Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week 3 plus PNG games

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the third week of the NRL finals. The weekend’s rugby league results means NRL Grand Final day will have an international flavor in the Interstate Challenge with the PNG Hunters winning through to the national second-tier decider. The Melbourne Storm will attempt to win their fifth grand final, but what would be their third legitimate title after their salary cap breaches last decade, whilst the Cowboys are aiming to win a second crown in three seasons.

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Saturday night’s 29-16 triumph for the Cowboys meant Paul Green’s side became the second team since the Eels in 2009 to come from eighth place and make the grand final (in this finals format.) A calm Michael Morgan field goal three minutes from time sealed the win before Scott Bolton crossed for good measure. Morgan’s boot wasn’t only key with the one-pointer but his role was influential throughout the night. By way of example the Cowboys forced five drop outs during the game (including one from an immense defensive play) and Morgan played a key role in a statistic which the Roosters didn’t manage any of. In Melbourne the night before the Storm beat the Broncos 30-0 but it took until two minutes out from halftime when home side crossed for their first four-pointer. Up until that point it had been a very fractured contest with the Storm making an uncharacteristic six first half errors. The Cowboys will take heart from the fact Cronulla forced the Storm into five errors in the first half of the 2016 Grand Final..

 

The week in which the Bulldogs axed coached Des Hasler former Canterbury forward Dale Finucane thrived on Friday night running for a high for the Melbourne pack of 127 metres from his 14 runs and got through 27 tackles in his 54 minutes on the park. Bega-born Finucane is a threat from second phase play with a handy ability to offload. The NSW Country Origin representative will be making his fourth grand final appearance, he is yet to win one with the 2012 decider when the Storm beat the Bulldogs 14-4 his current club’s last NRL title. Somewhat opposite to Finucane’s trifecta of grand final defeats is Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill. The Maroons representative has a 2-0 record in grand finals, winning with the Storm in 2012 and the Cowboys in 2015. The Warwick-born left centre has also scored a try in each decider plus to go with that he scored in 2009 when the Storm won the Under 20s decider when they beat the Wests Tigers.

 

On each team’s recent grand final history. In the 2012 decider when Melbourne won by ten points all points were scored in the first half with the Victorian outfit seeing Ryan Hoffman, Billy Slater and O’Neill cross for tries. Interestingly skipper Cameron Smith notched only one from five of his attempts on goal that day. The Cowboys maiden crown in 2015 came courtesy of a famous Johnathan Thurston field goal after they outscored the Broncos three ties to two in normal time but the game had finished at 18-18 after 80 minutes before the one-pointer three minutes into the golden point extra time period.

 

Sunday’s NRL decider will be preceded by two games with the final under 20s competition contest to commence proceedings at the Sydney Olympic Park venue on, and it’s an all-Sydney affair. Manly, despite some drama around four players getting involved in a car accident on the way to the game, beat the Dragons 34-18 in the first preliminary final. The Sea Eagles, who finished eighth on the ladder will meet Parramatta who beat Penrith 28-6 in the second preliminary final. The National Youth Cup will cease at the end of this season with a change in the pathways and state-based competitions. The second fixture on the day will feature an overseas side playing in the Interstate Challenge after the PNG Hunters beat the Sunshine Coast Falcons in dramatic circumstances in Sunday with a try 90 seconds from time to secure a 12-10 triumph  in the Instrust Super Cup (aka Q Cup.) The victory at Suncorp Stadium comes in only the Hunters fourth year in the competition. The Intrust Super Premiership NSW (aka NSW Cup) title went to Penrith after their 20-12 win over the Wyong Roos (Sydney Roosters affiliate) at Leichhardt Oval. Earlier at the Lilyfield venue the Redfern All Blacks won the inaugural NSW Women’s Premiership prevailing 26-16 over North Newcastle.

 

On Saturday in Port Moresby the Jillaroos played an historic first international fixture in Papua New Guinea beating the Orchids 42-4. The first women’s test in the country was highlighted when Maima Wei scored the hosts’ only four-pointer during the game which was played in such hot and humid conditions it was split into four quarters. Following the women’s test the PM’s XIII (the best Australian players not featuring in the latter stages of the NRL finals) saw off Papua New Guinea 48-8 at the National Football Stadium in a key tune up for the World Cup which starts on October 27. The only unfortunate aspect of the double header was the date meant the Hunters qualification for the Q Cup final and the NSW Women’s final saw both games miss key players.

