Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 9 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points your may have missed from round nine of the NRL. With next weekend’s international and other representative fixtures the Storm will hold a four point lead for nearly two weeks after they beat the second-placed Dragons 34-22 on Sunday. At the bottom Newcastle still have won only once this season.

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The Bulldogs fifth win of the campaign came with a positive return to action for fullback Will Hopoate who has suffered a serious facial injury limiting him to only two games this season. As Canterbury won 16-10 at ANZ Stadium over the Raiders the former Eels custodian ran for a hugely impressive 309 metres from 28 runs. He also picked up a try assist and didn’t make any errors. Digging deeper in his metres statistics its noteworthy Hopoate ran for 134 metres on his nine kick returns for an average of just under 15 metres. This helps sets his team up for a positive set and was among the top fullbacks in this statistic over the weekend.

 

A limp Penrith (2-7) were dispatched in Brisbane 32-18 on Thursday evening and whilst there are many issues Panthers coach Anthony Griffin can’t control directly (such as his team’s 17 errors) there is something he should perhaps consider, recalling Tyrone Peachey to the starting 13. In the past two games the 2016 City Origin representative has played only 81 minutes in total and Peachey played 51 minutes as the Panthers fell to the Broncos. Peachey scored 13 tries last season in 24 games – second only to winger Josh Mansour with 16. He ranked equal-third for try assists (nine) which is an impressive effort for a player who normally gets a quarter of the possessions of some of his other teammates. For a team which has squandered a range of attacking opportunities in their opponents ‘red zone’ this season the Indigenous All Star’s influence cannot be under-estimated. A further issue with the role Peachey is now been asked to play is that he has to play a large role in defence. This is fine for a short time but eventually having to make 32 tackles a game (as he did on Thursday) will start to take the edge off any attacking influence he may be able to have.

 

In Wollongong on Sunday afternoon as the Storm moved to 16 points with their eighth win of the campaign theire was a slice of history in the goal-kicking department. Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith surpassed Jason Taylor for career goals in the top flight of Australian rugby league competition with his fifth, and final, conversion of the day. Now with 943 goals the Australian skipper came into the round with a career percentage of 73.09% across his 16 years in the NRL. Compared with Taylor, the recently-sacked coach of the Tigers, Smith’s percentage is solid with Taylor in 12 years kicking at 75.24%. It should be noted as a player who marks up in the middle of the field Smith does a lot more tackling and probably expends more energy in that department than Taylor who was a halfback.

 

Speaking of kicking, after knocking over the crucial field goal in round eight when the Sydney Roosters beat the Dragons halfback Mitchell Pearce reverted to type missing two field goal attempts on Sunday. Pearce eventually potted a one-pointer five minutes from time in Auckland only for the Warriors to get a late penalty, ironically after Pearce himself infringed, and secure a 14-13 win over the Tricolours. Before Tuesday Pearce had only three field goals in his 11-year, 233-game career. A missed field goal attempt in early April was his 18th in a row without success in that afore-mentioned span. Sunday’s defeat was not even the first time he’d missed two field goals attempts having done that in April when Manly beat the Sea Eagles 18-12 in round five. The statistic tells you the Roosters need to find a reliable field goal-kicker (fellow halve Luke Keary hasn’t kicked any in his career) or attempt a try instead in the future when faced with a deadlock scenario.

 

With the international fixtures next weekend after he missed New Zealand’s fixture last year due to injury veteran New Zealand Warriors Simon Mannering is one of three players recalled for the Kiwis and he does so after an impressive effort in the wet on Sunday in Auckland. Napier-born Mannering ran for 134 metres, the most of the Warriors pack from his 16 runs. The 30 year-old has a team high seven offloads this season so will be a threat with New Zealand’s close-in playmakers ready to run off him in Friday night’s test against the Kangaroos in Canberra.

Image via bordermail.com.au

A-League 1,000: The Nearly Edition

@hamisneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the semi-finals of the A-League. After a penalty shoot-out triumph at home last weekend Brisbane travel to Melbourne but before that Perth head to Sydney having seen off this season’s FFA Cup winners on Sunday evening.

