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Golf

Tiger Woods, a force of nature whose likes we'll never see again

The real Tiger King! Wonder Woods, a force of nature whose likes we’ll never see again in sport

  • Tiger Woods is considered one of the greatest sporting icons of all-time 
  • Woods announced himself early in his career and has had fans hooked since 
  • His fifth Masters title, won last year, was one of the greatest sporting moments

Growing up in Ayrshire, I was raised on a diet of Junior football and links golf. Both were in my blood from an early age and have stuck with me to the present day.

When I wasn’t at the football, you could guarantee I would be on the golf course, exploring the gold mine of championship layouts which sit nestled on the west coast of Scotland.

West Kilbride, Kilmarnock Barassie, Bogside, Old Prestwick, Royal Troon, Western Gailes, Prestwick St Nicholas, Turnberry; I was blessed to have them all effectively on my doorstep.

Tiger Woods celebrates after winning his fifth Masters title at Augusta National last year

Like many others, it was my dad who taught me how to play the game and I can vividly recall the sense of giddy excitement when he told me Tiger was coming to Troon in the summer of 1997.

Just a few months previously in April, I had spent my seventh birthday watching on TV as Tiger Woods obliterated the rest of the field at Augusta to announce himself as a global superstar.

In winning his first major championship at that year’s Masters, he finished on 18-under par, a full 12 shots ahead of his nearest competitor.

Woods has showed grit and determination to recover from injury to return to the top level

At that point, it was the largest margin of victory ever recorded in a major, a record which Tiger himself would break once again just a few years down the line in 2000. But we’ll get to that.

Firstly, let’s get back to Troon. My dad had gotten us tickets for one of the practice days, along with the Saturday.

He had given me a glove, which was still far too big for me at that age, to get signed by Tiger and our grand plan was to catch him once he left the practice green on the Wednesday.

TIGER WOODS FACTFILE

Real name: Eldrick Tont Woods.

Age: 44. Born: December 30, 1975.

Majors: 15 — (5) Masters: 1997, 2001, ’02, ’05, ’19; (4) PGA Championship: 1999, 2000, ’06, ’07; (3) US Open: 2000, ’02, ’08; (3) The Open: 2000, ’05, ’06.

Professional wins: 109.

First broke 70 on a regulation course aged 12.

Between June 2005 and October 2010, Woods was the No 1-ranked golfer in the world — a total of 281 weeks, beating his previous record of 264 weeks he set between August 1999 and September 2004.

Has held the No 1 ranking for a total of 683 weeks, the current record. Greg Norman is next best, on 331 weeks. Rory McIlroy heads the active players, on 101 weeks.

Holds record for consecutive cuts made on 142.

Joint holder of the record for PGA Tour wins, with 82, alongside Sam Snead. Phil Mickelson is the only other active player in the top ten, with 44 wins.

Sits third in the all-time standings for wins on the European Tour with 41. Only Seve Ballesteros (50) and Bernhard Langer (42) have more.

One of five men to complete a career Grand Slam — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are the others.

The youngest man to complete a career Grand Slam.

Masters titles in 1997 and 2019 make him the youngest — and second-oldest — to win at Augusta.

The only player in history to win all four majors in a row — outwith the same year. The feat became known as the ‘Tiger Slam’.

Woods the winner

PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 1996.

PGA Player of the Year: (record) 11 — 1997, ’99, 2000, ’01,’02, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’13.

PGA Tour Leading Money winner: (record) 10 — 1997, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’13.

Twelve-stroke margin when winning the Masters in 1997 is a record.

I remember my dad hurling me like a bowling ball up towards the front of a gaggle of kids, all of us praying that Tiger would take the time to stop and do the honours.

Sure enough, he did just that. Now, bear in mind, these were the days when there was still a degree of accessibility around Woods. But that was something which would soon disappear. By the time The Open returned to Troon in 2004, I was 14. I remember seeing Woods, now robotic and surrounded by a vast entourage, totally blanking a group of youngsters.

He was in a relative drought. A period of rebuilding his swing, the feast would turn to famine as Woods failed to win any majors throughout the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

His US Open victory in 2002 was his eighth major by the age of 26. They were being knocked down like skittles, so it felt like an eternity that he had to wait until The Masters in ’05 to chalk up No 9.

That was the year in which he produced that chip shot from a seemingly impossible area in the rough at the side of the 16th green at Augusta.

Woods’s first Masters title came in 1997 and he has captivated sporting audiences ever since

On and on it rolled. With every revolution of the ball came an increasing sense of inevitability. Of course it was going to go in.

Trickling its way down the hill, perching itself over the edge of the hole, teasing us that it may fall agonisingly short, before the Nike swoosh had its moment of glory, smiling into the camera lens as the ball tumbled into the cup.

Given the context and what was at stake, it was a display of genius which surely ranks as one of the greatest shots of all time.

But let’s take it back to ’97. It was to be an Open Championship which saw Justin Leonard prevail ahead of Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik.

Although it wasn’t the winner I had hoped for, it was a week in which my love affair with the game had found its spark.

The noise of Tiger’s two-iron ripping through the links turf, accompanied by the little puff of brown dust, was one unlike any other I had ever heard and I spent endless hours trying to replicate the ‘stinger’.

Still operating with a chopped-down, half-set of clubs, it wasn’t until the Christmas of 2000 that I finally got my hands on my first full set.

By that point, Tiger was rewriting the laws of what was possible in the game. Recalibrating the definition of greatness, he may as well have been playing a different sport to everyone else.

It feels fitting that Sportsmail’s Sporting Heroes series should fall on the 20th anniversary of that season, the likes of which will never be seen again.

Woods has suffered heartache during his career but he has come back from major setbacks

Tiger won nine times on the PGA Tour in 2000, three of which were major championships, in a demonstration of unrelenting excellence.

At the US Open at Pebble Beach, he destroyed the competition to win by a mammoth 15 shots, duly breaking his own scoring record from Augusta three years previously.

He then followed that by winning The Open at St Andrews. The margin of victory? Oh, just the eight shots on that occasion.

Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie; all terrific players in their own right. But Tiger was doing to opponents what a dog would do to an unsuspecting lamp-post.

In terms of a double, winning the US Open at Pebble and the Claret Jug at the Home of Golf — two of the sport’s most iconic tracks — represented the Holy Grail.

Doing so with a combined total of 23 shots to spare only made it all the more impressive. Tiger was reinventing the sport of golf.

The PGA Championship followed at Valhalla in August before, the following April, Woods won the Masters once again to complete the ‘Tiger Slam’.

Winning four majors on the bounce put him in a league of his own. It remains a feat unlikely to be replicated. But the numbers only tell part of the story.

Perhaps the truest indication of Woods’ talent could be found in the feeling of fear and worthlessness he could instil in his rivals.

At St Andrews, in July of 2000, Els quipped: ‘Old Tom Morris? If you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger, Tiger would probably beat him by 80 shots right now.’

The praise from Mark Calcavecchia was similarly lavish, with the big American saying: ‘It wasn’t long ago when I said there would never be another Jack Nicklaus. But we’re looking at him (Woods). He is the chosen one.’

In terms of who was better, it’s a matter of personal opinion. As far as longevity and sheer consistency is concerned, it’s hard to argue against Nicklaus.

As well as holding the all-time record of 18 majors, Nicklaus also finished runner-up on 19 occasions. Those are ludicrous numbers.

Woods won’t catch Nicklaus on either of those fronts. But, in terms of raw talent and ability, Tiger in his pomp was untouchable.

Ever the gentleman, Nicklaus has graciously admitted this on multiple occasions. When Tiger was in full flow, he was the most gifted and most dominant entity the game has ever seen.

Here was a young kid of mixed race, who was racially abused at school and denied the chance to compete at so many of America’s elitist country clubs. This kid who, as the son of a black man and a Thai woman, had revitalised a sport which had previously been the exclusive domain of privileged, white middle-class males.

At his very best, Woods was untouchable and nobody could get close to him when in full flight 

Tiger’s story could have ended in 2008, when he won a US Open on a broken leg before his career became engulfed in scandal.

He had achieved more than enough in the game to walk away if he wanted to. Yet, his comeback to win the Masters last year, a 15th major championship, offered us all a glimpse of a glorious past.

The drama, the red jersey, the Green Jacket, the azaleas, the kaleidoscope of colour which only Augusta can bring, The Eye of the Tiger.

Having undergone various surgeries on his knees and on his back, he overcame a physical state which at one point must have felt like his entire body was loaded with razor blades and one which would have pushed lesser players into retirement.

They say that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. By that same token, Woods is now on the back nine of his own career. Indeed, he’s already past Amen Corner.

He’s 44 now and, depending on how things pan out with the coronavirus, he could well be 45 by the time he contests another major. At such a late juncture of his career, it is fanciful to believe he will eclipse or even equal the gold standard of 18 set by Golden Bear.

It seems absurd to think of him as a talent in any way unfulfilled, but that’s exactly what he is. When his personal life went off the rails, there was an 11-year gap between majors No 14 and 15.

Those years around his mid-to-late 30s and early 40s should have been the peak years of his career, as they are with any other golfer.

So we’ll never truly know just how good he could have been. The game was a bogey, so to speak, when he started approaching birdie putts and cocktail waitresses with equal relish.

Had he been able to behave himself off the course, it’s not unreasonable to suggest he could have racked up 25 majors by now. That was the frequency and strike-rate he was heading for.

All we can know for sure is that, on his day, Tiger was a force of nature, the likes of which won’t ever be seen again.




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MLB

Pros and cons of the NFL’s playoff expansion, the first big format change in 30 years

The NFL hasn’t changed its number of playoff teams in 30 years. With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, the 2020 season is set to usher in a brand-new era of the league postseason.

A vote of NFL owners is set to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams. There would still be four division winners, but an extra wild-card team would be added in both the NFC and AFC. Only two teams, the top seeds in both conferences, would enjoy first-round byes.

The NFL has had the dozen playoff teams since the 1990 season, when it increased the field from 10 teams to 12 with three division winners and three wild-card teams in each conference. In 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams, it adjusted to four division winners and two wild-card teams.

Why is the NFL doing this, and what are the pros and cons of the new format? Let’s break them all down.

Pro: Two more games and a more action-packed wild card weekend

The current 12-team playoff format features two teams on a bye in each conference, creating consecutive opening playoff double-headers on the first Saturday and Sunday after the regular season.

With 12 teams (six division winners, six wild-card teams) playing in the first round, the NFL can now give us back-to-back postseason triple-headers that resemble the usual progression of early afternoon, late afternoon and night games in the regular season.

Divisional playoff weekend is arguably the best NFL weekend now. Wild-card weekend would rule the roost in the new format.

Con: Two more games and a less relevant regular season 

With the NFL having 12 of its 32 teams make the playoffs, that meant only 37.5 percent playing beyond the regular season. By increasing the playoff field to 14, the number jumps to 43.8 percent. That’s probably the ceiling, given 16 of 32 (50 percent) puts the league too close to the NHL (51.6 percent) and NBA (53.3) percent, or using the season to eliminate only half the teams.

Take last season for example. The Rams (9-7) would have been the last team in from the NFC, while the Steelers (8-8) would have been the last team in from the AFC. The Bears (8-8) and Cowboys (8-8) were the only other teams in the NFL at .500 or better.



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Mike Tomlin
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The NFL is walking a fine line between competitive balance and watering down the accomplishments of teams such as the Packers (13-3) and Chiefs (12-4), who as strong No. 2 seeds under the proposed format would have been forced to play the Rams and Steelers, with home field being the only advantage shown for their far superior efforts.

Adding playoff teams always cheapens the regular season to some degree. College Football Playoff enthusiasts would agree. In the FBS, however, a miniscule 3 percent of the teams make the playoffs, and expanding to eight teams would put it at only 6 percent. The NFL getting close to half the field making it is on the brink of saturation when multiple-game series aren’t involved in each round.

Note that in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament, 68 teams do have a chance. But that’s still only 19.6 percent of Division I teams. The NFL is pushing past double that number.