 

Image via qrl.com.au

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Golf Capital – Nordqvist wins Evian farce, Leishman lines up for playoff bonus

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes from the week which saw Anna Nordqvist claim a second career major, Australia’s Marc Leishman dispatched an elite field in the BMW Championship and Romain Wattel won his first European Tour title.

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Opening drive

Swede Anna Nordqvist survived a final day of pressure which saw four players tied for the lead late on the back nine before prevailing over American Brittany Almore on the first playoff hole to claim the Evian Championship – her first major win since the Women’s PGA in 2009.

Nordqvist’s victory in the rain on Sunday came after a farcical start to the tournament. With wet weather setting in on Thursday officials, with a host of players having started their round, took players off the course (nothing unusual there) but then came the odd decision in calling the round off for the day mid-afternoon to annul the scores already registered and reduce the tournament to 54 holes. With no LPGA event this weekend coming up and considering the event was a major this seemed a daft move. The player to benefit mostly from this was Sung Hyun Park with the world number two starting six over after five holes. The following day she posted eight under to lead after ‘round one’

Without wanting to jeer for Park there was some justice that she dropped away on the final day firing a 77 to finish T26. But she did still claim $31,000 worth of prizemoney when her start should have had the South Korean chasing after early on Thursday.

At Conway Farms Marc Leishman posted the biggest win of his career to rise to 15 in the world rankings, but also giving himself a strong shot at winning the FedEx Cup bonus after he trounced the field by five strokes in the BMW Championship. The Victorian’s only blemishes on the final day were bogeys at five and 13 but it was an otherwise comfortable win with Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler sharing second.

In Holland on the European Tour Frenchman Romain Wattel won by a stroke over rising Canadian star Austin Connelly. This weekend the Portugal Masters in the Algarve is the ET event with Ireland’s Padraig Harrington the defending champion.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. The TOUR Championship in Georgia is the final leg of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. Rory McIlroy won this event last year, but the Northern Irishman hasn’t qualified this time around for the elite 30-player field.

20 and under: Jordan Spieth. The three-time major winner won the TOUR Championship in 2015 and has won three times this year. The Texan closed with a 65 to finish T7 last weekend and is the only player featuring here to win at East Lake.

20 and under: Justin Thomas. Spieth’s good friend was T6 in this event last season and has won five times since then including a major. Thomas was T47 in Chicago for his worst result since missing the cut at the Open but he has gone bad result-good result a few times in his career..

20 and under: Marc Leishman. The playoff format has seen a single player win two events in each year since 2012 with Rory McIlroy having done it twice since 2012. Leishman is aiming for his third win this season and was a comprehensive winner in Illinois..

50 to 100: Xander Schauffele. The Greenbrier winner got a run going on Sunday to qualify for this weekend, ultimately finishing T20, and it is a terrific effort in his first full season playing the PGA Tour to make this event.

Greens in regulation

The $10 million FedEx Cup bonus could still be won by fourth-placed Leishman or another of the players in the top five of the playoff standings (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and fifth-placed Jon Rahm) with a win on their own – they don’t require other players to finish in certain positions. However the story of Patrick Cantlay whatever the result, is noteworthy . Former top-ranked amateur Cantlay started the weekend in 41st and got in to the field of 30 for this tournament after finishing T9. The ex UCLA Bruin has suffered tragedy recently when close friend Chris Roth died in his arms after he was hit by a car last year. Despite playing only 12 tournaments this year after he started his season in March due to ongoing back issues he has made the 30-player elite field at East Lake.