 A-League Elimination Final - Brisbane v Western Sydney

Sydney FC v Perth Glory, Saturday – Allianz Stadium  

The time has come for Sydney FC to deliver on their promise and results of the home and away season by brushing aside Perth and then kicking their heals before the second semi-final is played on Sunday afternoon. A key playmaker is well rested from injury, their opponents have criss-crossed the nation six times in nearly a month, they have beaten them every time (four) they have met this season and scored 13 goals in doing so across the three A-League games and one FFA Cup fixture.

 

It’s no surprise Sydney FC dominated the last-ever National Soccer League winners during the campaign as Graham Arnold’s side swept all before them in the regular season claiming the Premier’s Plate by a whopping 17 points from second-placed Melbourne Victory with 20 wins, six draws and one defeat. Perth got half as many wins, drew nine times and lost on eight occasions. Interestingly Perth scored only two goals less than Sydney FC in the regular season netting 53 goals, but they conceded as many which was 41 more than Sydney’s 12 goals conceded.

 

Both sides should be close to unchanged it not having the same starting eleven with not major injury worries. Sydney’s Milos Ninkovic returned to full training on the weekend after he was collected by Jets midfielder Ben Kantarovksi in the final round of the regular season back on when the Sky Blues won 2-0 over Newcastle.

 

Big game for:  Expectation. Last time these sides met Lucian Goian conceded and own goal in his debut for Perth. However, despite conceding four goals two weeks ago, he has slipped into central defence well with Dino Djulbic last weekend for what was Perth’s second clean sheet away from home in the A-League season (and their fourth in total) so perhaps Kenny Lowe’s team has finally worked out there defence? Or perhaps it was the Melbourne light blues’ ineffectual attack in the final third. Either way coming into a semi-final having won 2-0 is better than not.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Having said that metronomic midfielders who can blast into creative brilliance with one change of pace should be enough for the home side to win. Ably supported by a quality defence anchored by Alex Wilkinson former Central Coast Mariners boss Arnold should return to the pinnacle game of Australian domestic football like he did in April 2013.

 

Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – AAMI Park

Unlike the other semi-final fixture it has been a mixed bag to a degree for these two sides in season 2016/17. A draw to open the season in Brisbane in October was followed by 3-2 triumph to the Victory in Melbourne in January before Brisbane won in March in the Queensland capital 1-0. Jamie Maclaren’s lone goal in last month’s fixture was the first time all season the Roar have lead the Victory so Brisbane should take some form of confidence in that regard.

 

The match will be played under the spectre of the Victory knowing they will (probably) be losing Socceroo James Troisi and are (definitely) losing Fahid Ben Khalfallah. Coach Kevin Muscat was unimpressed with Daniel Georgievski announced recently he would join the Jets next year and it will be interesting to see how the title-winner as a player and coach reacts to the exit of the Tunisian. In an intriguing scenario Khalfallah wasn’t picked by Muscat during the season for almost a month as it would have triggered an extension. This is a scenario of Muscat’s amkign moreso than the departure of Georgievski but it’s an interesting backdrop.

 

The home side are at full strength with the return of Georgievski. The Jets-bound winger missed the 1-0 triumph over the Mariners due to suspension in round 26. For the visiting Roar though the team news plenty with injuries and travel after their Asian Champions League defeat in Thailand on Wednesday night. Goalkeeper Jamie Young received a cut in his arm due to a rusty piece of equipment on the goals and has had 26 sticheson his right arm. First choice shot-stopper Michael Theo injured his knee during the dramatic elimination final and won’t play again this season– so come on down Tomislav Bilic. The 19 year-old Roar NYL/NPL keeper is a hope to start but Young has been included in the squad (however that may only be until a replacement keeper is called up.) Elsewhere the likes of Brett Holman, Jamie Maclaren, Brett Holman and others that didn’t travel for the ACL game will feature as they did last weekend plus skipper Matt McKay is one of the significant returns from injury.

