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Icher leads Swinging Skirts golf in US

France’s Karine Icher, helped by her caddie and husband Fred, took a two-stroke lead on Thursday after the opening round of the LPGA Tour’s Swinging Skirts Classic by shooting a six-under-par 66.

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The pair hatched a strategy of leaving their approach shots short of the pin to allow for more controllable uphill putts.

“It’s the key on this course,” Icher said. “It’s a tough golf course, especially with the wind and temperature. It gets so cold. You try to stay warm and try to catch the right wind and go with it and make some putts.”

The start was delayed by two hours because of fog and play was suspended because of darkness with 24 golfers still on the course.

Icher birdied four of her first seven holes to set up a two-shot buffer ahead of a five players, comprising Lydia Ko – who celebrated her 17th birthday with a strong 68 – Maria McBride, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Jenny Shin and Ilhee Lee.

Morgan Pressel birdied four of her first eight holes and was among the players sitting three strokes back at 69.

“It was actually a bit of a struggle out there. My short game kept me in it. I stayed patient,” Pressel said. “It’s a tough golf course. I knew nobody was going to go out there and blitz it.”

Mo Martin also shot a 69 after warming up four times before finally hitting her first tee shot following the fog delay.

Top-ranked Inbee Park opened with a 73, while second-ranked Suzann Pettersen had a 70 in her first tournament since missing three events with a back injury. On the par-4 11th, a frustrated Pettersen made an eight-foot putt for triple-bogey to fall from three-under to even-par before bouncing back.

Michelle Wie, coming off her first win in nearly four years last week at home in Hawaii, finished at even-par 72.

Angela Stanford and Se Ri Pak withdrew on Thursday, and neither provided a reason.

Recovering McKinnon has arm movement, feeling in legs

The 22-year-old broke two vertebrae in his neck in the Knights clash with the Melbourne Storm on March 24 after a lifting tackle by three opposition players drove him head-first into the ground and he underwent emergency surgery before being placed in an induced coma for almost a week.

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“(I have) a lot more movement in my right arm and a lot of movement in my left arm,” McKinnon said of his recovery in an interview on the Knights website (南宁夜网.newcaslteknights广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,) on Friday.

“It’s just a matter of time that hopefully I get a bit more movement in my legs. I’ve got a great sensational feeling through my legs. (There are) a lot of positive signs.”

A local television network had reported shortly after the incident that McKinnon had been told he would be a quadriplegic, a report the Knights and the player’s family angrily denied.

The Knights said at the time it was too early to determine any permanent outcomes from the injury and recovery could take up to two years.

The incident prompted a backlash against the NRL for allowing lifting tackle in the game.

Storm prop Jordan McLean, who lifted McKinnon into the air before he was driven into the turf with his arms pinned back, was suspended for seven matches for a ‘dangerous throw’.

McKinnon, who was speaking for the first time since the incident, added he had been able to play a board game this week and he was getting intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation sessions.

“Physio is pretty much getting my legs and my arms moving,” McKinnon said. “Obviously not moving much in the last four weeks they are a little bit stiff.

“It’s been a tough month. There is a lot of improvements and that’s the thing that is keeping me going.

“I’ve come a long way in four weeks.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Mariners steeled for A-League semi: Moss

Coach Phil Moss has likened his travel-weary Central Coast Mariners to bullfighters in their steely focus on defeating Western Sydney in Saturday’s A-League semi-final showdown.

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Arriving back in Sydney on Friday morning, the Mariners have scant time to regroup for the Parramatta Stadium clash following their Asian Champions League (ACL) loss in Japan on Wednesday night.

And while the Wanderers took confidence and more recovery time after booking their spot in the ACL second round by thrashing China’s Guizhou Renhe 5-0 in Sydney on Tuesday night, the Mariners’ 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima ended their ACL campaign.

Far from deflating them, Moss said the defeat has only made his side more determined to win on Saturday and they were putting aside all concerns about the effects of their harsh schedule.