Tap in

It was another dramatic finish for a women’s major with the French event going to a playoff but in a disappointing situation the final day was not televised live on television in Australia. This was despite Fox Sports carrying the first three days live/ One could access the action on Sunday via a YouTube live stream but the fact the final round of the final major of the year wasn’t broadcast live was nothing short of disgraceful programming. In the past when Fox Sports’ platforms of channels have been full with other live sport the programmers have shifted events to Fox Sports News or utilised the ‘red button’ interactive function. Why have they gone backwards in this coverage? It’s concerning when Foxtel have been given $30 million to broadcast women’s sport from the federal government but there have been no programming requirements made public and they haven’t been decided (this is according to a staffer of federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield who admitted the government can’t program TV networks.) This raises the possibility of Foxtel using a portion of the funds to pay their broadcast deal fee with the LPGA but then warehousing the coverage to a delayed scenario. For example playing it the next day at midday, which is what happened with the Evian Championship this week. The paradox is this came on the weekend with great coverage of the Matildas (Australia’s national women’s football side) across Fox Sports and the ABC. Yes it was a big occasion with Australia at home to footballing giants Brazil, but the fixtures were friendlies and Nordqvist’s triumph was a major which finished at 2am on Monday morning but somehow couldn’t be broadcast at all live on the final day. One step forward, two steps backs with coverage of women’s sport.

Image via yahoosports.com

 

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week 2 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the second week of the NRL finals plus some of the second-tier preliminary final action across New South Wales and Queensland. The Broncos secured a spot in the penultimate weekend of NRL beating Penrith whilst North Queensland travelled to Sydney again, this time beating the Eels.

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Despite missing four of their top-liners Brisbane prevailed 13-6 on Friday evening to book a preliminary final meeting with the Melbourne Storm. Losing players during the game to injury, primarily concussion exclusions, the home side didn’t put the game away until ten minutes to go having dominated the early periods before possession swung back in favour of the travelling Panthers, largely courtesy of a wasteful Brisbane side who made 13 errors. One of Brisbane’s best-performers was edge forward Alex Glenn who made a team-high 156 metres from 14 runs and was a handful for the Panthers defenders breaking five tackles throughout the game. In addition to Glenn’s effort, playing 51 minutes off the bench Joe Ofahengue’s effort was notable making 111 metres from 13 runs to go with three tackle breaks.

 

This season has seen a two-point win to Melbourne in the Victorian capital in round three when they met Brisbane but significantly the Storm won 42-12 in round 17 in a game which somewhat mirrors Friday night’s coming clash in Melbourne. Heading into that game in Brisbane the Storm’s stars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater hadn’t played the previous week when the Storm were beaten by the Roosters in Adelaide. So, Melbourne’s best have had a ‘bye’ and last time that happened they scored eight tries away from home. For a spot in the grand final the Storm stay home on this occasion.

 

North Queensland upset the Parramatta Eels on Saturday evening 26-14. The score-line flattered an Eels side that scored one of their three tries as time expired after leading 10-6 at the break before seeing the Cowboys come out and dominate the second stanza. Having the best halves player (Michael Morgan) and best forward (Jason Taumololo) in the match plus recent finals experience proved pivotal for Paul Green’s side. Morgan’s dominant kicking game and play-making display plus Taumololo’s running game (234 metres from 21 runs) to go with his 35 tackles and three tackle breaks. The Cowboys’ victory sets up at meeting with Roosters in the second preliminary final.

 

The Roosters have met the Cowboys once this season and it was at Saturday evening’s venue, Allianz Stadium, with a 22-16 triumph to the home side in round 21. However the Cowboys were 16-6 up at the interval so the Cowboys, playing with nothing to lose, will head into the game knowing they can score points on the Roosters having put on three tries in a 14-minute period in that game.

 

Away from the NRL, the NSW and Queensland state team competitions have decided their grand finalists and there is an international flavor with the PNG Hunters (who have been in the competition since 2014) having qualified in the Queensland decider. Next Sunday the Hunters will play the Sunshine Coast Falcons, a feeder side of the Melbourne Storm since 2015, at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. Getting the week off after beating the Redcliffe Dolphins last week Michael Marum’s side will face the Falcons who beat the Dolphins 40-14 on Sunday.  The NSWRL decider will see the Wyong Roos (aligned to the Sydney Roosters) meet the Panthers after both sides won through on Sunday beating the New Zealand Warriors and Canterbury Bulldogs, respectively. Leichhardt Oval will host the NSW decider with the winner of that contest to play the winner of the Hunters/Falcons fixture in the Interstate Challenge on NRL Grand Final day – Sunday October 1 – at ANZ Stadium.