 

Big game for:  Home expectation. Even allowing for Brisbane’s heavy travel schedule they match as easy for the home side as it may appear. The navy blues have won on twice since round 23, when they beat Perth 4-1, and  this period includes Brisbane’s last triumph over them. The Victory (15) won four more times than the Roar in the regular season but, similar to the other fixture, both sides are close in the goals count with 43 to Brisbane and 49 for the home side. With 31 let in over 27 games the Victory conceded six less than the Queenslanders who conceded once in their elimination final triumph over the Wanderers.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Penalty shoot-outs. It’s the Roar in a semi-final so it will be dramatic. However as we had reaffirmed to us by the Guardian’s Jonathan Howcroft if you win the toss in the penalty shoot-out kick first! The data tells all..

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

I think Sydney win the first semi-final and Melbourne ($1.35) progress on Sunday, but I think we will get ‘bonus football’ as the kids say to go with some comical banner from the Victory fans poking fun at their city rivals who have a free weekend.

 

Record: 8/28

Profit: -$111.10 (yeah I know not great but 2015/16 was good)

 

Image via: theworldgamesbs.com.au

 

Golf Capital – Tigers done, Lexi’s law and team golf time!

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes and thoughts from the week across the globe covering Tiger Woods’ fitness issues, a format revamp for the PGA Tour’s event this weekend plus the ‘Lexi Thompson rule’.

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Opening drive:

 

For the second weekend running an American broke through for a first PGA Tour victory with Kevin Chappell victorious at the Texas Open. Chappell, who hadn’t won in 179 starts on tour, needed to birdie the last hold after Brooks Kopeka fired a final round 65 before finishing second. Chappell took somewhat longer then last week’s winner, Wesley Bryan, who only elevated from the second tier last year which Chappell won on back in 2010. The PGA Tour heads to New Orleans this weekend

 

Austria’s Bernd Weisberger needed a playoff to win in China before he eventually prevailed over England’s Tommy Fleetwood in the Shenzen International. Weisberger, now a four time winner on the European Tour, owned a three-stroke lead with Fleetwood roaring into contention from eight strokes behind his playoff contender after 54 holes. Fleetwood was undone by Weisberger’s birdie on the first playoff hole. Heading to a venue an hour north of central Beijing the Volvo China Open on the European Tour takes place at the Topwin Golf and Country Club – located near the Great Wall.

 

South Korea’s Jenny Shin won this weekend’s LPGA event the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in 2016 but it’s a strong tournament this year with everyone in the top 20 playing the event in Irving so Shin faces a tough task to defend the crown. The ‘shootout’ in the tournament title is due to the fact there are two cuts, after 36 and 54 holes, with 50 players playing the final round so a good start is critical.

 

Player performance notes:

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. This week the Zurich Classic of New Orleans flips to a two-player team event with 80-teams to play and the top 35 making the cut after two rounds. Forged via an array of connections including college relationships, coaching collaborations or national pride the stories behind the pairings is worth a look. Across the four rounds it will feature the following formats: foursomes (alternate shot) during the first and third rounds with four-ball (best ball) during the second and fourth rounds.

 

20 to 50: Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson: The Olympic champ and the Open winner team up. Stenson has missed his last three cuts but was second in Dubai earlier this year behind Sergio Garic who Rose finished behind at Augusta. Sometimes you have to look at an obvious option and these two, ranked six (Stenson) and eight (Rose) are the highest-ranked combination.

 

20 to 50: Patrick Cantlay/Patrick Reed. Reed grabbed 3.5 points in te USA’s Ryder Cup win last year so takes well to team golf and in his last three starts in 2017 Cantlay has two top three finishes.

 

50 to 100: Brooks and Chase Koepka. The brothers playing together will now each other intricacies and strengths more than other pairs. Elder bother Brooks, 26, finished with a seven under for the best closing round in San Antonio. Hopefully Chase, a regular on the European second tier Challenge Tour rises to the occasion.

