Friday, 29 April 2016

Tiger Woods Plays First Texas Scramble

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Tiger Woods - Getty Images
Tiger Woods played his first stretch of holes since last August at the opening of a course he helped design.

The former world number one hit a ceremonial tee shot then played a few holes with his friend Mark O'Meara at Bluejack National in Texas.

The 40-year-old had two back operations last autumn but has registered for the US Open in June, suggesting a return may be imminent.

"We're just trying to progress - and I'm doing that," he said.

The American last competed at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, after which he had surgery to remove a small disc fragment that was pinching a nerve.

His world ranking has fallen to 499 and earlier this month he missed the Masters for only the second time since his tournament debut in 1995.

Videos of the 14-time major champion hitting balls in practice have appeared in the past few weeks and Monday's short round demonstrated further progress with his rehabilitation.

"This is actually the first time I've played holes since Wyndham," he added.

"You saw how I was going at it today, nice and smooth. That's harder than I have been going at it the last month. Just gradually progressing."

The Golf Channel said Woods could compete at the Wells Fargo Championship early next month, but his team maintain there is no planned return date.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Shaktar Donetsk v Sevilla - Preview

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Sevilla will continue their bid for a third consecutive Europa League title when they play Shakhtar Donetsk in Thursday's semi-final first leg.

The Spanish side, winners in 2014 and 2015, like Shakhtar entered this year's competition after being knocked out at the Champions League group stage.

The match will be staged in Lviv, where Shakhtar have had to play home games.

They have been unable to play in their home ground in Donetsk due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Lviv lies nearly 800km to the west of Donetsk.

Uefa Cup winners in 2009, Shakhtar saw domestic rivals Dynamo Kiev claim their Ukrainian league title on Sunday.

They last met Sevilla in 2007, when the Spanish side's goalkeeper scored an injury-time equaliser to send their Uefa Cup last-16 tie into extra time.

Sevilla went on to win their second successive title and now have the most Europa League titles in history with four in total.

Mircea Lucescu
It is very important to maintain a high performance level. Shakhtar have reached it by lifting the UEFA Cup [in 2009] and now we are in the Europa League semi-finals. Other eastern teams like CSKA [Moskva], Zenit, Galatasaray all won the UEFA Cup but none managed a semi-final after it, none of them repeated their success. I'm very proud of my players and of the team.

We've shown some clips of the two games [against Sevilla in the 2007 UEFA Cup round of 16] to the players. We had ten seconds left! Sevilla went on to win the UEFA Cup. I think they just got lucky. Let's hope the luck they had then now passes to us; everything in life balances itself out.

Unai Emery, Sevilla coach
We're enjoying every moment, we have so much energy right now. Shakhtar's record in the last ten years is spectacular but they have lost important players along the way. We've got to the semi-finals three years in a row and are thinking only of getting through.

We're in great form at the moment. Our players' eyes are open, they are excited, and I think the team is united. We are well aware that we have an opportunity to make history.


Villarreal v Liverpool - Preview

Klopp - Getty Images
Christian Benteke could return for Liverpool against Villarreal after travelling with the rest of the first-team squad to Spain.

Benteke returned to full training earlier this week after a month out with a knee ligament injury sustained on international duty with Belgium.

The 25-year-old, who last featured for Liverpool in the 3-2 defeat at Southampton on March 20, could be named among the substitutes for the Europa League semi-final first leg at the Estadio El Madrigal.

Benteke’s return to fitness will be a welcome boost for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who lost Divock Origi to a “serious injury” during last week’s Merseyside derby.

Meanwhile, Klopp called for bravery from his players if they are to overcome Villarreal to reach the Europa League final and maintain their hopes of Champions League football next season.

Klopp’s men produced a sensational second-half comeback from 3-1 down to beat his old side Borussia Dortmund 4-3 at Anfield to reach the last four.