 

NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 3

Preliminary Final:  Friday, September 22, 7.55pm, AAMI Park
NRL: Melbourne Storm v Brisbane Broncos

Preliminary Final: Saturday, September 23, 7.40pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Sydney Roosters v North Queensland Cowboys
Holden Cup: Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers; 5.00pm
Holden Cup: St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles; 2.30pm

 

Image abc.net.au

Golf Capital – Thompson’s brickyard blitz, Fitzpatrick’s fourth European crown

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes from the week which saw Lexi Thompson tune up for the year’s final major with a victory in Indianapolis plus a win for Matt Fitzpatrick in Switzerland after he beat a distracted Scott Hend in a playoff.

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Opening drive

It’s always interesting when a new event comes up, and especially one a week out from a major, but the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenhiem was a clunky name but produced a quality winner with Lexi Thompson winning for the second time in 2017 winning at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Club. Thompson’s four-shot triumph over Kiwi Lydia Ko was a welcome result given she has lost three playoffs in 2017 (including the debacle at the ANA Inspiration.)

 

Thompson’s sole major victory came in 2014 and she heads to France this week in form.

 

Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick beat Queensland’s Scott Hend in a playoff to win the European Masters in Crans Montana in Switzerland and with it his fourth European Tour title despite the fact he is still only 23 (there is that age 23/24 – again.) Hend was three clear at the start of the fourth round and both players scattered birdies and bogeys in their round but Fitzpatrick shot an impressive 64 to force a playoff before he won on the third extra hole after Hend had a chance to claim the title on the second playoff hole.

 

Hend’s playoff defeat, his second in two years at the tournament, was perhaps not surprising. The event was stop-start due to poor weather/light but the Australian was focused elsewhere throughout the week with his children stuck at home in Florida waiting for possible evacuation due to Hurricane Irma. To make matters worse Hend’s wife, Leanne, was his caddy at the event so the duo would have had some anxious times. Thankfully all seems okay as Hend now completes in the Web.com playoffs on the USA’s second-tier.

 

Fitzpatrick’s victory was something for England for the weekend after their amateur side was trounced 19-7 but the USA in the men’s amateur team event the Walker Cup held at the Los Angeles Country Club. The GB and Ireland side lost eight of the first 12 matches on Saturday and players including the USA’s Maverick McNealy, who has featured in multiple PGA Tour events this year, were superior with McNealy alone going 4-0 in his matches.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. The Evian Championship – the year’s fifth and final female major of the season. In Gee Chun won at the French venue of Evian-Les-Bains in 2016

 

Under 20 Lexi Thompson. No American has won the event since it’s been a co-sanctioned major (2013) and before then you have to go back to 2007 for a USA victory (Natalie Gulbis) of Thompson needs to buck a huge trend.

 

Under 20: So Yeon Ryu. The South Korean was T2 here last year and a win would give the 27-year-old world number one a third career major. Her rounds of 66-66-69-66 that week were impressive.

 

Under 20: Lydia Ko. The Kiwi romped to victory by six shots in 2015 to win her first major but hasn’t won for over 12 months however her second placing behind Thompson might be the turnaround that is needed.

 

20 to 50: Minjee Lee. It’s hard to gauge the form of the new three-round event at the Brickyard Golf Club but Lee’s final round 67 was an equal-best of the day and the Australian can’t be far off a win this year. Lee was disappointing T67 here last year.

 

20 to 50: Sei Young Kim. The South Korean, who won the matchplay event back in May on the LPGA tour, shot a final round best of 64 last year here in finishing fifth.

 

50 to 100: Jodi Ewart Shadoff. IK Kim won the British Open, the most recent major with Ewart two shots back in second for her best career major result. The 29-year-old Englishwomen was T13 a few weeks back in Portland so is matching it well with the world’s best recently

 

Greens in regulation

After a week off following the FedEx Cup playoffs resume in Illinois near Chicago with the BMW Championship at Conway Farms. There are 30 spots up for grabs for the finale TOUR Championship event in Atlanta with some big names set to miss out. This year’s Masters winner Sergio Garcia (34) and multiple-major winner Phil Mickelson 36 are on the bubble for qualifications to the fourth event. Well back though is last year’s TC winner Rory McIlroy, currently 5st.

 

Tap in

After an English win in the Alps the European Tour heads to Holland for the KLM Open at a links venue in Spijk – The Dutch. Appropriately a Dutchman, Joost Luiten, won the event in 2016 and he features again in a field lacking some punch with the USA taking focus and the next Rolex Series event in Europe (the Italian Open) still a month away.