 

100 to 200: Alex Cejka/Soren Kjeldsen. Czech-born Cejka (46) and Dane Kjeldsen (41) are one of the more experienced pairs in this event but go well in varied formats. Kjeldsen in particular has performed of late winning the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne last year and making the recent match play quarter finals. Cejka only has one top 20 this year but a change of forrmat could help with a form turnaround.

 

Greens in regulation:

The calamity around Lexi Thompson’s penalty at the ANA Inspiration has finally brought to a head the issues around viewers ‘calling in’ rule violations with changes made this week by the Royal and Ancient and United States Golf Association (the games rule-makers.) However the changes are more about the technology than the calling in, with the latter still allowed.

 

Unless something can be picked up with the naked eye a breach cannot be deemed to have occurred. The wrinkle with this rule (Decision 34 – 3/10) is that it’s more linked to a replay of an event (eg slo mo of an incident). So a phone call/email/carrier pigeon message of a possible rule infraction which happened ‘live’ could possibly still occur under the adjusted standard.

 

My primary issue when the Thompson incident occurred, and an issue which still remains, is the timing of the ‘call in’. When a player has almost finished their next round it’s baffling they can possibly be docked a stroke (or four in the case of Thompson) for something that happened the day before. This was the aspect that really annoyed me in the case of the Thompson and hasn’t been resolved.

 

The fact the human eye and not a ‘sophisticated camera’, as Josh Sens on golf.com put it, is now the new standard is better – especially given the history of golf. But, as ever, a committee is to be convened to consider the further use of video technology. Changes made be updated when new rules of the game are implemented in 2019.

 

Tap in:

News of Tiger Woods’ fourth back surgery makes the return to top-level golf for the 41 year-old all the more unlikely. The withdrawal in Dubai, which came in the midst of a travel-heavy return to golf, did not bode well after some positive signs upon his tournament return in the Bahamas in late 2016 it’s been downhill. Woods is currently ranked 808 and to put that into perspective he is one place behind Julien Brun, a French golfer who won on the Alps Tour (essentially a third-tier satellite level in Europe) earlier this year. Woods last won in 2013 with the first of his back surgeries in March of 2014 and he is now prioritising a ‘normal life’ plus playing with his children over a professional return. I’ve thought for a while it’s over. Tiger, stop teasing me. Come out and say it. As astutely pointed out by the @GCTigerTracker account on Twitter, Woods exiting the game “amid a whirlwind of depressing news releases and medical jargon. It was never supposed to be like this.” Someone hold me.

Image via pgatour.com

 

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 8 2017

@hamishneal

 

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points your may have missed from round eight of the NRL. A 20-14 win over the New Zealand Warriors in the final match of the round gave Melbourne Storm (7-1) sole ownership of top spot after previous ladder-leaders the Dragons (6-2) were beaten by the Roosters (6-2) in golden point extra-time on Tuesday afternoon.

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Usually it’s Jason Taumololo starring for the Cowboys pack but this weekend Scott Bolton was the forward player to dominate racking up 196 metres from 17 runs as North Queensland (5-3) beat the hapless Newcastle (1-6) 24-12 on Saturday evening.  Bolton, for the first time since Taumololo returned from suspension in round four, was the best metre-gainer of the pack for the home side when normally it’s Taumololo.  Granted Bolton (67 minutes) played 16 more minutes than Taumololo but it was still an impressive effort given he made 34 tackles to Taumololo’s 26.

 

Staying in Townsville. Knights coach Nathan Brown demanded improvement for all in dropping Origin-winning halfback Trent Hodkinson for this game but did not get it from another former Blues rep with Anthony Tupou making only two runs of substance in his 28 minutes on the park. He got the ball five times on which he passed on three of those occassions and broke no tackles. We did note this about the Knights early in the season and interestingly Sam Stone (who we focused on in round three for a similarly lacklustre effort) has improved of late with 38 tackles, 13 runs and two tackle breaks on Saturday. For Tupou, a player of international experience with Australia and Tonga, in a side racked by injuries in the forwards you should demand the ball. It’s a lackadaisical effort which will hopefully be improved on against the Titans.

