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Cam Cole: ‘Ringo’ Rory McIlroy at Back of Golf’s Fab Four as the Open Sets to Tee Off



TROON, Scotland — Two reasons to pick Dustin Johnson to win the 145th Open Championship:

1. He’s American, and the last six players to win the Open at Troon, dating back to Arnold Palmer in 1962, have been all been Yanks.

2. Coming off victories at the U.S. Open and WGC Bridgestone Invitational, he’s simply playing better than anyone else, including the artists formerly known as the Big Three: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

That trio is now a quartet. After a series of near misses at majors, Johnson, with his breakthrough at Oakmont last month, has muscled his way into the top echelon, bumping all of the others, at least for now, into backup-singer roles — and by a simple chronological countback, pushed Rory McIlroy into the No. 4 position.

As James Corrigan characterized it in the Telegraph: “It is a Fab Four scenario, with McIlroy in danger of becoming Ringo.”

Great line. But is it true?

“I haven’t heard that,” the 26-year-old McIlroy said Tuesday, when apprised of the analogy. “Probably the first time I’ve been compared to the Beatles.”

At least Ringo is still with us.

Understandably, with McIlroy being the only United Kingdom component of the foursome, concern is riding fairly high hereabouts that he has lost the beat, never a good thing for a drummer, compared to when he was winning four majors by the age of 24.

Not everyone thinks so.

“I don’t look at his form and say oh, what’s going on with Rory?” said Justin Rose. “He popped off a win (at the Irish Open), which was a big, big victory for him. So he’s got it when he wants it, and that’s all you need to see, really.

“The metric of how we judge these players can be harsh at times, and I think Rory is a feel player, in the sense that you can never count him out. If you start to criticize him at this point in the season, you could definitely end up with egg on your face, because he could go on a run and win three, four, five of the next six, seven events.”

That might be more than a little fanciful.

McIlroy’s great 2014 campaign, in which he won the final two majors and seemed ready to be the next generational superstar, is already receding in the rear-view mirror — surpassed first by Spieth’s Tiger-esque 2015 season, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open and made a run at all four majors, and then by Day’s PGA Championship win and fall/winter domination, and now by Johnson’s impressive summer of excellence.

“Rory must wonder what’s happened,” said Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, in the Telegraph.

“I tell you what, these next three weeks (with the Open and the PGA) are going to be very important for Rory. If he goes through these without winning, that’ll be two years without a major and that’s going to hurt him and hurt him hard.”

McIlroy was already feeling the pressure at this year’s Masters of being overtaken by Day and Spieth.

“I’d be lying if I said those guys having success doesn’t motivate me. Of course it does. I don’t want to be left behind. I want to be a part of that conversation. I’m clinging on at the minute,” McIlroy said in April.

He wasn’t entirely joking, though. Now, two more majors have gone by, Johnson has come along and added to the blockade ahead of him, and the one-time child star from Northern Ireland doesn’t look any closer to finding the answers.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Spieth, either, having blown the Masters on the back nine on Sunday and missed the cut at the U.S. Open, or Day, who stumbled out of the gate at Oakmont and coughed up the lead late in the final round at the Bridgestone.

“For Dustin, I think it was just floodgates opening, which I’ve said for a long time now,” said Spieth. “And it happened, and it happened again. So it’s no surprise.”

That was hardly a concession, though.

Just because Johnson is the frontman coming in, doesn’t mean the other members of the band have downed their instruments.

“My game has been quite consistent, apart from 2013, when I didn’t play well. That is probably the only time in the last six years I have dropped outside the top 10 in the world,” McIlroy said.

“I am happy with where my game is. I can’t worry about other guys. I am confident if I go out and play my best golf I will win more than not.”

“Everyone goes through peaks and valleys,” Spieth said. “I’ve still won twice and been second in a major. If that’s a valley, then that’s going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak. No offence, but you guys have made me feel like that’s a valley.”

Day said he doesn’t care where he sits on the radar screen coming in. Favourite or slight underdog, no matter.

“I’m sure (Johnson) has a lot of spotlight on him this week, because he has won the last two events he’s played in, and they’ve been pretty big events,” Day said. “He’s typically played pretty well in the Open Championship, so he’s obviously going to be a very tough guy to beat this week.

“But, yeah, I’d take either way.”

Whatever the oddsmakers say, Colin Montgomerie probably has it right: anyone who manages to finish ahead of the Fab Four is likely to be hoisting the Claret Jug for the photographers on Sunday evening.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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