 

Image via golfdigest.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week 1 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the first weekend of the NRL finals series. Eight became six by Sunday evening with Manly and defending premiers Cronulla going out after losing their elimination finals. Starting their game as 100-1 outsiders to win the premiership 2015 winners the Cowboys produced the stunning result of the four games beating the Sharks 15-14 in extra-time.

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Sunday afternoon’s dramatic finish at Allianz Stadium means North Queensland will return to Sydney on Saturday night to face the Eels and Paul Green’s side did so after a field goal five minutes into extra-time courtesy of Michael Morgan. After the game Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan bemoaned the exit of the 2016 champions with a prepared list of ‘errors’ from the referees. What Flanagan didn’t acknowledge in-depth was the 18 errors his side made in the contest, comfortably the most of the eight sides who played on the weekend, nor did the once-banned coach focus at any length on the poor options some of his experienced representative players made at crucial times of the encounter. This was typified by Australian forward Andrew Fifita late in the contest needing to help shift the play to the middle of the field and closer to the posts before crabbing across field and cruelled any chance of an equalising field goal. This is not forgetting they held a 14-6 lead with 24 minutes to go facing a side playing away from home who were missing future immortal Johnathan Thurston and key middle forward Matt Scott.

 

The Cowboys will play the Eels, who gave the minor premiers Melbourne an almighty scare, in the second semi-final. The Eels qualifying final defeat 18-16 was hugely meritorious, especially as the home side scored four minutes into the contest. Brad Arthur’s Eels only scored one try when it was 13 on 13 (Melbourne’s Cameron Munster was sin-binned after 24 minutes) but their completion rate of 87% (27/31) replicated against the Cowboys would mean Parramatta will be tough to beat. However in round 14 when these two sides met the Cowboys ran in five tries in a comprehensive 32-6 win. But Thurston played that game and Eels mid-season acquisition recruit Mitchell Moses was only just getting used to his new teammates. That fixture was also played in Darwin so in a sense it was a Cowboys home game give location and climate.

 

Friday night will see the Broncos, who were beaten by the Roosters 24-22, host Penrith who defeated Manly 22-10. Anthony Griffin’s side performed a 28-point turnaround in the space of a week having been beaten 28-12 in round 26 by the Sea Eagles. You have to go back to round nine when the Broncos last played Penrith which resulted in a 32-18 win for home side in the Queensland capital. Down 28-0 after 52 minutes the Panthers scored three second-half tries but it was a error-riddled first half display on that occasion. With Penrith making 17 errors for the game and completing at only 56% (9/16) in the first half. The match was the last game in a five-match losing streak for Penrith from which they went on to win the next four games. But there is no second chance on Friday for the mountain men.

 

Brisbane’s two-point defeat on Friday night was another of the weekend’s tight encounters and a highlight was the match-winning try to the Roosters’ Latrell Mitchell after he burst through the Brisbane defence with a right-hand fend on centre James Roberts but it is not just Roberts who missed three tackles which is a concern for Wayne Bennett’s side ahead of the game this Friday versus Penrith. Edge defenders Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett missed five and four tackles respectively. Both were good at stages in attack, Glenn ran for 120 metres in 13 runs, but the edge defence was a bit of a concern for the Queensland side.

 

Melbourne, despite their win, will have plenty to improve on in their preliminary final in a fortnight when they will meet the winner of Broncos/Panthers contest. Despite having four more sets in the game and spending more time in the Eels’ half the Storm failed to exert extra pressure via repeats sets in forcing goal line-drops out. Craig Bellamy’s side failed to number up when Munster was off the field so there is area for improvement as hard as it is to believe. The title favourites might have won this game but they might have got the shock which sees them run away with their next two games. It would appear their title to lose.

 

NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 2

Semi Final: Friday, September 15, 7.55pm, Suncorp Stadium
NRL: Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
Holden Cup: Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos; 5.15pm

Semi Final: Saturday, September 16, 7.40pm, ANZ Stadium
NRL: Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
Holden Cup: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles; 5.00pm

NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 3

Preliminary Final:  Friday, September 22, 7.55pm, AAMI Park
NRL: Melbourne Storm v Winner of Broncos/Panthers
Holden Cup:  To Be Confirmed

Preliminary Final: Saturday, September 23, 7.40pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Sydney Roosters v Winner of Eels/Cowboys
Holden Cup: To Be Confirmed

Image via abc.net.au

Golf Capital – Lewis wins then helps as Thomas takes fourth victory of 2017

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes from the week which saw Justin Thomas claim his fourth win of the year, fellow American Stacy Lewis triumphed in Portland whilst South African Hadyn Porteous won for the first time in Europe and New South Welshman Travis Smyth won in Darwin on the Australasian PGA Tour.

