Hoylake this week but Gibson knows, if he’s on, he has the game to surprise a few.

“I’ve proved to myself that I can play because I’ve qualified for it,” said Gibson, who has been preparing in the UK since Wednesday.

“On the other hand, it’s an opportunity that, if I did play well, you never know what could happen.”

Ecstatic Berlin crowds welcome victorious German team home

Hundreds of thousands of revellers packed Berlin’s “fan mile”, a 1.

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3 km stretch of road running from the west of the capital up to the Brandenburg Gate, for a huge party. Many more lined the streets in the city centre along the team’s route.

The players danced and sang their way onto a stage at the Gate, a potent symbol of the Cold War, dressed in black T-shirts with the number 1 emblazoned on them and threw footballs into the crowd.

“Without you we wouldn’t be here. We are all world champions,” low-key coach Joachim Loew, affectionately known as Jogi, told the fans, many of them holding red posters with the words “Thanks Boys”.

Young and old fans alike were decked out in Germany shirts, many with their faces painted black, red and gold and with wigs and bandanas in the national colours. Many had started drinking beer hours before the team’s arrival from Brazil.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s something to remember,” said Sabine Kopf, 42, who travelled by train from the western city of Cologne with her husband and 11-year-old son who wore a shirt with “Jogi’s Joker” on the back.

A black open-roofed bus drove the players, who jumped, screamed, waved and held up the golden World Cup trophy, through the streets of Berlin at a snail’s pace for about 2-1/2 hours.

“I am really excited to welcome the World Cup winners during my lifetime. I am from East Germany and this is important,” said Guenther Richter, 51, from East Berlin.

Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro marked the first time a reunified Germany has been world champion, with West Germany having won the trophy in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

One group of players drew attention for poking fun at their defeated opponents by stooping low and chanting “This is how Gauchos walk, Gauchos they walk like this”, before jumping up to shout: “This is how Germans walk, Germans they walk like this!”

PRIDE

The success of the national team since 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, is widely seen as having helped Germans take greater pride in their nationality. History had previously made them uncomfortable about displaying such feelings.

Television channels blanketed the airwaves with coverage of the party and newspapers dedicated whole editions to the win.

“This is what four feels like!” splashed top-selling Bild on its front cover, with a picture of the team with hands raised.

“Welcome, World Champions!” Berliner Zeitung wrote on its front page.

Football enthusiast Chancellor Angela Merkel watched the match in Rio and had pictures taken in the dressing room with the exhausted but jubilant players afterwards.

Some experts think the popular chancellor may expect a boost in her ratings due to the World Cup feel-good factor. She did not receive the team on Tuesday as she was in Croatia, leaving Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to welcome the players, who signed the city’s roll of honour.

A roar went up from the crowd in the “fan mile” when the team’s plane circled overhead. “Football’s coming home!” bellowed fans when it touched down at the airport.

Captain Philipp Lahm led the team down the plane’s stairs holding above his head the golden trophy secured in Sunday’s final, with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger close behind him wrapped in a German flag.

“We all saw each other here in 2006. But now we’ve got the damned thing,” Schweinsteiger, who got a battering during the final match and ended up with a bloody cut under his eye, told the fans in the city centre.

Germany snatched the win in extra time with a stunning goal from fresh-faced Mario Goetze, a 22-year-old boy wonder who got a hero’s welcome when he danced onto the Berlin stage.

“This is an unbelievable feeling. It’s a dream,” he beamed.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Ian Thorpe’s coach guides Olympic hopefuls

Ian Thorpe’s former coach has been tasked with guiding Australia’s next generation of Olympic swimming stars.

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Tracey Menzies coached the Thorpedo to six gold medals, and now she’s responsible for the eight swimmers selected to represent Australia at the Youth Olympics, which begin on August 16 in Nanjing, China.

Held every four years for athletes aged between 15 and 18, the event features 28 sports including athletics, diving, tennis, and fencing.

A team of 89 Aussies will compete across 23 sports, which for the first time includes rugby sevens before the sport makes its full Olympic debut in Rio 2016.

