OKLAHOMA, U.S:Tiger Woods and his incredible injury comeback and Jordan Spieth’s quest for a career Grand Slam will seize the spotlight in Thursday’s opening round of the 104th PGA Championship.
Woods, a 15-time major champion, and three-time major winner Spieth are grouped with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a marquee trio for the first two days at Southern Hills.
Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 2021 British Open winner Collin Morikawa and second-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm are among the most fancied players and are together as well, but might struggle to match the Woods group spectator count.
“Tiger’s here, so nobody really remembers that I’m here,” Scheffler said. “So it’s all good.”
Woods suffered severe leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, spending weeks hospitalized and months unable to walk.
His emotional return at last month’s Masters ended with a share of 47th and a stamina struggle, but he saw walking 72 holes as a major feat and says he’s stronger as another endurance test looms.
“I’ve gotten stronger since then, but still it’s going to be sore and walking is a challenge,” Woods said.
Asked if he can win, Woods said, “I feel like I can, definitely. I just have to go out there and do it.”
Among those trying to stop him will be Rahm, who comes off a victory two weeks ago at the US PGA Mexico Open.
“He’s Tiger. He’s a competitor,” Rahm said. “He’s going to try to win every single time and anytime he tees up, the world wants him to win.
“Yeah, totally expected for the attention to be on him, but it doesn’t really change anything of what I want to be doing this week.”
Like Rahm, Spieth wants to be having his name engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy. If he wins, Spieth will join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to sweep all four major titles in their careers.
Spieth won last month’s Heritage title and was second at last week’s hometown Byron Nelson event. He expects Southern Hills will be formidable.
“I think it’s going to be one of the higher scoring PGAs that we’ve seen,” Spieth said. “It’s a great test.”
World No. 4 Cameron Smith of Australia, a top-five Masters finisher in three of the past five years, is ready for the struggle of playing in the group just ahead of Woods.
“There can be a lot of external noise with crowds and just a lot more moving parts,” Smith said. “Just another thing to really think about. Just make sure to spend a little bit more time worrying about what’s happening outside to make sure when you’re inside that shot, everything’s perfect.”
Tricky winds are expected, with the strongest breezes on the first two days.
“The forecast is different every day in this wind,” Woods said. “It’s supposed to be all different directions. We’re going to see a different course almost every day.”
That, warns Rahm, also comes with tee boxes made for adjustable distances, changing the holes each day no matter the weather.
“They can truly make it as difficult as they want to be,” Rahm said. “They can really, truly manipulate the score out here very easily, even if the conditions are benign and we don’t get too much wind.”
Scheffler, happy to hide in Woods’s shadow, will try to become the first player to win the green jacket and PGA Championship in the same year since Nicklaus in 1975.
“It’s right in front of you. It’s just really hard,” Scheffler said of the course. “You know what to do. It’s just hard to actually do it.”
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka sees Scheffler as the man to beat.
“He’s No. 1 in the world. That usually has something to do with it,” Koepka said. “I think confidence, too. No. 1 in the world, you’ve got that swagger when you walk on the range. I know I did.
“I’m pretty sure everybody else that has been No. 1, you’ve got a little extra strut. You’ve got a little something and I think it’s noticeable.”
Tunisian star Ons Jabeur has risen to number four in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, the highest position yet of her career, despite an early exit at the just-concluded French Open.
Last month, Jabeur made history by becoming the first African or Arab player to win a WTA Masters 1000 event when she defeated Jessica Pegula of the US in the final of the Madrid Open.
The 7-5, 0-6, 6-2 win saw the 27-year-old rise to number seven in the rankings; and a week later she lost the final of the Italian Open in Rome 6-2, 6-2 to world number one Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Despite that loss, she entered Roland Garros as one of the title contenders. However, the sixth-seeded Tunisian suffered a 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 loss to Magda Linette of Poland in the first round.
In 2021, Jabeur became the first Arab player to enter the women’s top 10.
Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with Japan in their second match of the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup at Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent, on Monday night.
The result means the Young Falcons, with four points from two outings, remain top of Group D on goal difference from Japan, while the UAE, who beat Tajikistan 2-0 on the same day, are in third with three points.
The two teams played attacking football throughout the match but neither could break the deadlock. The Saudi team were given a boost in the 79th minute when Shota Fujio was sent off for a foul on Awad Al-Nashri following the intervention of VAR, but couldn’t take advantage of their numerical advantage.
Saudi Arabia and Japan’s under-23 teams have previously played to two other 0-0 stalemates, in the Asian Olympic qualifiers of September and October 2007.
Saudi’s next match is against the UAE on Thursday, June 9, with Japan kicking off against Tajikistan at the same time.
MIAMI: Pat Riley is in his usual place entering the offseason. If there’s a way to make the Miami Heat better, he’s all ears.
The Heat president raved Monday about what his team was able to do this season, earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and making the East finals. But that’s not what Miami aspires to, and the fact that there’s an NBA Finals going on without the Heat involved means changes could certainly happen.
“You have to be, I think, very proactive in looking at how you’re going to improve,” Riley said.
Such was the approach in 2004, when the Heat landed Shaquille O’Neal on the way to winning a title in 2006. Such was the approach in 2010, when the Heat landed LeBron James and Chris Bosh on the way to four NBA Finals appearances and two titles. Such was the approach in 2019, when the Heat — despite having basically zero cap space — was able to acquire Jimmy Butler and make the finals a year later.
And expect more of the same this summer. If a team out there wants to deal, Riley made clear he’ll listen.