However, the German warned against complacency as, despite their lack of European pedigree compared to the English giants, Villarreal are enjoying a great season.

“We are now in the semi-finals. We got there because we deserved it, and now we have to show we are strong enough to go through.

Klopp will be without a number of players crucial to Liverpool’s upturn in fortunes over recent weeks.

French defender Mamadou Sakho didn’t travel to Spain on Wednesday as he awaits the result of a UEFA investigation into an alleged failed doping test.

Emre Can, Divock Origi and captain Jordan Henderson are also sidelined by injury.

The build-up to the game has been overshadowed by the ruling that the 96 Liverpool fans that died at the Hillsborough tragedy 27 years ago were unlawfully killed in the biggest inquest in English legal history.

Villarreal have announced they will mark the decision with a tribute to the victims before the game.

However, once the action gets underway, the Yellow Submarine are intent on causing an upset to reach their first ever Cup final.

“Maybe Liverpool could be considered favourites because of their history as a club,” said Villarreal coach Marcelino.

“But we don’t consider ourselves in any way inferior to them and we think we can beat a team as legendary as Liverpool.”

It is 10 years since Villarreal came excruciatingly close to reaching the Champions League final against English opposition as Jens Lehmann saved Juan Roman Riquelme’s last-minute penalty to send Arsenal to the final 1-0 on aggregate.

However, Marcelino believes having almost sealed their place in next season’s Champions League already through La Liga, his players have no pressure on them to reach the final.

“The context is similar (to 10 years ago), but we are convinced that we can eliminate Liverpool,” he added.

“It is a privilege to play this semi-final. There was much more pressure in the previous ties and now we have a great chance to make history in this club.”

Marcelino
Perhaps Liverpool are the favourites because of their history, their standing as a club and the fact they eliminated Dortmund, one of the big favourites. But we don't consider ourselves inferior to them. We're going to give everything to try and knock out this legendary team.

Liverpool are a very good side with a lot of extraordinary players who play very dynamic football. They are good on the counterattack, they press teams a lot – especially in the opposition half of the pitch. They won't let us play. We have to look for solutions to try and overcome that first line of pressure; if we do that, it will be a big first step.

Klopp
When I arrived in October, Basel [venue for next month's final] wasn't a real thing to think about; now it's not far away.

We've watched Villarreal five or six times. They defend in an organised way and are patient enough to wait for mistakes and then capitalise on them. How do we counter the threat of Soldado and Bakambu? By preventing passes through to them – maybe that's the best idea.

Experience is not something you can buy or talk about; it's something you earn and use. But if you use experience in the wrong way then it's worthless. It's all about the performance.


McGregor's Mixed Twitter Arts


Conor McGregor will not be fighting at UFC 200 after UFC president Dana White announced on Wednesday that Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones will headline the July showdown in Las Vegas.

Cormier will fight Jones in a light heavyweight title unification bout – but McGregor has not been added to the bill.

White admitted removing McGregor from the card was an “unpopular” decision, but a necessary one. At a press conference in New York on Wednesday, White said the onus was on McGregor.

“I didn’t prevent Conor from fighting at UFC 200,” he said. “Everybody, if you look at [last week’s] press conference – Joanna Jedrzejczyk came in from Poland. Claudia Gadelha came in from Brazil. This is what we do. This is how it works.

“I didn’t prevent him from fighting at UFC 200. He knew what the deal was. I told him what the deal was. He opted to do that.”

McGregor’s welterweight rematch with Nate Diaz was originally scheduled to be the main act at the 9 July event, but the Irishman was pulled from the card last week after he refused to attend the press conference in Vegas.

McGregor threatened to retire from the sport in protest, which led to much speculation about whether he would follow through on his promise and actually quit, but then he relented and said he was still willing to fight at UFC 200 – providing he could reduce the amount of promotional work he was expected to do.