Nanjing looks to be the perfect opportunity for up and coming swimmers to make their presence known and return Australian swimming to the heights it once reached with Thorpe.

The 31-year-old has struggled with personal demons since he retired from professional swimming in 2012.

Earlier this year he was admitted to a rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for his ongoing battle with depression.

He recently revealed he is gay after years of dismissing speculation about his sexuality.

Before she became his coach in 2002, 29-year-old Menzies was relatively unknown outside swimming circles when she took over from Doug Frost.

Then 19, Thorpe had considered retiring after losing enthusiasm for the sport but instead switched coaches.

Menzies is credited with helping him become the first man to win a medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle events at a single Olympic Games in Athens.

With her eye on the future, the experienced trainer says the Youth Olympics will be invaluable not only for her charges but Australian swimming.

“I believe this is a great opportunity to show these young champions what lies ahead and it may be the thing that inspires some of our athletes to be on the 2016 Olympic team,” she said.

“What I would like to take away from these Games is a better understanding of what we as a sport and nation need to do to help these athletes step up for 2016.”

The Youth Olympic team will depart Australia for China on August 13 under the guidance of another talented swimmer, chef de mission Susie O’Neil.

F1 boss Ecclestone explains ‘insurance policy’ payment to German banker

Given detailed evidence for the first time in his bribery trial, Ecclestone repeated earlier statements that the payment to former BayernLB chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky was an insurance policy after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs.

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“I was a little sarcastic when I asked would 50 million help you?” Ecclestone said of a conversation with Gribkowsky.

“It was the cheapest insurance policy I have ever seen,” added the Briton, a billionaire who is a familiar face to millions of motor racing fans around the world.

Ecclestone is accused of channelling $44 million to Gribkowsky in return for smoothing the sale of a major stake in the business to private equity fund CVC, which became the largest shareholder in Formula One in 2006.

The prosecution alleges that Ecclestone, 83, wanted CVC to take control as it meant he could stay on as chief executive of a business he had been instrumental in building.

Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty and a conviction would end his long grip on the business.

Part of the prosecution case rests on the accusation that Ecclestone knowingly bribed a public servant, as BayernLB is state owned.

But a former state finance minister told the court

Ecclestone would not necessarily have been aware of the bank’s status.

“BayernLB appeared like any other commercial bank in its business dealings,” said Kurt Faltlhauser, who was on the bank’s board.

Ecclestone admits paying Gribkowsky but has maintained this was because the German was threatening to make false claims to the British authorities about his tax status that could have jeopardised his fortune.

The case began in April and is expected to run until at least October. It is being heard only two days each week to fit around Ecclestone’s commitments to Formula One. The latest grand prix in the motor racing series will be held in Germany this weekend.

The Munich court jailed Gribkowsky for 8-1/2 years in 2012 for corruption over the payments from Ecclestone.

BayernLB became a major shareholder in Formula One following the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.

(Writing by Keith Weir; editing by Andrew Roche)

Nibali has tragic Pantani in mind as he eyes Tour title

Should he prevail on the French roads, Nibali would become the first Italian rider to win the race since the late Pantani, the 1998 winner who died of a cocaine overdose 10 years ago.

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“In spite of what happened to him, I would be very proud to succeed Pantani,” Nibali told reporters in a hotel car park on the first rest day of the Tour, which he leads with a 2:23 advantage over Australian Richie Porte.

Spain’s Alejandro Valverde is third, 2:47 off the pace, after compatriot Alberto Contador, twice a Tour winner, crashed out of the race on Monday.

“Pantani’s mother had offered me one of his yellow jerseys so if I win this Tour I will bring one of my yellow jerseys to her,” said Nibali.

The Italian, who is a great connoisseur of his sport’s history (“I can talk to you about Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, but also about Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet,” he says), knows that the road to Paris is treacherous.

Although the Astana rider believes the hardest stage was Monday’s trek to La Planche des Belles Filles, which he won to reclaim the yellow jersey, several traps lie ahead.