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Opening drive

Justin Thomas won the Dell Technologies Championship (the second leg of the FdEx Cup playoffs seeing off his great pal Jordan Spieth after the duo got the better of Australian Marc Leishman who collapsed on the back nine at TPC Boston on Monday. Kentucky native Thomas ended up with a three-stroke triumph after Leishman registered three bogeys running from 10-12 and Texan Spieth also bogeyed three holes on the back nine. Thomas wasn’t flawless down the stretch with a bogey of his own on 11 but his final score of 17 under was impressive given the stature of the event and moves him up to second in the playoff rankings. Spieth has moved into first spot with Dustin Johnson dropping to third.

 

Texan Stacy Lewis has donated her tournament winnings of USD195,000 at the Cambia Portland Classic in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and this was matched by others connected to the sport in a very nice gesture after the devastation. On the course Lewis’ three-under 69 on Sunday was enough to edge home against the challenge of In Gee Chun who signed for an impressive six-under 66 at the Oregon venue. The LPGA sees a new event for the tour with the Indy Women in Tech Championship to be held in, wait for it, Indiana this week.

 

A four-shot turnaround benefitted South Africa’s Hadyn Porteous in the European Tour’s Czech Masters at the Albatross Golf Course after he capitalised on two opening birdies to overhaul England’s Lee Slattery. Porteous opened the door with a slight wobble on the back nine in Prague as Slattery regained the lead with five to play but the Jo’burg-born player got back in front and scored his first triumph outside of Africa at this level.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. With the PGA Tour playoffs on a break this weekend the European Tour’s European Masters, an even co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, takes placed at Crans Montana in Switzerland.  After Justin Thomas saluted last weekend let’s dive in.

 

Under 10: Alex Noren. Last start out in Europe Noren was sixth in the Open but has only played twice since. The Swede won here last year in a period of four wins in four months plus he has scored a victory already on the European Tour this year in England when he claimed the BMW PGA Championship.

 

20 to 50: Alexander Levy. T18 here last year, the Frenchman has missed his last two cuts in majors but in between that was second in the European Open in Germany. Levy won the China Open in June and many here haven’t got good course form plus a recent win.

 

50 to 100: Scott Hend. From the PGA Championship to Fiji then a second-tier USA event on the web.com tour it’s been a busy month or so for the Australian. But he was second here last year when he came into the event having competed in the Olympics.

 

50 to 100: Renato Paratore. At the Crans-sur-Sierre layout the Italian has finished 7th and 24th in his last two goes so has a familiarity with the layout and won the Nordea Masters in June.

 

50 to 100: Hadyn Porteous. This week’s ET winner had finishes of 6, 17 and 11 in his prior three tournaments before the win so even though he missed the cut here last year he is in career-best form.

 

50 to 100: Danny Willett. The 2015 European Masters champ has finishes of 12 (last year) and 5th (2014.) That’s the good. The bad is the 2016 Masters winner has one top five finish to his credit in a 2017 which has been beset by injury, self-doubt and has included a split from his longtime caddie Jonathan Smart.

 

Greens in regulation

The FedEx Cup takes a break until the third leg of the four-tournament series which will take place in Chicago next week. On Sunday away, from the tournament leaders, three players vaulted themselves into the top 70 for the BMW Championship. Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink moved into the penultimate leg of the FedEx Cup. Of the 18 players eliminated two notables were Adam Scott and fellow Masters champion Bubba Watson (who I tipped for strong things last week.) When I acknowledged the winners I should also highlight when I take an L and Watson is well and truly slumping having started the year ranked 10 and now 50th.

 

Tap in

Wollongong’s Travis Smyth won the Northern Territory PGA Championship by six strokes securing an Australasian PGA card until the end of the 2018 season with a move to the pro ranks a matter of months away.