“The loss will affect us but in a positive way,” he said.

“There was no disappointment in the dressing room, that was left out on the pitch in Hiroshima.

“As soon as the whistle blew on Tuesday you could see the focus turned to Saturday and I saw that steely resolve in their eyes.

“We’re kind of like the bull fighter, we don’t take our eye off the bull.

“Once you look at the circus going on around you that’s when you lose focus and we just don’t allow ourselves to do that.”

Moss had previously been vocal about his displeasure at the Mariners’ tough program this week.

Wanderers coach Tony Popovic however wasn’t buying it, insisting the Mariners have been in similar situations in the past and it hasn’t deterred them.

“The Central Coast have done a good job at taking pressure off themselves,” Popovic said on Friday.

“But they’re a club that has done this many times before.

“They played a grand final against us last year and, two days later, played a game in Korea and won that.

“So I don’t think the travel is a problem for them.

“If it is, then the Central Coast players should not be playing the game.

“It’s a one off semi-final – I’m sure they’re all looking forward to it like we are.”

Moss hit back, insisting the Wanderers’ favourable preparation puts the pressure squarely on Popovic and his men, who’ll be hungry to avenge last season’s grand final loss.

“It’s not mind games at all. It’s the facts,” Moss said.

“I’ve been quite amused to read some of the circus that’s gone on back here.

“Obliviously Popa’s not going to buy that, that’s his job.

“But anyone who knows anything about football knows that the home team carries the favourites tag.

“They haven’t had the travel, they had a positive result Wednesday night so everything is leaning in that direction.”

Martinez won’t give up on EPL top four

Roberto Martinez believes Everton will overhaul Arsenal into the race to qualify for the Champions League if they win their last three matches.

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Martinez’s fifth-placed team trail fourth-placed Arsenal by a point after their bid to finish in the top four fell out of their own hands with last week’s 3-2 defeat at Crystal Palace.

A 2-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday in the following match revived Everton’s belief they can still qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.

Now Everton head to Southampton on Saturday before hosting Manchester City and then finishing the Premier League season at Hull.

The Gunners end their campaign with matches against Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich, making them favourites to win the qualification battle.

But Martinez remains confident three more victories will be enough to overtake Arsene Wenger’s team.

“Looking at the last 15 years or so, fourth place is well below 76 points,” Martinez said.

“There has only been one season where you have needed 76 points for that (fourth) and on average it’s always been a lot less points.

“You don’t go far wrong when you look at the points tally. We are well aware anything around 72 to 75 points is Champions League football so we are desperate to try to make sure we get that.”

However, Martinez’s hopes for a Champions League spot are in danger of being hampered by Everton’s long injury list.

Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas has been ruled out for the season with a groin problem, while defender Sylvain Distin is out of the trip to Southampton with a hamstring injury.

Captain Phil Jagielka is still sidelined, along with Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Lacina Traore and Arouna Kone.

Southampton have little to play for except to hold on to eighth place, which would equal their previous best Premier League finish in 2003.

However, a number of players have a great deal more on their personal horizons as Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw are all keen to be included in the England World Cup squad as soon as the season is concluded.

Small Gallipoli turnout ahead of centenary

A much lower-than-expected crowd of just 4400 pilgrims has gathered for the 99th anniversary Anzac Day dawn service in Gallipoli.

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The official crowd of 4393 is about 1000 fewer than organisers expected and compares with 5200 in 2013.

Numbers were thought to be down last year because people were waiting to see if they could secure a ticket to the 2015 centenary commemorations.

But the 10,000 successful ballot applicants, who will join 500 official guests on the peninsula next year, were only notified earlier this month meaning those who missed out didn’t have time to book a trip in 2014.

Organisers are therefore expecting a spike in numbers in 2016.

It’s estimated that 10,000 pilgrims attended the 90th anniversary at Gallipoli in 2005.