“The Tour seems easy now but it’s when everything looks easy that it becomes the most difficult,” he said.

“There are several riders who lie in wait,” Nibali said, citing Valverde and Porte.

Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are fourth and sixth respectively with a credible chance of a podium finish and possibly better, according to Nibali.

“We saw it with (Michal) Kwiatkowski yesterday, he went from afar and quickly opened a four-minute gap,” said Nibali.

“We will not make the mistake of underestimating anyone. I made that mistake once, it was in the Vuelta last year and (Chris) Horner won.”

His quest to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours continues on Wednesday with the 11th stage, a 187.5-km ride to Oyonnax featuring four short categorised climbs in the last 50 kilometres.

Only Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Contador, Belgian Eddy Merckx and fellow Italian Felice Gimondi have won the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tony Goodson)

Germany World Cup win inspires Kaymer

Martin Kaymer is hoping to ride a wave of German success into the British Open at Hoylake this week, saying that footballers have much in common with golfers when it comes down to performing on the big stage.

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The recent US Open winner watched Sunday’s World Cup final with his caddie in a house near the course outside of Liverpool.

Germany’s 1-0 triumph over Argentina in Brazil, he said, was the “first moment in my career as an athlete where I was very, very proud to be a German athlete”.

The 29-year-old from Dusseldorf, who also won the PGA Championship in 2010, has close ties with several of the German international players and has the occasional game of golf with them when he is in Munich where several play for Bayern.

He said star striker Thomas Mueller had used his US Open win, which came just as the World Cup was getting underway, as a morale booster for the German squad getting ready for action out in Brazil.

Now he was looking in turn to gain inspiration for a tilt at golf’s oldest and most prestigious trophy.

“They were a good, brave, strong team. And they just delivered. And there was nothing about any secrets, just play your game, use the opportunities that you get. Don’t make any silly mistakes and wait,” he said.

“And that’s the same on the golf tournament. You have a day where you don’t play that super good, but you hang in there and you play something around par that doesn’t get you out of the tournament.

“Then you wait for that amazing day, that they had against Brazil (7-1 win in the semi-final), and that you need during the golf tournament to win it.”

To date, Kaymer has not had that many “amazing days” at the British Open.

In six appearances to date in the third of the year’s four majors, he has just the one top 10 finish to his credit, a seventh place at St Andrews in 2010, shortly after his breakthrough US Open win.

Back surgery has given returning Woods a fresh perspective

The 14-times major champion will be making his second competitive appearance in four months at this week’s British Open and Woods is just happy to be back at the venue of his memorable 2006 victory at Royal Liverpool.

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“With this particular injury with my back I didn’t want to do anything,” Woods told reporters on Tuesday. “I couldn’t get out of bed and I couldn’t move around the house.

“That made me appreciate just how fortunate I was to be able to play at that high level for the better part of 17 years. It made me appreciate that a lot more.”

Woods famously won the 2008 U.S. Open, the most recent of his major triumphs, virtually on one leg due to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) problems that eventually led to surgery.

“When I had no ACL and my leg was pretty trashed I could actually still go out there and play,” explained the 38-year-old American. “I couldn’t do that with this back injury.

“I couldn’t actually enjoy my life…the daily things of just moving around. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun.”

Woods missed the cut on his comeback at the Quicken Loans National event in Maryland last month but he is delighted just to be pain-free these days.

“The people who have had my surgery, they’ve all said the same thing. It changes your whole life, it just takes away all the pain,” said the world number seven.

“Yeah, you’re sore from the incision but you don’t have that radiating pain that goes down the leg. Once that was removed, even though I was hurting from the surgery, I knew I could come back and play.

A MATTER OF TIME

“It was just a matter of time before I got out here and was able to play at elite level again. Once I went through the procedure and I was just sitting in the recovery room and I didn’t have that pain any more it was a lot of relief.”

Former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange told Reuters earlier this month that Woods had to limit his ambitions at Hoylake because of his limited playing time since surgery.