 

Smyth, 22, was coming off a quarter final finish at the prestigious US Amateur so it was a bit of a different atmosphere at the Palmerston Golf Club. Smyth will next look to the Asia Pacific Amateur title and European Tour Qualifying School. The former is an attempt to qualify for the Masters in which case he would retain his amateur status for the period to the major at Augusta. Shout out to Geelong’s Deyen Lawson who picked up the $22,500 for first place in finishing second to Smyth.

 

Image via golfdigest.com

 

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 26

@hamishneal

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Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from round 26 of the NRL – the final round of the regular season. With the Storm ensconced in first place the ladder interest was around which team would get fourth spot (and secure a double-chance in the finals) plus who would finish eighth with three sides jostling for two places heading into the weekend.

 

After shuffling their side in round 25 when Australian centre Josh Dugan missed the team bus St George Illawarra entered their Sunday afternoon game against the Bulldogs knowing a win would seal eighth spot after the Cowboys had lost 20-10 on Thursday night to Brisbane and Manly had won on Saturday evening over Penrith 28-12. However Paul McGregor’s outfit conspired to lose despite leading 20-14 with 17 minutes to go against a side that ultimately finished 11th. Despite Paul Vaughan’s 202 metres from 18 runs and Canterbury missing 26 tackles to the Dragons 10 it was a season left unrewarded for the 2010 premiers.

 

North Queensland push on to the finals after a nervous few days and will play Cronulla on Sunday in Sydney. Whilst the 2014 premiers have played well despite the absence of future immortal Johnathan Thurston since the Origin period it’s notable Paul Green’s side hasn’t beaten a top eight team since round 16 (a 14-12 victory over Penrith) plus Sunday’s opponents the Sharks have defeated them twice this season – and last year in the qualifying final.

 

The Eels sealed fourth spot in the finals after beating the Rabbitohs 22-16 but the result was un-convincing a week out from the playoffs. Making ten errors until they over-hauled South Sydney with five minutes to go Brad Arthur’s side were a threat when Semi Radradra, who scored three tries, was near the ball. The Fijian-born winger was set-up by Corey Norman for the second try but the Eels were not as dominant compared to recent weeks. Although Manu Ma’u’s 189 running metres and five tackle breaks were important in the victory. But it was a shadow of the nine-try win in round 25 over Brisbane.

 

Parramatta’s Friday night win consigned defending premiers Cronulla to the harder finals run with each game an elimination match but, as outlined, their recent record against the Cowboys has them well placed. The Eels will have some promise when they venture to Melbourne to play the Storm on Saturday in the second qualifying final having won 22-6 in the Victorian capital in round 18 – but Melbourne were missing six regulars via Origin. Friday night’s qualifying final pits the Roosters against Brisbane in Sydney. A repeat of their round 13 game an exciting 18-16 contest would send the Roosters onto week two of the finals and a match-up against the winner of Penrith versus Manly. The other path sees the winner of Cronulla versus the Cowboys meet the defeated team from the Storm and Eels encounter.

 

Saturday’s second game gave us a preview of the first elimination final which will be played on Saturday at Allianz Stadium and Manly came our victorious by 16 points on Sydney’s Northern Beaches over the Panthers. This season the side’s split their encounters with the home side winning each contest (round 18 was a 16-8 triumph to Penrith.) This was a turnaround on 2016 when the Panthers won twice, including a convincing 36-6 on their way to the finals as Manly finished 13th. Trent Barrett’s side is vastly improved and has won six more games (14) this season. However they have conceded 512 points this campaign – the most of all the sides in the finals.

 

NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series – Week 1

Qualifying Final: Friday, September 8, 7.55pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Sydney Roosters (2) v Brisbane Broncos (3)
Holden Cup: Brisbane Broncos (6) v Newcastle Knights (7); 5.15pm

Qualifying Final: Saturday, September 9, 4.10pm, AAMI Park
NRL: Melbourne Storm (1) v Parramatta Eels (4)

Elimination Final:  Saturday, September 9, 7.40pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (6) v Penrith Panthers (7)
Holden Cup: Penrith Panthers (2) v St George Illawarra Dragons (3); 5.00pm

Elimination Final: Sunday, September 10, 4.10pm, Allianz Stadium
NRL: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (5) v North Queensland Cowboys (8)
Holden Cup: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (1) v Parramatta Eels (4); 1.30pm
Holden Cup: Nth Qld Cowboys (5) V Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (8); 11.15am

Image via nrl.com