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Cam Cole: The Women of Olympic Golf Brush off Rio Fears and Get Down to Business



RIO DE JANEIRO — While Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were slugging it out on the closing holes of the Olympic men’s golf tournament Sunday, the front nine holes were wide open.

So, why not play a few?

Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp did just that, getting a first taste of the Campo Olimpico de Golfe and a bit of a headstart in preparation for Wednesday’s debut of women’s golf in the Summer Olympics.

They have a tough act to follow, as dramatic as the men’s finale turned out to be. But, unlike the men, at least they won’t have to answer questions about the four top-ranked players in the world taking a pass.

“No comment,” Henderson said Monday, after she and Sharp, and their caddies and Golf Canada women’s coach Tristan Mullally did the full 18 at Campo for the first time.

“As for the people who didn’t come, I totally respect their decision,” said the 18-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., the No. 3 ranked player in the women’s game.

“It was tough. There’s a lot of stuff going down in Rio right now, and a lot of things that women have to take into consideration as well, but we made the decision to come, and it looks like a good one now.”

“You don’t get this chance all the time,” said the 35-year-old Sharp, whose game seems to be peaking at just the right time. In her last five LPGA Tour starts she’s had a tie for eighth, a tie for 11th, and two very respectable finishes in the U.S. Women’s Open and the British Women’s Open.

“In four years I’m going to be 40 and who knows where I’ll be. I hope to be on the team (in 2020) but when I leave here on Monday I want to say I experienced everything I wanted to experience and I had a great time.”

As for the people who didn’t come, I totally respect their decision

On the surface, the all but perfect attendance by the game’s best females looks like an intentional poke in the eye of the men, several of whose stars declined to come.

“I don’t think we all got together as a group and said that, but the concerns the men are talking about in the media aren’t something the women even worried about, which is kind of weird,” Sharp said, “because Zika, you’d think a woman would be more afraid to get that than a man contracting it.

“I think people worried about the security but, overall, we just want to enjoy it. We see it as growing the LPGA and the game, and if we can expand here in South America that’s great for the tour and good for golf. So I think we see it in a different way. We feel fortunate to get tournaments, so we want to give it all we have when we get a new tournament or a new venue.”

At first glance, they liked the course but were glad to be walking up 18 Monday when a hard wind started blowing on cue at 3 p.m. and a steamy hot day turned suddenly cold.

Five to watch in the debut of women’s Olympic golf

Begins Wednesday at Campo Olimpico de Golfe

Lydia Ko: The Korean-born New Zealander seems to have been around forever, and has 14 LPGA Tour titles including two majors, but she’s still just 19. Machine-like and nerveless, she could win any week.

Brooke Henderson: The Canadian prodigy’s game has been ragged lately, but with three tour wins including a major at age 18, she could rebound at any time. Long off the tee.

Ariya Jutanugarn: The women’s British Open champ from Thailand is just 20 years old (do you see a pattern here?) but has loads of game, already has won four (nearly five) times this year.

Lexi Thompson: Another former teen prodigy, even longer off the tee than Henderson. The wide-open course will give her room to let loose the driver and have short clubs into a lot of par-4s.

Suzann Pettersen: The crusty Norwegian veteran was one of the prime movers in the campaign to get golf into the Olympics, and she’ll be extra motivated to make her appearance count.

— Cam Cole

Their tour of the links featured some wildlife sightings, including a capybara (“We saw one today on No. 5,” Sharp said. “It looked like an 80-pound rat.”) and the native mini-crocodile known as a caiman (“We saw one in the water on 4, but by the time we got up to him he was under the water again.”)

They didn’t poke at the caiman with a golf club, like Stenson did on the weekend.

“I saw that,” Sharp grinned. “That was not smart.”

Mostly, the tour was useful for picking out target lines off the tee.

“I think that’s the big thing on this course. You’re standing on the tee thinking, ‘Where do I hit it?’” Sharp said.

Henderson, since winning her first major, the Women’s PGA, and defending her title at the Cambia Portland Classic last month, has been struggling with her game — 64th and a tie for 50th in the last two majors — and though she doesn’t turn 19 until September, it’s been suggested she may be fatigued from a gruelling stretch in which she played 10 LPGA Tour events in a row with another two-day event squeezed in there.

“No, not at all,” she said. “Especially knowing I had two weeks before this event. I knew I’d have lots of time to rest if I needed it, and then time to practice and work hard again. I know a lot of people thought I was crazy playing that many weeks in a row, but that’s what I like to do. I like to compete, I like to play in tournaments, and if I went home, I was just going to practice anyway, so why not test myself?”

Mullally and his players held a two-day mini-camp in Houston in preparation for the Olympics, and Henderson said she worked hard to get her game back to the level she expects of herself.

“I know the Canadian women have been doing extremely well (in Rio), and I hope to add to that medal count and I’m sure Alena does, too,” she said. “I hope both of us are standing on the podium at the end of this.”

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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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