Golf’s great drawcard, however, said he had proved in the past how he can triumph in the face of adversity.

“I’ve been in circumstances like this before,” Woods added. “In 2008 I had surgery after the U.S. Masters at Augusta.

“The Sunday before the U.S. Open I didn’t break 50 for nine holes and still I was able to win it in a playoff (with Rocco Mediate) with an ACL and a broken leg.

“I’ve proven I can do it. It’s just a matter of giving myself the best chances this week, to miss in the correct spots, to be aggressive when I can and obviously to hole putts.

“That’s a recipe you find for every major championship.”

Woods’s golfing mentor, his father Earl, died in the months leading up to the Hoylake Open in 2006 and he said his tear-stained victory that week was extra special.

“That was a very emotional week,” he said. “I pressed pretty hard at Augusta that year because it was the last time my dad was ever going to see me play in a major championship.

“I came here and just felt at peace. On Sunday I felt real calm out there.

“It was surreal at the time. I felt my dad was with me in that round,” said Woods.

“I said it back then in 2006 that it was like having a 15th club in the bag.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Bayern rout Hanover to go 19 points ahead

Bayern coach Pep Guardiola had described the Bundesliga as “pizzas and hamburgers” compared to the “gourmet” of the Champions League in the wake of last Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Arsenal in Europe.

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Their main domestic rivals did little to disprove Guardiola’s point as Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke picked up just a point between them over the weekend.

The Bavarian giants extended their record unbeaten run to 47 Bundesliga matches, dating back to October 2012, to strengthen their iron grip on what will be their 24th German league title, baring a miracle.

Having won last season’s league title with a record six games to spare, Bayern are on course to break their own best mark.

Hanover offered little resistance as Germany winger Thomas Mueller scored twice while attacking midfielder Thiago Alcantara and Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic also netted.

There was more good news for both Bayern and Germany as Bastian Schweinsteiger made his first start since November after an ankle, then knee injury, to partner captain Philipp Lahm in the defensive midfield.

Brazil’s Rafinha, who took over from Lahm at right-back, strengthened his case for a Selecao place at June’s World Cup with two crosses which both led to goals.

– Champions League hangover –

Mueller set Bayern on the way to their 14th consecutive league win when he headed home Rafinha’s cross with 25 minutes gone.

Thiago then chested down Schweinsteiger’s superb pass and fired home to make it 2-0 after 34 minutes.

Mueller profited from a Mandzukic pass to get behind the Hanover defence and score his second on 59 minutes, while Mandzukic then headed home Rafinha’s cross for Bayern’s fourth, seven minutes later.

On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund suffered a shock 3-0 league defeat at strugglers Hamburg ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 clash at Zenit St Petersburg.

Hamburg recorded their first league win since November in Mirko Slomka’s first match in charge as his side broke their eight-match losing streak, including a club record seven league matches.

The result sees Hamburg remain among the relegation places, but move up to 16th, while Dortmund stay third.

There was more bad news for Jurgen Klopp on Sunday as defensive midfielder Sven Bender was ruled out for the next 10 weeks with an inflamed pelvis.

Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen went down 3-1 at VfL Wolfsburg as Sami Hyypia’s side lost for the seventh time in their last nine games.

Leverkusen suffered a Champions League hangover, following their 4-0 last-16, first-leg home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, with another poor display.

Braunschweig are now three points adrift at the bottom after their 2-1 defeat at ten-man Nuremberg in a match where three penalties were saved.

Borussia Moenchengladbach stay sixth, but are winless in their last seven games after their 2-2 draw at home to Hoffenheim.

Augsburg got back to winning ways with a 4-2 victory at Freiburg to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat to Nuremberg, their only loss in the last eight games.

VfB Stuttgart are just above the bottom three after they suffered their seventh straight defeat at home to Hertha Berlin, who ran out 2-1 winners.

Hertha’s replacement striker Sandro Wagner headed the winner, three minutes from time, but was then sent off for a second yellow card having only been on the pitch for 12 minutes.