Pro: More teams involved in the playoff race through Week 17

With that said, we know what an extra wild-card team in each league has meant for MLB, generating a new kind of excitement in September. The NFL equivalent of that is the one-month playoff push in December, the time when NFL fans are obsessed with the playoff picture and its many permutations.

Had the Steelers made the playoffs last year at 8-8, the Jets, Colts, Broncos and Raiders, who all finished 7-9, would have approached the final month differently knowing they had real postseason chances. The Rams, Cowboys and Bears would have been joined by the Falcons and Buccaneers in a more competitive final surge.

So although there would be only 14 playoff teams in the new format, roughly 20 teams would remain in viable playoff contention through the final few weeks.

Con: More mediocre teams making the playoffs

You know how it is in the NHL and NBA. Some average teams make the field only to quickly become as irrelevant as they were in the regular season. Did we really need to see the Chiefs play the offensively challenged Steelers, too, on their way to winning Super Bowl 54? Also, given how Pittsburgh limped down the stretch, did it even deserve the opportunity?

The danger here, unlike in the NHL and NBA, is that anything can happen in one game, while over the course of a best-of-seven series, anomalous upsets are less likely. So whether the Chiefs had either blown out or lost to the Steelers, it would have felt weird that they even had a chance to share the same playoff field.



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Patrick Mahomes
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Pro: More potential for teams overcoming stronger schedules

Not all 16-game slates are created equal. Some teams have distinct advantages based on the rotation of divisions they play outside their own, as well as the teams that finished in the same place as them the previous season.

Having an extra playoff wild card provides a little leeway for a team navigating through a higher degree of difficulty.

Con: More potential for teams taking advantage of weaker schedules

The flip side is that extra playoff team in each conference adds one more layer to to the built-in parity parameters of the schedule.

Consider that with only one bye seed in each conference, more surefire playoff teams will be less motivated to play their regulars in the final weeks. That will open the door to a few more non-competitive games that also inflate the wild-card resumes of potential No. 7 seeds.

Pro: More incentive to fight for the No. 1 seeds

Speaking of which, the No. 1 seed will carry a new level of significance. Think of how the Chiefs reacted when they were able to steal that No. 2 seed and first-round bye from the Patriots in Week 17. That was huge for their Super Bowl 54 run, as they got a much-needed extra week of rest and ended up playing consecutive home games with the Ravens being upset in the divisional playoffs.

The single bye format forces a team to play with less margin for error, knowing only one strong playoff team in each conference can have the ultimate advantage of both home field and a bye.

In the NFC, the 49ers’ big win over the Seahawks in Week 17 earned them No. 1 vs. No. 5. That was a monstrous development that fueled their run, while the Seahawks were dusted in the divisional playoffs. The top seed in the new format would become more of a golden ticket, with No. 2 dropping all the way down to general admission.

Con: Less incentive to fight for any other seed

NFL teams that have poor chances to post a conference-best record won’t be as motivated to change their seeding. Being a No. 2 is not much different from being a No. 4 anymore. The same thing goes for No. 5 through No. 7, as they all will be playing road games in the first round regardless.

There’s a chance for the competitive fire to be doused before the playoffs ahead of it being reignited. So there might be bit of a sacrifice on some level for the teams not fighting to get into the tournament late, but the NFL likely will be fine trading that for greater drama once the tournament begins and the stakes are raised.

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Soccer

Hearts warn players their wages will be suspended if they refuse 50 per cent pay cut

Hearts owner Ann Budge has written a letter to the club’s players warning them their wages will be suspended from March 31 if they do not accept a 50 per cent wage cut.

Hearts are set to miss out on £1m of income next month following the suspension of Scottish football amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and Budge has warned the club will not survive a six-month shutdown without implementing cuts.

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Basketball

A point-by-point breakdown of Michael Jordan’s ‘double nickel’ masterpiece at Madison Square Garden

Michael Jordan’s legendary “double nickel” performance against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995, still holds up 25 years later.

It’s easy to remember the 55-point outburst just five games into the superstar’s return to the NBA. Jordan, wearing No. 45, broke the record he previously set for most points by an opposing player at MSG. He scored 50 against the Knicks on Nov. 1, 1986.

You remember all that. You might have forgotten how the Bulls won that 113-111 thriller against New York.

Jordan set John Starks up with a spin move, waited for Patrick Ewing to come in for the double team, then dished to Bill Wennington for the game-winning dunk with 3.1 seconds left.

“Hey, don’t count on me to shoot it every time. I can pass,” Jordan told Craig Sager in the postgame interview.

Yeah, but we’d rather talk about the points.

Sporting News rewatched that classic game. Here is everything you forgot about Jordan’s legendary performance, which can be found here:

Bulls vs. Knicks score

First quarter: Jordan quickly heats up

Bob Neal and Hubie Brown were on the call for this game, and remember the Knicks were 44-24 and the defending Eastern Conference champions. The Bulls were 37-33 and coming off a 99-98 victory against Atlanta in which Jordan hit the game-winning shot. He had 32 points in that game.

Jordan wasted no time tormenting Starks, hitting six of his first seven shots, and the Knicks were called for two illegal defense violations in the first six minutes. The Bulls used Jordan in the post, and the Knicks failed to adjust.

In a monster opening quarter, Jordan scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

A look at Jordan’s baskets (time on video):

Second quarter: Knicks holding off Bulls

Jordan sat for a chunk of the quarter, and the Knicks built a 12-point lead.

When Jordan returned, he picked right back up where he left off. A fadeaway jumper over Starks (36:16 on the video) elicited a chorus of “Ooohs” from the Garden. Neal briefly lost track of how many points Jordan had.

He totaled 35 first-half points on 14-of-19 shooting, but the Knicks held a 56-50 lead.



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Michael Jordan
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Third quarter: Bulls close gap

Jordan made just three of his six shots in the quarter, but he did hit a pair of 3-pointers.

The Bulls took a 79-78 lead at 1:43 left in the third quarter, and Starks picked up his fourth foul on a cheap call. Jordan made four free throws in the third on his way to 49 points, only one point away from setting a new record with a quarter to play. All tied up at 82.