 

Despite the Gold Coast (2-6) upsetting Cronulla (5-3) 16-12 on Saturday evening it was a bright end to the weekend for Sharks’ forward Chris Heighington who was selected to return to the England team for the first time since he played in the 2011 Four Nations tournament. Heighington, 34, has averaged 29 minutes off the bench in the last four games for an impressive 103 metres per game in that period. The former Wests forward’s ability to offload and reliability (only one error this season) were likely part of the reason Wayne Bennett has returned the two-time premiership winner to the international fold in a World Cup year.

 

Elsewhere for the international games to be played on the first weekend of May it’s probably not surprising that four of the top six try-scorers were in line for international selection during the representative round but what is perhaps surprising is that none are assured Australian representatives. Topping the count was Jordan Rapana (New Zealand) with seven, BJ Leilua (Samoa), Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji) and Gareth Widdop (England) each had six. Rapana added his tally with an acrobatic effort as Canberra fell to the Sea Eagles. With players able to drop back to ‘tier two’ nations if not selected for their ‘tier one’ option there is a Leilua could be selected for the Kangaroos to feature against New Zealand next month but that’s unlikely and the Raiders centre is more likely to turn out for Samoa. Unfortunately for Halifax-born Widdop he sustained a medial ligament injury as the Roosters beat the Dragons 13-12 on Tuesday afternoon and this means he is almost certainly out for next month’s game in Campbelltown in Sydney’s west but would still hold out hopes of appearing again for the Dragons this season and in the World Cup.

 

Two players featured for single figure minutes in round eight heading into Tuesday’s game with Titan Chris Grevsmuhl limited to only seven minutes due to injury as Neil Henry’s side beat the Sharks. Canberra’s (4-4) Adam Clydsdale playing only five as his side were beaten at home 20-18 by Manly (4-4). Clydsdale didn’t play off the bench last weekend, as we noted, along with team-mate Dunamis Lui who played 20 minutes on Friday evening. On Monday evening Melbourne’s Ryley Jacks played only four minutes as the Victorian outfit focused on forwards in their bench rotation with interchange forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona playing a crucial role in the six-point win which included scoring Melbourne’s first try two minutes after he came on the field.

Image via abc.net.au

 

 

 

A-League 1,000: The Fun Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the opening weekend of the A-League finals. First and second from the regular season, Sydney FC and the Melbourne Victory, get the weekend off whilst Brisbane and the Victory’s city rivals host elimination finals.

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Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney , Friday – Suncorp Stadium

After the regular season finished with a rollicking 5-4 triumph to Perth it is the two sides who played what was the match of the A-League finals (and probably the game of the competition) last season meeting in the first game of the finals.

 

Last year in the semi-final it finished 5-4 in favour of the Wanderers who had finished second in the regular season and earnt the week off. Brisbane saw off the Melbourne Victory in week one last year before falling to Tony Popovic’s side. In their win over the Victorians Thomas Broich scored a late winner and the German announced during the week that he would be leaving the club after this season. Broich’s departure is a shame for a consistent player who has been arguably the best in the history of the young competition but it also begs the question for a side like Brisbane who could have shifted Broich under the cap but used a $200,000 salary cap concession outside the cap (under a long-term player clause) to possible retain him.

 

Broich is at one end of his career but Wanderers’ midfielders Terry Antonis and Kearny Baccus are starting to get to their peak. 23 and 25 respectively, this season the duo have done a job to ensure the Wanderers midfield have looked better, particularly in the last six weeks plus they have relegated skipper Dimas to behind them in the pecking order. If this season isn’t there time, free of ACL constraints next season, could be an important period for the duo. Baccus recently turned down an overture from South Africa to turn out for Bafana Bafana in the hope of joining Antonis as a Socceroo in the future.