Dominant Nordqvist records Thai win

Anna Nordqvist has completed a two shot pillar-to-post win at LPGA Thailand, holding off a dramatic late challenge from world number one Park In-Bee.

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In a thrilling battle at the Siam Country Club Old Pattaya Course, Nordqvist, who led the event from the first round, held her nerve to notch her third LPGA title and her first win since 2009.

The Swede finished 15-under with a four round 273 (66-72-67-88), two up from South Korean defending champion Park whose birdie-studded final round 66 was just not enough to claim victory.

But she finished with an impressive overall 275 (71-71-67-66), securing her place at the top of the rankings after a disappointing run of results had imperiled her status as the world’s top womens’ player.

Scotland’s Catriona Matthew was two shots further back after a championship 277 (76-71-65-65), while America’s one-time teen star Michelle Wie rattled in three birdies and an eagle to finish with a 69 and 278 overall.

Nordqvist had to draw on all her reserves to win the $US225,000 ($A250,000) prize-money, with both Park and Wie playing some of their best golf for a while.

“I am so happy to finally break through again,” Nordqvist, who admitted that her disappointing form last year made her almost give up the game, told reporters.

“Michelle played so great and In-bee was pushing me all the way I knew I had to stay strong.”

Both Park and Wie came within one shot of Nordqvist at the turn, but she held them off in determined fashion.

Holding a four-shot overnight lead, Nordqvist appeared to be going smoothly until a double-bogey at the fifth saw her come under pressure, first from Wie and then Park.

The trio reached the turn separated by just two shots, setting up an intriguing battle on the back nine.

There was high drama at the 10th when Wie converted an eagle, while Nordqvist and Park sunk birdies.

Facing a serious challenge, Nordqvist rose to the occasion in style as she birdied the next two holes to pull three clear of her nearest rivals.

Wie then began to fade, leaving Park as the main challenger, but another birdie at the 15th, her fourth in five holes, gave the Swede some breathing room.

Over the final three holes Nordqvist remained in control, finishing up with 15-underpar, two clear of Park.

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe celebrates 90th birthday

Thousands of people turned out Sunday to celebrate the birthday of Zimbabwe’s veteran President Robert Mugabe, who threw 90 balloons into the air to mark his 90th year and continuing hold on power.

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Fresh off the plane from Singapore, where he had travelled for eye surgery last week, Mugabe was in typically defiant mood as he launched his birthday celebrations at Marondera stadium, east of the capital Harare.

“I feel as youthful and energetic as a boy of nine,” Mugabe said before cutting his cake.

Dressed in a black suit, red tie and white shirt, he moved around the venue on the back of a truck waving his fist to a crowd made up largely of school children bussed in for the occasion.

In a speech that lasted over an hour, Mugabe told the crowd that his ZANU-PF party’s election win last year had confounded his critics in the West.

“Those opponents of ours who had imposed sanctions on us were baffled,” he said.

“The truth is ZANU-PF won, ZANU-PF had the support. ZANU-PF had the message, had the history, ZANU-PF has the people.”

Mugabe, who turned 90 on Friday while he was still in Singapore, has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist ever since the former rebel led the country to independence from Britain in 1980.

His party won another resounding victory in August elections — taking two-thirds of the vote — although critics say he used state power to intimidate voters and opponents.

“At times I think of how I have survived over the years, escaping death, many of my friends and relatives have died. It saddens me at times, but at the same time you are happy that you have turned 90.”

Huge cakes were on display in the centre of the stadium, while the crowd wore red scarves, as is traditional on the president’s birthday, and waved national flags.

A series of speakers led the crowd in chanting ZANU-PF slogans, and denouncing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Ambassadors from China and Russia also presented Mugabe with special messages of congratulation from their presidents.

Mugabe was presented with 90 sheep, while several cattle were also among his many birthday presents and 90 cattle were slaughtered for the feast.

Five huge cakes in an array of designs including the independence flame were at the celebrations, one weighing a massive 90 kilograms.