Fourth quarter: Jordan in the clutch

Sager interviewed Knicks legend Earl “The Pearl” Monroe before the fourth quarter and asked how to stop Jordan. 

“Well, first of all, I would make sure he didn’t get off the bus to get into the building,” Monroe said.  

Jordan started the fourth quarter on the bench and entered the game with 6:50 remaining. Ewing, who had 27 of his 36 points in the second half, kept the Knicks alive as the teams battled back and forth.  

Jordan hit the record-breaking jump shot, and Brown, who was the coach for the Knicks when Jordan scored 50, quipped, “It takes me out of the record book.” Jordan scored his final basket on a jumper over Starks that was incredibly close to the shot he hit over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals for a 111-109 lead with 25.8 seconds left. Starks tied the game with a pair of free throws, and that’s when Jordan took the ball for the final sequence.  

The game-winning dish to Wennington followed, and the game ended with a backcourt violation after Starks slipped on an inbound pass.  

“It’s starting to come back to me a little bit,” Jordan said to Sager afterward.

Bonus coverage

A few other things you need to watch: 

— Oakley technical foul alert! (16:53)  

— Scottie Pippen’s dunk over Charles Smith does not get enough attention. (20:23)  

— Jordan tried to dunk over Starks and Ewing. That’s one of those “best dunks that never happened.” Ewing fouled Jordan hard, and Jordan laughed on the floor. (39:33)  

— Kobe Bryant and James Harden have both scored 61 points at MSG since Jordan’s legendary performance. 

— Bill Murray was in attendance. Did this help him land a role in “Space Jam?”

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Soccer

Hearts delay transfer of Ann Budge’s shares to Foundation of Hearts amid coronavirus disruption

Hearts have decided to delay transferring owner Ann Budge’s controlling stake in the club to the Foundation of Hearts (FoH), the fan group has announced.

Budge was due to hand over her majority shareholding in April but the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic has forced a postponement.

  • Naismith accepts 50 per cent wage cut
  • Scottish FA tells clubs to stop training
  • ‘Hearts’ pay cut could lead to domino effect’

Initially scheduled last year, the transfer of shares to the foundation was put back with funds diverted into the new main stand at Tynecastle instead.

FoH chairman Stuart Wallace told members in an email: “Given the troubled situation, the board of the Foundation of Hearts has taken the decision that this is not the time to be adding any further potential disruption by pushing forward with the handover of the majority shareholding.

“All parties remain totally committed to fan ownership and this handover will, of course, still happen, but such a historic event must be conducted at a more settled time – a time when the handover enables the club to proceed seamlessly with its business and a time when we can properly celebrate the achievement of the fans in reaching this milestone.

“Sadly, this is not a time when any of us, we believe, has the inclination for a celebration, however well merited.”

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Soccer

Hearts captain Steven Naismith accepts 50 per cent wage cut and vows to stay at club

Hearts captain Steven Naismith has agreed to take a 50 per cent wage cut to help the club during the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner Ann Budge asked everyone at the Scottish Premiership’s bottom team to take a 50 per cent wage cut in order to safeguard the club’s future.

It was confirmed on Friday that manager Daniel Stendel has waived his wages entirely after the club requested players and staff take a pay cut.

Naismith has now become the first player to announce that he will take a wage cut, and also vowed to remain with the club regardless of what league they are playing in next season.

The 33-year-old said: “Like my team-mates, I’ve been thinking a lot about the request from Hearts to reduce our wages by 50 per cent to help the club and protect as many jobs as possible during this uncertain period. I have discussed it at great length with my family.

“The current circumstances put everyone in a very difficult position, but this isn’t a problem of Hearts’ making.

“My family and I feel that, through a long career, football has been very good to us. Therefore, I personally feel that I can and should accept the 50 per cent reduction in wages.

“I hope this can contribute in some way to the long-term survival of the club at a challenging time and save jobs, especially those that are the lowest earners and hence those who will be struggling the most at this time.

“I know every one of my team-mates have unique circumstances with their finances, homes and families. I can assure everyone they are all doing what they can.

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Rugby

For the good of the game: Nowell willing to take paycut to save Exeter

‘If the clubs really need this to stay afloat then the players will support it – I’m 100 per cent behind it’: Jack Nowell willing to take a pay cut to save Exeter as the future of rugby enters uncertain period due to coronavirus outbreak

  • Jack Nowell is fearing for the future of rugby due to coronavirus outbreak 
  • The Exeter back is spending time in his home-made gym in the garage
  • Nowell missed out on Eddie Jones’ England Six Nations squad due to injury
  • He is happy to ‘support a 25 per cent wage cut’ if it can keep rugby alive 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Only seven days ago, Jack Nowell still had a note in his diary earmarking this weekend as the time for him to return to Exeter’s starting team.

Prior to the Six Nations, his ankle gave way and he needed surgery. This was his moment to unload months of frustration.

Instead, along with almost every other rugby player in the Premiership, he is spending his time working out in a makeshift gym in his garage.

Exeter winger Jack Nowell is fearing rugby’s future after suspensions due to coronavirus fears

The Premiership is currently suspended, leaving Nowell and his team-mates in limbo  

Naturally his first concern is for the safety of his family, but outside of that there are also lingering fears about the future of his sport.

‘There are so many unknowns, aren’t there,’ said the winger, speaking over the phone from his home in Exeter.

‘I got the pressure washer out on Monday to clean out my garage and set up a home gym for a couple of weeks, but it could be much more than a couple of weeks.

‘Rob Baxter (Exeter Chiefs’ director of rugby) emailed us all on Sunday and told us not to come in. 

‘We’re in a bit of limbo. Is this it for the season? Is it not? No one really knows.’ 

The uncertainty is threatening to bring down the sport.

While Exeter are the most financially robust club in the league, some of their rivals are at risk of going under if they lose several months worth of revenue.

Like every player, Nowell received an email from the Rugby Players Association on Thursday outlining proposals for players to take a 25 per cent pay cut.