 

Across the games the two sides have played this season in November a Jumpei Kusukami equaliser after a first half goal to Brisbane striker Jamie Maclaren meant the game finished level before the first of the next two games, both played in the Queensland capital, saw another 1-1 draw. On that occasion Brisbane defender Corey Brown netted before Dimas equalised for the visitors. Goals to Brandon Borello and Socceroo Brett Holman helped Brisbane to a 2-1 triumph in January with Kusukami scoring again for the Wanderers. Whilst there hasn’t been much between the two sides in these contests it’s notable that Brisbane have not once been behind this season against the red and blacks.

 

Big game for: Antonis return here as do key players Jumpei Kusukami. Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Mitch Nichols. Whilst Brisbane get a Socceroo of their own back with Jade North back from injury.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Next up. Both sides are still alive in the Asian Champions League but the Roar have the better chance of progressing to the knockout phase so probably have more of an eye of their game against Thai side Muangthong United on Wednesday where they could move into second place in their group with a win. The Wanderers, on the other hand, are all but out of their group sitting last on three points and needing results to really go there way (more so than Brisbane) with their game in Japan against Urawa on Wednesday.

 

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Perth Glory, Sunday – AAMI Park

20 goals between them in three games this season and even though there was two wins to Perth these teams finished level on 39 points with the + 5 goal difference deciding the venue for Sunday’s contest. A single mistake could send one side home this season but history in this fixture shows both sides could produce multiple howlers – even within the space of a few minutes.

 

Goals seems assured with the two sides combining for 102 goals this season (compared with 78 for the Roar and Wanderers in Friday night’s game) but it could be goal-keeping that proves the difference. Liam Reddy’s two penalty saves here earlier this season will be well remember and the A-League journeyman could be the decisive character, especially is the defense get a period when they can limit the home side’s chances on goal. Dean Bouzanis will be busy between the sticks for the Victorians.

 

Frustrating the FFA Cup winners into errors will be the key for Perth who can release their attackers quickly through Diego Castro once they win the ball. Both sets of defences will need to be wary of conceding fouls near the edge of the areas as each side has some excellent exponents of the free kick. This was highlighted last weekend when Nebojsa Marinkovic helped Perth to one of their goals in the game at nib Stadium. Nicolas Colazo, as we noted last week, can also deliver a pinpoint corner and man-marking Tim Cahill to minimise this scoring option will be crucial for Kenny Lowe’s outfit.

 

Rhys Williams is the major addition to Perth’s match-day squad with the Socceroo having missed the goal-fest on Sunday. The home side are likely to have the most settled line-up of the four club’s playing this weekend.

 

Big game for: Michael Valkanis. Assistant coach when John van’t Schip guided the Victorians team to their FFA Cup victory earlier this season the one-cap Socceroo needs to win here to be assured of the role next season and even that may not be enough. Unless they win the grand final the southern sky blues won’t be playing Asian Champions League after Brisbane finished third last weekend which is surely a minimum for the City Football Group-backed venture.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit:  7pm games in the summer. After eschewing the 7pm timeslot at times during a brutally hot summer the A-League, all of a sudden, has decided they will yield to broadcasters and have this timeslot on Sunday evening. I’m in favour of this timeslot throughout the year for several reasons, chief amongst them player welfare and game quality, but why have games in this timeslot in late April but not early January? Truly baffling.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

Wanderers to qualify ($2.30) and some further drama to go with the recent history is this fixture into a guest appearance off the bench from Yoshi on Sunday night.

 

Record: 8/27

Profit: -$101.10

 

 

Image via espnfc.com

Golf Capital – Tricky Bryan wins plus a new golf movie

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes, and thoughts from the week which saw action across the three big tours of the PGA Tour, LPGA and men’s European Tour. Wesley Bryan, Christie Kerr and Edoardo Molinari triumphed with the latter winning in a playoff.

Trophee Hassan II - Day Four

Opening drive:

Bryan’s rise has been rapid since he ditched the trick shot antics and this has included three wins last year on the Web.com (second tier) tour in the USA before his elevation to the top level. Bryan edged home by a stroke from three-time Ryder Cup-winner Luke Donald firing 13 under. Four shots from the lead to start the fourth round a final round of four under (67) was enough to win in South Carolina and claimed the RBC Heritage crown.