Counts have been conducted since with numbers subsequently staying high for three years before declining to this year’s low.

The head of the Villers-Bretonneux dawn service this week argued the Western Front is likely to surpass Gallipoli as the focal point of Anzac Day commemorations beyond next year.

But that’s not the view of Gallipoli services director Tim Evans.

He acknowledges people are starting to understand more about Australia’s military heritage and the “life changing experience” of being on the Western Front, and that’s attracting a lot of people.

“But Anzac Day at Gallipoli will always remain a very significant and resonant part of the Australian experience of our military experience,” Mr Evans told reporters in Gallipoli this week.

He said while numbers had “ebbed” at Gallipoli over the past three years, that had more to do people pacing themselves ahead of the centenary.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said while numbers at Villers-Bretonneux had been increasing dramatically over the past few years “the Gallipoli dawn service will be, in my view, a defining day for this nation for a long, long time to come”.

Armstrong fails to block bonuses challenge

A Texas appeals court has rejected Lance Armstrong’s attempts to block an arbitration panel from reviewing $US12 million ($A13 million) in bonuses paid to him by a company that wants its money back, a setback for the cyclist who is fighting multiple legal battles that could strip him of his personal fortune.

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The Dallas-based Fifth Court of Appeals temporarily halted the case at Armstrong’s request in March, but ruled on Thursday it did not have jurisdiction at this stage of an arbitration matter.

A spokesman for SCA Promotions said the ruling would allow the arbitration to proceed. The ruling was a defeat for Armstrong but not a final one. State law will allow him to appeal any final judgment if the panel rules against him.

SCA Promotions wants to reopen a 2006 settlement it paid to Armstrong, and sued the cyclist after his 2013 admission to doping during his career to win seven Tour de France titles.

The arbitration panel that first approved the settlement agreed to reconsider the case, prompting Armstrong to ask the state courts to intervene. Armstrong attorney Tim Herman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s ruling.

SCA and Armstrong have been battling since 2005, when the company first tried to withhold the bonus money and sought to prove he doped. Despite producing some of the most serious doping allegations at the time, SCA ultimately agreed to pay Armstrong.

Armstrong’s attorneys insist state law doesn’t allow SCA to reopen the original settlement, which included a clause that said “no party may challenge, appeal or attempt to set aside” the payment and that it was “fully and forever binding”.

But given Armstrong’s doping admission and SCA’s claims that it reached the settlement only because of fraudulent efforts by Armstrong, the arbitration panel agreed to consider the company’s case for repayment.

The appeals court said it can’t step in until there is a final judgment from the arbitration panel.

“As a general matter, an arbitration must be complete before appellate review is appropriate,” the court wrote in its opinion.

Armstrong has faced several lawsuits since admitting last year that he used steroids and other performance enhancers to win the Tour from 1999-2005.

He has settled cases with the London-based Sunday Times and Nebraska-based Acceptance Insurance. Armstrong settled with Acceptance, which paid him $US3 million ($A3.25 million) in bonuses similar to SCA, hours before he was scheduled to be questioned under oath.

He also is facing a federal whistleblower lawsuit, as the government wants to recover more than $US30 million ($A32.4 million) the US Postal Service paid to Armstrong’s teams. Potential penalties in that case could be as high as $US100 million ($A108 million).

Thwaites helps lift Swifts over Steel

The NSW Swifts have bounced back from consecutive losses courtesy of on-song goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites to notch a 65-52 victory over the Southern Steel in the trans-Tasman netball competition.

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Thwaites (32 goals from 35 attempts) nailed her first 21 attempts as the Swifts raced away to a 37-24 half time lead in front of 2678 fans Canberra’s AIS Arena on Friday.

She was subbed off with the match all-but won in the third quarter, but goal attack Susan Pratley (23 from 28) ensured there was no major loss of momentum against the New Zealand side.

“She (Thwaites) was crazy. Our combination is new but we’re developing quite well,” Pratley said.