“I’ve said it a million times: Conor asked to fight Nate Diaz and Conor wants to fight Nate Diaz,” White said in New York. “Conor doesn’t back down from fights, man. One of the things that has made Conor popular and as big as he is, is this dude wants to fight. He comes to fight. He comes out guns blazing.

“Conor is fun. Conor is a stud. I have a lot of respect for Conor. Conor and I just had – you know, you have to show up and do the PR. You have to do it.”

Jones, regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC, previously beat Cormier in a unanimous decision at UFC 185 before losing his title after being involved in a hit-and-run incident. Cormier won the vacant belt against Anthony Johnson and defended it against Alexander Gustafsson.

On 9 July, Jose Aldo will fight for the first time since his 13-second knockout defeat to McGregor at UFC 194 last December. He takes on Frankie Edgar.

White has now signalled that McGregor’s next fight needs to be a 145lb title defense against either Aldo or Edgar. White told ESPN that if McGregor refuses and is intent on fighting Diaz, he will have to forfeit the featherweight championship.

All Golden as Warriors Keep Winning

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Klay Thompson - Getty Images
Klay Thompson knew Golden State had to come together, that every player needed to raise his game with Stephen Curry sidelined. “None of us can do it alone,” Thompson had insisted hours earlier.

Thompson did his part, scoring 27 points with seven three-pointers as the Warriors rolled into the second round of the playoffs without their injured superstar, thoroughly embarrassing the Houston Rockets 114-81 on Wednesday night in Game 5.

“Urgency of the game and we did not want to go back to Houston — it’s a long flight,” Thompson said of his extra motivation.

Draymond Green added 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors, who will face the winner of the Clippers-Trail Blazers series. Portland lead 3-2. “Everybody, they think Steph goes down and the entire series changes. But we thought otherwise,” Green said.

Without the MVP, Curry’s fellow Splash Brother set the tone from the opening tip. Thompson became the first player in NBA history to make at least seven threes in consecutive playoff games, while Shaun Livingston scored 16 points for his third double-digit performance in three games while starting in Curry’s place this series.

“We’re blessed, we are really lucky. You lose your point guard, you lose the MVP, and to be able to throw Shaun Livingston out there, he’s a fantastic basketball player, a great team-mate,” coach Steve Kerr said.

Curry, in a brown sport coat on the bench and nursing his sprained right knee, emphatically bobbed his head, clapped and bowed to Thompson during starter introductions. He even worked the officials during a timeout, and gestured with hand signals to celebrate big plays.

James Harden scored 25 of Houston’s 37 first-half points on the way to 35 points, but the Rockets had no chance with a one-man show against the deep defending champions.

So much for Jason Terry’s guarantee there would be a Game 6 back in Houston. “The season, from the beginning, wasn’t going our way. Just had too many distractions,” Harden said. “It’s just been like a bumpy road this entire season.”

Thompson hit a way-back, Curry-like three from 31 feet at the top of the arc with 5:37 left in the third. He shot seven of 11 from long range, 10 for 14 overall.

Curry could only grin, cheer and enjoy every second of seeing his team do so well without him. “He was just joking around and having a lot of fun. It was a game with a lot of joy,” Kerr said. “Steph was having a great time.”

The NBA’s leading scorer is sidelined for at least two weeks with a sprained MCL that happened when he slipped awkwardly on the final play of the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 and his legs split apart.

A day after Kerr was voted NBA Coach of the Year, his team took the first step toward a repeat title by following up its record 73-win season by so confidently handling Houston. Thompson started things off with a quick three-pointer, igniting the yellow-clad, “Strength in Numbers” sellout crowd at Oracle Arena. Green also hit from long range and Houston called a quick timeout.

Harden scored 14 early points on six-of-seven shooting, but the rest of the Rockets were 0 for 16 before Patrick Beverley’s follow shot with 11:26 left in the second quarter following Michael Beasley’s shanked alley-oop dunk try.