 

Skipping over to Hawaii, Kerr triumphed in the LOTTE Championship convincingly by three strokes signing for an impressive final round of six under (66.) Kerr’s most recent triumph was in the 2015 Tour Championship and the 39 year-old has now recorded 19 career LPGA wins. The LPGA next heads to Irving, Texas later this month.

 

Two eagles on the back nine at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco helped get Italian Molinari into a playoff before securing his first victory since 2010. After Molinari parred the first playoff hole it was enough to see off Irishman Paul Dunne, who had birdied 18 himself, to get into extra holes. Molinari, a nine-time winner as a professional, had only two top-three placings since 2011 so it was a form turnaround. From Morocco the European Tour heads to China this week for Shenzhen International won by South Korean Soomin Lee last year.

 

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. Staying in the USA it’s Texas Open time with Charley Hoffman the 2016 winner of this event.

 

20 to 50: Patrick Reed. The world number 15 missed the cut at the Masters and has only one top ten finished in 2017 but he was second here last year.

 

50 to 100: Bud Cauley. Now sitting at a career-best ranking of 146 after he finished T9 last weekend Cauley is hit and miss with 11 missed cuts in the last 16 months but the Floridian is now back in form.

 

50 to 100: Ian Poulter. A top-30 finish is required for Poulter to maintain his PGA Tour playing rights and he was T11 at Hilton Head. Last week we spoke of talented players yet to win a major and Poulter, at 41, has played 41 majors and has a best of second in 2008 at The Open. Not Sergio Garcia-level in terms of volume but the four-time Ryder Cup winner is immensely talented with 16 career wins but yet to crack it for a big victory.

 

50 to 100: Cameron Smith. Australian Adam Scott has won here and Smith could be like Bryan in winning his first PGA tournament. Brisbane’s Smith was second behind Jordan Spieth in the Australia summer and T29 last weekend so has had some reasonable performances to start 2017. His T4 in the 2015 US Open is still a career best result.

 

50 to 100: Harold Varner III. The Australian PGA Championship winner from December was T9 here last year before aT8 finish in his next tournament (New Orleans) so seems to like the post-Masters period.

 

100 to 200: Curtis Luck. The Australian played all four rounds at the Masters which is an effort in itself for a player of his experience. In what will be a first tournament as a professional the WA golfer is well placed in a fa easier field than the Masters – where he finished on nine over but included a final round of 72

 

Greens in regulation:

Following the LPA event at Ko Olina Golf Club in Oahu it emerged Kiwi world number one Lydia Ko, who finished in a tie for second, had fired her caddie Gary Matthews. It seemed an odd move given the result as Ko’s best of 2017 so clearly things were on the up and Matthews, having handled the bag for nine tournaments, was likely only just getting into sync with Ko’s requirements and quirks. A strange move for the almost 20 year-old to make. Multiple management and related changes can’t be good this early in a career.

 

Tap in:

Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore, and now (perhaps) Tommy’s Honour. Okay this film isn’t a comedy like the first two but golf is back on the big screen. Based on the story of the two Tom Morris’ in the mid/late 1800’s the film charts the story of the father-son duo’s role in the development of the game. Both Open winners the younger Tom becomes a professional in the sport. Adapted from a book by Kevin Cook the film was released in the USA over the weekend. The good news for Kiwi actor Sam Neill (who plays the R and A Golf Club of St Andrews skipper Alexander Boothby) is the film only has to be passable and Neill be significantly elevated in the annals of his participation in sports movies. Neill needs the boost after agreeing, perhaps in a moment of weakness, to take a role in United Passions – the 2015 film about the administocrats who formed Fifa, that bastion of sporting organisations. Hopefully Tommy’s Honour goes better than United Passions which was so poorly attended it took just $9 (aka sold one ticket) at one cinema in Phoenix across it’s opening weekend in the USA.