“To have such a strong target back there takes the pressure off.”

A wide-grinned Thwaites struggled to recall the last time she started a match with 21 straight goals.

“It was so great to have them bringing it to the circle edge,” she said.

“It was a really great drive to the top and we made them pay.”

Swifts captain Kim Green provided her shooters with the bulk of their opportunities, finishing with a match-high 19 goal assists.

Green said it was a marked improvement over their last two performances, which saw her side go down to the competition leading Melbourne Vixens and the fourth-placed Queensland Firebirds.

“Last week we had a big in-depth conversation after the game, there were a lot of things we did wrong,” she said.

“The want for the ball was not there … today, we were much better.”

Steel goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid (42 from 45) was kept relatively quiet compared to her usual lofty standards due to some dogged defence by Sharni Layton and Sonia Mkoloma.

She finished strong with 14 goals in the final quarter, but it was too little, too late.

The victory keeps the Swifts up in third place ahead of next Sunday’s match against the Melbourne Vixens.

Meanwhile, the Steel head to Auckland to take on the Northern Mystics.

Race to recover bodies from Korean ferry

Dive teams are racing to pull more than 100 bodies from a sunken South Korean ferry as storm clouds loom and the victims’ families angrily press officials to wrap up the recovery effort.

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The confirmed death toll stood at 181, but 121 people remained unaccounted for – their bodies believed still trapped in the submerged vessel that capsized on April 16 with 476 people on board.

Although all hope of finding any survivors has been extinguished, there is still anger and deep frustration among the relatives over the pace of the recovery operation off the southern island of Jindo.

Gentle tides and good weather have helped the dive teams in recent days, but the search conditions inside the ferry are still challenging and rescuers are only managing to retrieve about 30 bodies a day.

Making up the bulk of the passengers on the 6825-tonne Sewol when it sank were 325 high school students – about 250 of whom are either confirmed or presumed dead.

On Thursday evening, a group of irate parents stormed into the Jindo office of the deputy head of the South Korean coastguard, and roughly manhandled him down to the island harbour.

He was kept there most of the night, sitting on the ground, along with coastguard chief Kim Seok-Kyun and Marine Minister Lee Ju-Young, while the relatives accused them of lying about the recovery operation and demanded they bring in more resources.

Police made no move to intervene and the three made no attempt to get away, reflecting a reluctance to antagonise the relatives in any way at a time of widespread public anger over the official response to the disaster.

The bereaved families have said they want all the remaining bodies removed from the ferry before the weekend – a demand that is unlikely to be met, especially with a bad weather front moving in.

“We know that weather conditions will worsen considerably and currents will become stronger from Saturday,” a coastguard spokesman told a press briefing.

An earlier coastguard statement said storm warnings could be issued on Saturday or Sunday for the area around the rescue site.

Rescuers have not found a single survivor since 174 people were pulled to safety on the day of the accident.

It took divers working in difficult and dangerous conditions more than two days to get into the sunken ferry and two more days to retrieve the first bodies.

Many relatives believe some of the victims may have survived for several days in trapped air pockets, but perished in the cold water after no rescue came.

As a result some have asked for autopsies to be performed, to see if it would be possible to determine the precise cause and time of death.

The Sewol’s captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and 10 crew members have been arrested on charges ranging from criminal negligence to abandoning passengers.

The captain has been particularly criticised for delaying the evacuation order until the ferry was listing so sharply that escape was almost impossible.

Tech giants settle no-poaching deal suit

Tech giants Apple, Google, Adobe and Intel have settled a lawsuit that charged they had colluded to hold salaries down by agreeing to not poach each other’s staff.

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The four reached an agreement to settle all claims against them with lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case dating back to 2011, a statement from the San Francisco US district court said.

No details were given of the amounts, if any, that the four will pay to hundreds or thousands of workers covered under the class-action suit to resolve the case.