From the moment Curry went down, the Warriors took their game up a notch with a spectacular second half in Game 4, finishing the 121-94 victory with a playoff-record 21 three-pointers and 38 assists on 46 field goals.

Terry guaranteed a Game 5 win, telling the Houston Chronicle, “That’s going to be a long flight for them to come back to Houston.” Amused, Golden State just shrugged it off.

Dwight Howard capped his awful series with eight points on three-for-13 shooting and 21 rebounds, remaining on the floor long after the rest of the starters were finished. “He wanted to stay, he wanted to finish,” interim Rockets coach JB Bickerstaff said. “He didn’t want to quit. He didn’t want to lay down and bail out of the fight. ... That’s the image he wanted to leave people with.”

Elsewhere, the Blazers capitalised on the absence of injured Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 108-98 in Game 5 of their first-round series.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 27 points. They are up 3-2 and could close it out Friday in Portland. If Game 7 is needed, it would be Saturday back at Staples Center.

“We’ve got a unique opportunity to play an elimination game at home, and now we want to make sure we take full advantage of it,” McCollum said.

In Miami, Courtney Lee’s three-pointer with 25.2 seconds left put Charlotte ahead to stay, and the Hornets beat the Heat 90-88 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

The Hornets have won three straight games in the series, and will take a 3-2 lead into a potential Game 6 clincher on Friday night.

Marvin Williams led the Hornets with 17 points, while Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker each had 14 for Charlotte — who got their first road playoff win in 14 years. Jeremy Lin added 11. Dwyane Wade scored 25 for Miami, while Luol Deng scored 15, Joe Johnson added 13 and Hassan Whiteside finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.



Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Bale Believes in Bernabeu Win

Gareth Bale - Getty Images
Gareth Bale is confident Real Madrid will progress to the Champions League final, despite the frustration of failing to make their chances count at Manchester City.

The absence of star turn Cristiano Ronaldo gave Manuel Pellegrini's side a boost ahead of the first-leg on Tuesday, but they were made to sweat for a goalless draw in their first ever semi-final appearance.

Jese hit the crossbar as Real improved markedly after half-time, with Joe Hart having to be at his best late on to prevent Casimero and Pepe netting all-important away goals.

Bale was frustrated not to have found a winner, especially having felt both he and Lucas Vazquez should have had penalties, but was upbeat about the 10-time champions' chances of making May's Milan showpiece.

"I didn't think we had to change too much," the attacker said of coping with Ronaldo's absence. "I think the players, Jese and Lucas, who came in did a very good job.

"We looked solid, we looked a threat on the counter and we were unlucky maybe not to get the goal and a few penalties.

"It was a little bit frustrating not to be able to score, but we got a clean sheet and we go back to the Bernabeu now very confident. Obviously we'd loved to have scored a goal, but it is not a bad result.

Zinedine Zidane's side certainly go into the home leg in a far better position than they did in the quarter-finals, when Wolfsburg led 2-0 from the first leg.

However, Real rallied and progressed thanks to a 3-0 triumph on home turf - a result that gives them understandable confidence, albeit Bale knows City are a different calibre of opponent.

"Of course you have to play it carefully, but ultimately when we're at home we attack a lot," he said.

"We'll try to keep it defensively tight as well so it will obviously be a difficult game at home, we know that. They're a very good team.

"I think both teams are evenly matched. We're very confident at home. We know it'll be a difficult game, but we will be going all out to try and win it."

Toni Kroos echoed those sentiments, underlining the belief in the Madrid squad that they will make it to the San Siro.

"Manchester City are a good team, but we're playing at the Bernabeu and we believe we can win the tie," the Germany midfielder said.

"It doesn't matter who the favourite is. The winner will be in the final. Everyone knows we're good at home, we showed that in the quarters and we hope to do so again on Wednesday.

"We have to play well and do things like we did against Wolfsburg. If we play like that I think we'll be in the final."


Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich

Diego Simeone - Getty Images
Diego Simeone admitted his Atlético side face a challenge on Wednesday night but has warned Bayern Munich to expect a battle at the Vicente Calderón.

Madrid face Bayern after dispatching Barcelona in the quarter-finals and the Argentinian is eager to test the character of Pep Guardiola’s squad. “Bayern have many options, but in battles, the side with most soldiers does not win, but those who use their soldiers better,” said the Atlético manager.

His midfielder Saúl admitted he could not find any weaknesses in the Bayern team. “They [Bayern] are the most complete side, they have a lot of variety to their game and can attack through the middle or via the wings, and they are strong in the air,” Saúl said. “We will do what we always do; work as a team, fight to the death for every ball, treat the game as though it was a final, that’s only way we will be able to compete against a top side like Bayern. The main objective is to win the game.”

The defender Stefan Savic believes the match promises to be a clash of styles. While the Spanish side are happy to grind out results when necessary and are more ready to embrace the physical side of the game, Bayern operate a possession-based game built around Guardiola’s tactical nous.

Savic, who is in contention to replace the injured Diego Godín in central defence, said: “They have another style totally different from ours, but that’s the beauty of football – it can be played in different ways and all are worthy. We will see after the game which is best. Everyone wants to win the Champions League, but we must be calm and try to give our best. It will be a tough tie, but we are confident in ourselves.”

Savic is vying with José Giménez and Lucas Hernández for Godín’s shirt, while Yannick Carrasco is expected to start despite taking limited part in training on Monday. The Belgian is being treated carefully due to a sore ankle, with Augusto Fernández standing by.
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Guardiola believes he must win the Champions League for his spell in Germany to be deemed a success. In his first two years, Bayern have suffered semi-final exits to La Liga opposition – losing to Real Madrid in 2013-14 and Barcelona 12 months ago, after first-leg defeats away from home each time.

“Three semis in three years is not something that every team does,” Guardiola said. “I have read in Munich that without winning the Champions League, the work would not be complete. I must accept that. But I am very fortunate to have lived and worked three years in Germany. I am a better coach, a better guy, more relaxed, I have enjoyed it a lot. We will try and reach the final, as we did against Madrid and Barcelona, and now this year against Atletico.

“We are very happy to be here, we know that all semi-finalists are difficult,” he said. “The best trophy Atlético have achieved, with Diego Simeone and his team, is that they are now equals to Barcelona and Real Madrid, just as feared when they play in Europe. I have been outside Spain for five years, but have watched on the TV, and their consistency has been really impressive. Normally only the biggest teams can play every three days, and keep winning, season after season.”


Raiders Looking to Las Vegas


Mark Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, is set for another round of talks with officials in Las Vegas as plans to relocate his team there appear to have gathered momentum.

Davis is scheduled to appear at the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meeting at 11am on Thursday, and under discussion will be the $1.3bn project being proposed by billionaire casino mogul and longtime Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.

Speculation has grown in recent days that Davis could be ready make a commitment to relocate his team to Las Vegas if financing is approved on Thursday.

The Raiders are staying at the Coliseum for one more year at least, but Davis, who inherited the team after the death of his father Al in 2011, wants his team to play in a football-specific stadium, and is prepared to move his team out of Oakland to get one. Officials in Oakland are reluctant to use public money to create a new football stadium; the Athletics also want a new ballpark of their own.

Davis has been in negotiations with Adelson over the move to Vegas for some months now, and toured UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium as a potential temporary home. The location for the proposed 65,000-seat Las Vegas stadium is a 42-acre lot on Tropicana Avenue near the university, a few blocks east of the strip.

Davis declined to speak to ESPN about Thursday’s meeting – which comes on the same day as the NFL draft.

Davis believes that the Raiders can expand their appeal beyond California with a move to Vegas – and that Raiders fans from across America would be keen to visit Vegas to catch a game as part of a weekend trip.