Six clubs have said they will comply — Leicester, Gloucester, Saracens, Wasps, Worcester and Bristol. 

Exeter will make a collective decision in due course but Nowell is the first to publicly voice his support.

‘We’ve not been told what our club’s stance is yet but Rob reiterated the RPA email on Friday,’ said Nowell. ‘These are unprecedented times so we’ll need to take unprecedented measures.

‘Some boys will be happy about it, others won’t. We’ve got families to look after like everyone else, but we’re realistic that rugby doesn’t have the same finance as the Premier League football.

‘We all want to have a rugby team to go back to when this is over. That’s why the clubs are doing it. 

‘Everyone wants a job to go back to so maybe you need to take a little pay cut or tweak your contract.

‘If the clubs really need this to stay afloat then the players will support it. I’ve been at Exeter since I was 16 so if the club said that to me, of course I’d back it. 

‘I want my team to survive, I want our league to survive and we all want rugby to enjoy when this is over, so I’m 100 per cent behind it.’

The England wingers club are yet to decide whether they will make a 25 per cent wage cut

Nowell is happy to support a 25 per cent wage cut if it means that teams in the league survive

This could have been a windfall season for Nowell’s club. They are top of the Premiership and have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. 

‘To just call it quits now, after the journey we’ve had, would be gutting,’ said Nowell. ‘We believe we can go on and win the Heineken Cup and the Premiership if we have the chance.

‘There’s guys like Nic White leaving at the end of the year. He’s booked a flight back to Australia for the day after the final. Little things like that are up in the air now. He doesn’t know whether he’ll be staying longer or not.

‘The European Cup will probably be the first to give way; you’re flying to different countries and it will be tougher to keep going. It’s going to be hard to find those dates and get them pencilled in again. 

‘Maybe we’ll have to cut into our off season to do that. Again, no one really knows. The most likely outcome, unfortunately, is that we write off this season. You need to put rugby into perspective though, don’t you?’

It has been a year to forget for the winger, who was injured during both the World Cup and the Six Nations. But he has had reassurances from England coach Eddie Jones and hopes there is a silver lining as his body recovers during an enforced lockdown.

It’s been a year to forget for the winger who missed the World Cup and Six Nations with injury

‘Eddie sent me a text saying, “Good to see you back, keep fit and hopefully see you on the Japan tour this summer”,’ said Nowell. ‘It was a shocking World Cup for me. I felt my body let me down a little bit and I felt pretty deflated when I got home. To play 10 minutes against Argentina, one game, and get another injury; I was pretty angry at myself.

‘It was good to get to the final but that’s two World Cups where I’ve not really been able to show what I’m about. Hopefully I’ve got one more in me. I came back and got 12 games under my belt for Exeter but, come the Six Nations, my ankle wasn’t quite right. 

‘I had an operation, got rid of some scar tissue, took some bone out and finally got back from that the other week. Missing the Six Nations was gutting but the England physios said I need to think long-term rather than short-term.

‘I watched at home on TV, in my man-cave, by myself, a little bit upset. It was good to see the boys do well.

‘The positive in all of this is that we’ve got some time to let our bodies recover. But in the mean-time, you’ve just got to keep yourself ticking over, ready to go.’

HOW CORONAVIRUS HAS HIT THE WORLD OF SPORT SO FAR

2020 OLYMPIC GAMES  

The Olympic torch relay in Greece was cancelled on Friday March 13 – just a day after the flame was lit in Olympia.

Large crowds mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler as he lit the cauldron in the Greek city of Sparta despite repeated warnings for spectators not to attend because of coronavirus.

That forced the decision by the Greek Olympic Committee to halt the torch relay on Greek soil on just the second day of its scheduled eight-day journey. It is the only the third time that a relay to Athens for the summer Games has not been completed.

The Olympic flame will still be handed over to the Tokyo 2020 organising committee at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on Thursday March 19, but without fans present. The start of the Japanese relay, in Fukushima, will take place without fans, and local governments are cancelling their welcoming ceremonies. 

The scale of the outbreak in Japan saw senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound describe the disease as ‘the new war’ threatening Tokyo 2020 and he warned the Games may have to be cancelled if the virus was still around by May.

Olympic organisers told athletes to train as normal with no decision on cancellation

The Japanese government later insisted Pound’s comments were not the IOC’s official stance but there remains doubts over whether the summer showcase can still go ahead with health concerns.

Athletes have been told to keep training and the plan remains to hold the Games in Japan as planned but training for around 80,000 volunteers has been delayed for at least until May – it was due to begin on February 22. 

On Friday March 13 US president Donald Trump’s suggestion to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for a year because of the coronavirus was immediately shot down by Japan’s Olympic minister.

‘The IOC and the organising committee are not considering cancellation or a postponement – absolutely not at all,’ Seiko Hashimoto, an Olympic bronze medalist, told a news conference in Tokyo.

On Tuesday March 17, Kozo Tashima, one of the Japanese Olympic Committee’s vice presidents and president of the Japanese Football Association, tested positive for coronavirus.  

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organisers have stayed on message since the viral outbreak in China three months ago spread across Asia and then the globe: The games will open as scheduled on July 24. 

Tokyo 2020 organisers received the Olympic flame in a scaled-down handover ceremony in the Greek capital on March 19.

World Athletics chief Lord Coe claimed it is too early to cancel this summer’s Tokyo Olympics but has warned it could be done if necessary on March 19.

ATHLETICS 

The World Athletics Indoor Championships, which was due to be held from March 13-15 in Nanjing, is postponed until March 2021.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, has been postponed due to concerns over the danger of the coronavirus and its ability to spread

North Korea cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon scheduled for April after imposing a border lockdown due to the level of outbreak in South Korea, where the Seoul Marathon is cancelled in a bid to protect runners.

The Paris half-marathon is cancelled and the French government also decided to ban all public gatherings of more than 100 people, before ordering people to stay at home from March 15 for at least 15 days. The race involving some 44,000 competitors was scheduled for Sunday March 1. Organisers said the race will be postponed to a date yet to be determined.