The original lawsuit alleged that senior executives of the tech giants “entered into an interconnected web of express agreements to eliminate competition among them for skilled labour.”

The conspiracy allegedly involved agreements not to recruit each other’s employees, to notify each other when making an offer to another’s employee, and, when seeing an employee in negotiations with one company, not to make a counter-offer to the employee.

“The intended and actual effect of these agreements was to fix and suppress employee compensation, and to impose unlawful restrictions on employee mobility,” the suit said.

Three other companies originally named in the suit, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar, settled their cases last July for a collective $US20 million ($A21.61 million).

That settlement noted that they accounted for less than eight per cent of all those covered in the class-action suit, suggesting that Thursday’s settlement by the four others could be much higher.

The case said that Pixar and Lucasfilm were the first to make secret pacts to suppress worker pay and mobility, when late Apple founder Steve Jobs was head of Pixar in 2005-2006.

Shortly after that deal was set, Jobs took Apple into a no-poach deal with Adobe, the software company, according to the suit.

The case against the remaining four companies in the suit gained strength in January when the judge in the case, Lucy Koh, cited emails from Jobs requesting in 2007 that Google stop recruiting Apple workers.

Malaysia vows transparency on MH370

Malaysia’s premier has pledged to release a report on flight MH370’s disappearance as passengers’ families protested outside the country’s embassy in Beijing, venting anger at the agonising information vacuum surrounding the plane.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government has faced wide questioning over its transparency on MH370, promised that a preliminary report submitted to the UN’s aviation body would be released publicly.

“In the name of transparency, we will release the report next week,” he told CNN in an interview aired late on Thursday.

That wasn’t soon enough for dozens of Chinese relatives who held an overnight protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, according to a spokesman for relatives.

Many family members, especially those in China – two-thirds of the 239 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane were Chinese – have for weeks bitterly accused Malaysia of a secretive and incompetent MH370 response.

Tensions boiled over at a briefing on Thursday at a hotel where relatives are staying, after airline representatives said a Malaysian embassy official would not arrive to answer their often extremely combative questions.

“We want somebody from the embassy to come out and tell us why they didn’t come,” said relative Steven Wang.

He said about 100 people had waited outside the mission overnight.

Police fanned out around the embassy Friday morning.

Dozens of relatives had staged a noisy protest last month at the embassy – apparently sanctioned by Chinese authorities, who cleared streets for their approach – decrying Malaysian authorities and the national airline as “murderers”.

The Boeing 777 vanished on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is now believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, where an Australian-led search is under way.

But a difficult underwater search of the suspected crash site, using an unmanned mini-submarine equipped with a sonar device, was nearing completion with no trace of the plane.

“Bluefin-21 has now completed approximately 95 per cent of the focused underwater search area. No contacts of interest have been found to date,” the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, based in Perth, said in a statement.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requires countries to submit within 30 days a factual account of what is known so far in any air crash.

A Malaysian official had said Wednesday it was uncertain whether the government would release the report.

But Mr Najib confirmed Malaysia would release it publicly after an “internal investigation team” examined it.

Asked on CNN whether that indicated it contained embarrassing revelations, Mr Najib replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

Anthony Brickhouse, a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, said the report was unlikely to contain anything startling.

“This preliminary report is really just a run-down of what you know so far. And in this case, not much is known anyway,” he said.

Malaysia has pledged that any data eventually recovered from the plane’s “black box” will be publicly released.

It has said it is assembling what officials insist will be an independent international team operating under ICAO guidelines to conduct a comprehensive probe.

Australian and Malaysia authorities are mulling what to do next in the ocean search if the Bluefin-21 fails to find wreckage.

But they insist the search – estimated to have cost at least $100 million and counting – will go on, possibly using other assets including more powerful sonar devices.

Mr Najib stressed that his government was not yet prepared to declare MH370’s passengers dead, while saying, “it is hard to imagine otherwise”.