Image via golfweek.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 7 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points your may have missed from round seven of the NRL. St /George Illawarra (6-1) remain in first place with Melbourne (also 6-1) second on for and against. Cronulla and the Roosters (the only 5-2 sides) are third and fourth respectively.

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Dragons pivot Gareth Widdop looks set for a career-best point-scoring season after the competition’s leading points-scorer (85) notched 12 on the weekend as the home side beat 2015 premiers North Queensland. When he crossed in the 33rd minute of the Dragons 28-22 triumph Halifax-born Widdop notched his sixth four-pointer of the campaign – as many as he scored in season 2016. All this in only seven games.  In 24 games last year Widdop picked up 14 try assists and so far in 2017 he’s got eight. Souths Cody Walker joint leads the try assists count with eight and Widdop’s teammate Josh McCrone. In season 2015, his second with St George Illawarra, Widdop finished with 182 points (which included nine tries.) The Dragons went out in the first weekend of the finals that season having won 11 games during the home and away rounds and in 2017 they already have six victories.

 

In Wollongong on Saturday night there was another stellar effort from a player in the halves this time from the losing side in the Cowboys/ John Asiata. Asiata, normally a forward, helped drag his team from 28-4 down at the interval to come close to a victory. Having played in the halves whilst a junior in the Eels system the halfback role was not unaccustomed to Asiata who most recently also featured in the role whilst playing in the second-tier Queensland Cup for the Cowboys feeder side Mackay having joined North Queensland from the Roosters. Whilst a loss is a loss Asiata’s two try assists were well taken – one via a pass to Michael Morgan with the other a kick that resulted in Scott Bolton’s four-pointer to get the Cowboys within a converted-try of sending the game into golden point. Whilst try assists is one statistic it is at least somewhat notable Asiata’s two try assists from one game is the same as Raiders livewire Blake Austin and Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt have all season.

 

Our recent tracking of the use of interchange players saw an unexpected statistic this weekend when two players on the Canberra bench didn’t feature at all as the Raiders won 20-8 over the New Zealand Warriors. Coach Ricky Stuart elected not to use Adam Clydsdale, who usually operates as a dummy half, and forward Dunamis Lui. Clydsdale played only five minutes off the interchange bench in round five but prior to that there didn’t appear to be an indication Stuart would be so limited in his use of replacements this weekend thus far using every bench player in the six prior games this season compared to some other sides such as the Dragons and Manly who have used only 16 players occasionally this season. Perhaps Stuart, a former Australian coach, is starting a new trend?

 

After falling behind with eight and half minutes to go Brisbane snuck home 24-22 to defeat the Gold Coast and record their fourth win of 2017. One of the surprising factors of the victory was their completion rate of only 55% (18/33.) The Broncos completed only eight sets in the second stanza. The open nature of the fixture played into their hands in that regard despite their 17 errors. The long-range efforts of Brisbane plus their ability to break tackles (33) highlighted by eight tackle breaks each to fullback Darius Boyd and centre James Roberts were constant threats.

 

Round seven opened with a 24-9 victory to the Bulldogs over South Sydney but things didn’t look favourable for Canterbury just before the break. Once Matt Frawley, a recent addition to the top grade squad, came on the field it took halfback-cum-dummy half Moses Mbye so time to adjust. Just before the break Mbye played to get a penalty when a Souths player was standing in the ruck and Kerrod Holland knocked over the penalty. Given the great field position it appeared Mybe feeding the other side of the ruck and not fishing for the penalty would have worked better to push for the try, especially when Souths Adam Reynolds stuck over a field goal having shown great game management after Souths won possession back. Mybe came into the game fair better in the second half feeding Frawley and Josh Reynolds well plus setting up a try. Usual hooker Michael Lichaa (who is only contracted until the end of this season at the club) ended up playing only 26 minutes in the game so could be seeing limited game time in the future if Mbye improves in the new role and recent debutant Frawley continues to perform consistently.

Image via dragons.com.au