The London Marathon, which had been scheduled to take place on April 26, has been postponed until October 4. Over 40,000 runners were due to take part. 

The Barcelona marathon scheduled for March 15 has been postponed until October.

BOXING 

Olympic boxing qualifiers to be staged in Wuhan were cancelled by the International Olympic Committee, but went ahead in Amman from March 3-11.

The IBF title fight between Daniele Scardina and Andrew Francillette in Milan on February 28 was postponed by Matchroom due to restrictions in Italy following the outbreak.

The Japanese boxing commission cancelled all fight cards scheduled for March on government advice to suspend all pending sporting fixtures. They will not be rescheduled.

Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce’s Battle of Britain has been pushed back from April to July

The British Boxing Board of Control announced on Tuesday March 17 that all boxing events under their jurisdiction for March will be postponed due to the coronavirus.

That decision has lead to the heavyweight clash between Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce being postponed. That fight, which had been penciled in for April 11, has been rescheduled for July 11 at the O2 Arena. 

Matchroom Boxing has also postponed all events scheduled for March and April, including Josh Kelly’s European title fight against Russia’s David Avanesyan (scheduled for March 28). 

The European Olympic boxing qualification tournament in London has been suspended. It was due to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020 for 77 male and female boxers, with 322 taking part. 

Matchroom Boxing chief Eddie Hearn has said Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defence against Kubrat Pulev, which is scheduled for June 20, could be rearranged for July. All Matchroom promoted fights in March and April have been postponed. 

Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders, earmarked for May in Las Vegas, was postponed before even being announced, however the Mexican is reportedly still planning to make the bout happen in June. 

CRICKET 

England’s tour of Sri Lanka was postponed on March 13, with the England and Wales Cricket Board citing ‘completely unprecedented times’.

The decision was confirmed while Joe Root’s side were in the field at Colombo’s P Sara Oval, contesting a warm-up game for a two-Test series.

On March 18, the West Indies offered to host England’s upcoming home Tests against them in the Caribbean instead of in the UK – should the coronavirus outbreak not have improved by then. England are due to face the Windies in a a three-Test series, which is due to start at the Oval on June 4 but could be delayed until September. If playing the series in England proves unworkable, CWI have offered to step in for this series, and also for England’s three Tests against Pakistan, due to start on July 30. Although there are Covid-19 cases in the Caribbean, its impact there has been limited so far. 

The start of the Indian Premier League season has also been delayed until April 15. The 2020 campaign had been set to start on March 29. The IPL franchises are also ready to quarantine their foreign players for a period of 14 days, if travel restrictions are lifted to allow them to arrive.

On March 13, India’s ongoing one-day international series against South Africa was postponed, while Australia’s one-day internationals against New Zealand will be played behind closed doors.

Scotland’s one-day series against the United States and UAE have been postponed. The games were scheduled to be played in Florida in April. 

England’s cricketers would not play any rescheduled Test series against West Indies in the Caribbean until December at the earliest, it emerged on March 19.

CYCLING 

Cycling’s Giro d’Italia has been called off, with the race scheduled to start in Hungary in May. 

The final two stages of the UAE Tour were cancelled after two members of staff on the race were suspected of having the disease. 

Danish cyclist Michael Morkov was tested for coronavirus after being put in isolation

The Tour de France is under threat of cancellation, with the scheduled start in Nice taking place in just over three months, on June 27. With British and French governments anticipating that the pandemic will last until the summer, race organizers are studying alternative scheduling. 

The Paris-Roubaix cycling race, another major event on the French sports calendar, was postponed due to the pandemic, while the April 5 Tour of Flanders, only previously cancelled during World War I, was also postponed in a further sign that Le Tour is under grave threat.

FOOTBALL 

This summer’s Euro 2020 tournament has been moved to next summer (2021) following a UEFA conference held on March 17. The postponement provides a chance for European club competitions to be completed.

All football in England is suspended until at least April 30 – but the 2019-20 season should eventually be completed after the FA bend their own rules to extend the campaign INDEFINITELY after holding crisis talks on March 19.

The decisions to suspend follows players and staff becoming affected by the virus, or individuals self-isolating as a precaution after reporting symptoms consistent with Covid-19.

The Premier League has moved to cancel games following the global outbreak of coronavius

The Premier League clash between Manchester City and Arsenal, scheduled for March 11, had already been postponed as a ‘precautionary measure’ after Olympiacos and Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis tested positive for coronavirus weeks after watching his Greek team play at the Emirates Stadium. 

On March 13, UEFA announced all Champions League and Europa League fixtures scheduled are postponed, as well as the quarter-final draws for both competitions. UEFA hope to conclude the competitions in the summer but no dates are yet set. 

All Chinese domestic fixtures at all levels were postponed and the season pushed back, the first football to be affected by the outbreak in the country of its origin. However, reports suggest that the league could resume on April 18 as China gets to grip with the virus.

Asian Champions League matches involving Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG are postponed until April.

The start of the Korean K-League season is postponed. The four teams in the AFC Champions League are playing their matches behind closed doors.

Japan’s J-League postponed all domestic games until the middle of March, but further delays are inevitable. 

Ludogorets players were taking no chances after the coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Italy, the country worst hit by the virus outside China, suffered a spate of cancellations before the government put the population on lockdown. All sport, including Serie A games, were suspended until at least April 3 to contain the virus.

In France, it was announced on Friday 13 March that there will be no top-flight football in France for the immediate future after their governing body postponed all matches.  

In Spain, April 18’s Copa del Rey final between between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad has been postponed. LaLiga is also postponed until the end of March at least.

Germany’s Bundesliga, the other major European league, is also suspended until April 3 at least. 

The Dutch Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga are also suspended.

The Football Association of Ireland announced that all football under its jurisdiction will cease until March 29. 

Major League Soccer has been suspended for 30 days until mid-April with David Beckham’s first Inter Miami home game delayed.  

The South American Football Confederation postponed this year’s Copa America, due to take place from 12 June to 12 July, until 2021.

FIFA said that the newly-expanded Club World Cup, originally scheduled to take place in China in June 2021, will be postponed and a new date announced when ‘there is more clarity on the situation’.

On March 13, the FA announced that all of England’s games scheduled for the month would be postponed, including those of development teams. It means that England’s friendlies with Italy and Denmark have been called off.    

Euro 2020 play-off matches due to be held on March 26, including Scotland v Israel have been put off until June. 

Olympiakos’ owner Evangelos Marinakis has tested positive for the coronavirus

Manchester United clash at Austrian side Lask was behind closed doors, with United handing out £350 to each fan to help with travel and accommodation after they sold 900 tickets for the Europa League game. 

Newcastle United banned their players from shaking hands with each other amid coronavirus fears. 

Cristiano Ronaldo went into isolation in Madeira after it emerged that his Juventus team-mate, Daniele Rugani, has coronavirus. Blaise Matuidi of Juventus also tested positive for coronavirus.

Elsewhere in Italy, Fiorentina striker Patrick Cutrone, who is on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, tested positive for coronavirus.

In Spain, 35% of Valencia’s squad staff tested positive for coronavirus, with all cases being asymptomatic. 

Real Madrid’s first-team squad were in quarantine after a member of the basketball team tested positive for Covid-19. The two teams share the same training facility.   

Liverpool have announced a charity match between a Reds Legends side and Barcelona Legends, due to be played at Anfield on March 28, has been postponed.

FIFA says it will postpone South American World Cup qualifying matches due to take place in March. 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus on March 12 with the entire first-team squad being put into isolation. The Gunners’ game against Brighton, scheduled for Saturday March 14, has been postponed.

In the early hours of Friday, March 13, Chelsea announced that winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had been diagnosed with the illness.

The club’s first team went into self-isolation, while two buildings at their training ground in Cobham were closed. 

Premier League clubs, including Manchester United and Manchester City, have sent players home to train alone following the British government’s increasing crackdown on mass gatherings and unnecessary social contact.   

West Ham chief Karren Brady called for the season to be null and void while Aston Villa believe no team should be relegated. In this situation Liverpool, the runaway league leaders, could face the horror of being denied the title despite being on the brink of securing their first league trophy in nearly 30 years.

Reports suggest football bodies across England and the rest of Europe are bracing themselves for a reported total shutdown of every league until September.

Top-level English and Scottish football was initially suspended until April 3 at the earliest. The Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship all agreed to call a halt to competitive action with immediate effect. 

FORMULA ONE 

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix was called off after a McLaren team member came down with Covid-19, leading to the British team pulling out prior to a decision being made on whether the race would still go ahead. 

The announcement came hours after Lewis Hamilton said it was ‘shocking’ that the race was going ahead. 

The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 19 was the first race to be postponed, with no decision over whether it will be reinserted into the 2020 calendar for later in the season. 

The Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for March 20-22, is also called off, as is the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place in Hanoi on April 5. 

It is hoped that the Dutch Grand Prix on May 3 will be the first race of the new season but there are increasing fears that a large chunk of the Formula One calendar will be missed due to Covid-19. 

The iconic Monaco Grand Prix on May 24 still looks under threat. 

The Chinese GP was first to be cancelled and other races could yet follow that lead

GOLF 

On March 13, the Masters was postponed. In a statement released online, Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, emphasised that the decision makers hope to hold the championship ‘at some later date’. The first men’s major of the year was due to begin on April 9.

The US PGA Championship, the second major of the year, has now joined the  Masters in being postponed. It had been due to take place at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco from May 11-17, but has been rescheduled for later this summer.

After deciding to play with no spectators from the second round of the Players Championship onwards, the PGA Tour cancelled the event entirely after the first round on March 12. 

They also scrapped the following three events leading up to the Masters, but after that was cancelled four further events in April and May – the RBC Heritage, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Wells Fargo Championship and the AT&T Byron Nelson – also bit the dust. It is hoped that the season can be resumed in late May.

The European Tour have cancelled all tournaments until the popular Made in Denmark event on May 21. Many of them were due to be held in China or east Asia in countries badly hit by the outbreak.

The women’s game has also been hit by postponements and cancellations, with the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, the highest profile casualty.

The Masters has been postponed for the first time since the Second World War

Lorenzo Gagli and Edoardo Molinari were withdrawn from the Oman Open on medical grounds after Gagli showed symptoms of the virus. He shared a hotel room with Molinari and he was told to self-isolate. They were later reinstated to the tournament after testing negative for the virus. 

HORSE RACING 

The Grand National was called off following new British government restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus made it impossible to stage the Aintree showpiece on April 4. The Cheltenham Festival went ahead amid some criticism before the social distancing measures were tightened. 

The Japan Racing Association revealed that ‘government-sanctioned races’ will go ahead behind closed doors.  

Racing in Ireland is to take place behind closed doors starting until March 29.  

The Dubai World Cup meeting will go ahead on March 28 ‘without paid hospitality spectators’. 

The Cheltenham Festival went ahead despite travel disruption caused by the virus

RUGBY 

This year’s Six Nations will have to wait for its conclusion with all remaining games postponed.

England’s game with Italy and Ireland’s trip to France had already been called off with Wales and Scotland leaving it until the day before before calling off their game. 

Saturday, 31 October is a possible date for the final weekend of matches. 

The Women’s Six Nations has also been hit by postponements.

Ireland’s Six Nations encounter with Italy on March 7 has been postponed

The RFU has suspended all levels of rugby in England until April 14, with the announcement coming shortly after the Premiership was halted for five weeks. 

The quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have also been postponed. Those games were scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5.   

The RFL and rugby league’s Super League have now followed suit and postponed all fixtures for at least three weeks. Eight Leeds Rhinos players had been confirmed to be self-isolating.  

TENNIS

The French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, is postponed until September amid a wide lockdown in France.

The clay-court major was scheduled for May 24 to June 7, but that has shifted to September 20 to October 4, after the US Open, which was due to be the final major of the year. 

Players have been quick to criticise the move, which has created a conflict with the Laver Cup men’s team event spearheaded by Roger Federer, and a women’s tournament in China.

All events on the ATP Tour have been suspended for six weeks. 

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in California, set to start on March 9, was postponed at the eleventh hour.  It came after a confirmed case of the coronavirus in the nearby Coachella Valley.

The final of an ATP Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy, between Enzo Couacaud and Illya Marchenko of Ukraine was cancelled. Both players received ranking points and prize money for getting to the final. They were denied the opportunity to play behind closed doors.

China forfeited a Davis Cup tie because the men’s team were unable to travel to Romania for the March 6-7 play-off.

WTA events have also been cancelled. The WTA announced they are assessing their schedule with a number of events set for China in the second half of the season.

The International Tennis Federation has announced that the Fed Cup finals have been postponed. The event was due to be held in Budapest in April and the competition’s play-offs, which were set to take place in eight different locations, have also been placed on hold.

The WTA also announced no tournaments will be staged for at least five weeks.   

OTHER SPORTS 

The NBA has been suspended indefinitely after two Utah Jazz players contracted the virus. On March 17 Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant confirmed he had tested positive for the virus alongside three unnamed team-mates.

In an aid to decrease risks of exposure to the virus, the NBA had told players to avoid taking items such as pens, markers, balls and jerseys from autograph seekers. 

The NHL has announced it has paused the 2019-20 season with no date confirmed for when it will resume. 

The UFC has cancelled its next three events, although president Dana White is still pushing ahead for the highly-anticipated lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. 

MotoGP have cancelled their first two races of the season in Qatar and Thailand. 

South Korea’s baseball league cancelled all 50 pre-season game which were slated to take place from March 14-24. It is the first time since the leagues inception in 1982 that an entire set of exhibition matches are off. 

The first-stage draw for the Table Tennis World Championships, scheduled for South Korea from March 22-29, is postponed.

A beach volleyball tournament, due to be held in Yangzhou from April 22-26, is postponed until after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

World Short track speed skating championship in Seoul is cancelled.

The World Triathlon Series event in Abu Dhabi was postponed as a precautionary measure.  

The Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships in Canada have been cancelled.   

All 72 pre-season baseball games in Japan are to take place behind closed doors

In badminton, the German Open (March 3-8), Vietnam Open (March 24-29) and Polish Open (March 26-29), all Olympic qualifying events, are cancelled due to ‘strict health protection’. 

The Japanese professional baseball league made the decision to play their 72 pre-season games behind closed doors until March 15. Baseball is among the most popular sports in Japan.  

Doubts remain as the Asian weightlifting championships, scheduled for March, are relocated from Kazakhstan to neighbouring Uzbekistan. They could still be postponed. 

 

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NHL

How to watch full replays of every 2019-20 NHL regular season game

With the NHL season on pause for the time being, hockey fans may soon have a way to satiate their thirst for all things puck.

The NHL announced Thursday that it will be making available to the public every regular season game played during the 2019-20 so far, via its various streaming platforms. Want to re-live Alexander Ovechkin’s 700th career goal? Or perhaps your tastes are a little more — *ahem* — pugilistic and you want to take in the contentious Battle of Alberta games again.

With the league opening the vault, now you can do just that.

CORONAVIRUS AND THE NHL: Tracking how the pandemic has impacted hockey’s landscape

“Starting Friday and through April 30, the NHL and Sportsnet have decided to make full replays of all 2019-20 NHL regular-season games already played available to stream on demand,” the NHL said in a statement. “The games will be accessible via the scores and schedule pages of NHL.com and the NHL app and in Canada via NHL LIVE.”

In addition to the entire regular season, which the NHL said is available to fans in the U.S. and Canada through “complimentary access,” the league also announced that it will make available through its website and YouTube channel increased original content, older full-length classic games, player profiles and retrospectives on top playoff moments.

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Categories
Rugby

AFLW players in favour of early, expanded finals series

AFLW players have voted to begin the finals series two weeks early and to expand it to eight teams.

The AFLPA surveyed the AFLW playing cohort on Monday night and the prevailing view was that the finals series should be brought forward to this weekend amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

As it stands there are two rounds of the regular season remaining.

The expedited finals series would still run for three weeks but with two extra sides – the fourth-placed team in each conference – qualifying for finals.

This would mean Gold Coast (fourth in conference A) and Collingwood (fourth in conference B) would join Fremantle, Carlton, Melbourne, North Melbourne, GWS and Brisbane in the finals, as the ladder stands.

"The AFLW players' favoured position for the season structure is to progress with an eight-team, three-week finals series featuring the top four teams from each conference,” the AFLPA email, sent to the AFL, read.

"AFLW and AFL players want to play, they know how much people love and need football, and players feel a deep sense of responsibility to deliver the game for the wider industry and fans.

"Players also feel a strong moral obligation to play their part in limiting the spread of this virus in the broader community.”

In the original six team finals structure the two top teams from each conference would have progressed to the preliminary finals, with the four others playing off in elimination finals.

The AFL said it would make a decision on the future of the season on Wednesday.

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Categories
Sports News

Final round of Sheffield Shield called off as coronavirus escalates

Cricket Australia has cancelled the final round of the Sheffield Shield season as it deals with the fallout from the coronavirus, with a decision on the final to be made in due course".

Cricket Australia confirmed on Sunday morning the Age and Herald report from Saturday night as part of a rapidly changing situation. While CA said on Friday that it was planning on the season being played to its scheduled conclusion, multiple, well-placed cricket sources told The Age on Saturday night that they were expecting the final round of games – set to be played this week – to be cancelled.

NSW paceman Trent Copeland (left) celebrates with Daniel Solway after taking a wicket earlier this season.Credit:AAP

The final is scheduled to begin on March 27 in Wollongong between top-placed NSW and whichever side finishes second following this week's last round of matches. However doubt too surrounds that match given the pace at which the situation is escalating.

All three of this week's final-round matches were set to be played behind closed doors even though crowds at Shield matches don't generally attract many more than a few hundred.

The remainder of Australia’s one-day series against NZ and subsequent tour of NZ have both been postponed following travel restrictions imposed by the New Zealand Government. Australia's women's white-ball tour of South Africa has also been postponed.

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