“You can always think about running it back and be successful,” Riley said. “But is that going to be what’s going to lead to a championship? And that’s all you think about.”
The Heat have their three biggest pieces — Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry — under contract for multiple seasons. They have draft picks and flexibility to move them if needed, plus cap space, plus interest in retaining free-agent-in-waiting Victor Oladipo and, if he opts out, P.J. Tucker.
“I think we all realize that you can always use more,” Riley said. “Especially when you’ve gone through a season, then you’ve gotten the result, then you can analyze the result and why it wasn’t as good as you thought it should be. We’re always going to try to improve the team.
Miami went 53-29 in the regular season, then topped Atlanta and Philadelphia in the playoffs before falling to Boston in the East finals — losing a Game 7 at home to miss out on the chance of facing Golden State for a championship. The Celtics and Warriors have split the first two games of the title series, with Game 3 in Boston on Wednesday.
“I thought we had an absolutely great year,” Riley said. “It was a tremendous story that was developing. But with a lot of stories, the endings aren’t very good. But I thought we had a year we could really be proud of.”
BRIVES-CHARENSAC, France: Alexis Vuillermoz, a veteran who feared for his life after a crash last season, capped his recovery by winning a frantic sprint on Monday to take the overall lead in the Criterium du Dauphine.
The 34-year-old Frenchman broke a kneecap in 2020 and then crashed badly in the Tour of Switzerland last June.
“A year ago, I fractured my pelvis. The doctors said it was the end of my career. I was even afraid for my life, I ended up in intensive care,” he said at the finish on Monday.
“It’s amazing. After two years of hardship... I could have stopped my career. But despite everything I wanted to come back.”
Vuillermoz started the season strongly, with half-a-dozen top-10 finishes.
“All that was missing was the victory. This is the icing on the cake,” he said.
Vuillermoz was part of a small, early, breakaway in the 170km second stage to Brives-Charensac.
He was not supposed to join the escape, “to save strength for the next stage.”
“But the break went off and I said to myself ‘we’ll see, never mind tomorrow’,” he added.
“That’s the attacking bike racing I like.”
The five riders built a lead of nearly four and a half minutes before nursing their shrinking advantage over the final kilometers.
With the charging peloton closing in, Frenchman Olivier Le Gac of Groupama seemed to catch out the other breakaway riders with an early surge for the line.
But Vuillermoz, riding for TotalEnergies, and Norwegian Anders Skaarseth of Uno-X gave chase and passed inches from the line.
“The sprint was a bit messy,” said Vuillermoz.
“I saw Olivier launch the sprint from very far away at 300 meters, he opened a small gap. I didn’t think I would be able to come back, but I saw that he got stuck a little bit at the 50 meters.”
The long sprint gave the winner an asthma attack.
“But I know how to manage it, you just have to relax.”
Jumbo’s Wout Van Aert led the pack home five seconds behind, but could not save his overall lead.
“I did a good sprint, but it’s a shame to win for sixth place rather than for the win,” said Van Aert.
The first three picked up enough bonus seconds to move to the top of the standings.
The yellow jersey is “a kid’s dream” said Vuillermoz.
He is three seconds ahead of Skaarseth, four ahead of Le Gac and five clear of Belgian star Van Aert.
“The breakaway played it smart, hats off to them,” said Van Aert.
Vuillermoz took the ninth win of a career that includes a 2015 Tour de France stage victory on the Mur de Bretagne.
Tuesday’s 169-kilometer-long third stage is a hilly ride from Saint-Paulien to Chastreix-Sancy in central France.
“I have never worn a distinctive jersey before, it will be a very nice day,” said Vuillermoz. “I think it will be hard to keep it after today’s efforts but I’m going to fight, I’m not going to give up.”
GENEVA: Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini’s 11-day trial on charges of defrauding FIFA starts Wednesday — finally bringing the epic downfall of soccer’s former world leaders into criminal court.
The fallout from the case ousted Blatter ahead of schedule as president of FIFA and ended Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor. It also removed Platini as president of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer.
In 2015, federal prosecutors in Switzerland revealed their investigation into a $2 million payment from FIFA to Platini from four years earlier. The pair will go on trial in Bellinzona.
The subsidiary charges include forgery of the invoice in 2011 that allowed Blatter to authorize FIFA to pay the 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) Platini had asked for. The claim was for the former France soccer great to be paid extra money for being an adviser — without having a contract for it — in Blatter’s first presidential term from 1998-2002.
Both have long denied wrongdoing and claim they had a verbal deal in 1998. That defense first failed with judges at the FIFA ethics committee, which banned them from soccer, and later in separate appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Now the case comes to a criminal court which will sit only until lunchtime each day because of the 86-year-old Blatter’s health, 18 months after he was in a coma following heart surgery.
Blatter is due to be questioned Wednesday and Platini one day later. Both are expected to give closing statements on June 22, when the trial ends.
The three federal judges hearing the case are scheduled to deliver their verdict on July 8. Blatter and Platini each face of up to five years in prison, but suspended sentences are a likely option.
Blatter said in a statement everything was accounted for properly and he is optimistic about his chances at the trial. Platini denounced what he called “unfounded and unfair accusations.” He has claimed the allegations were fed to prosecutors in a plot to stop him from becoming FIFA president.
Arguments and evidence in court will revisit the widely discredited FIFA political culture during Blatter’s 17-year presidency, and around the time Qatar controversially won the hosting rights to this year’s World Cup.
Platini sent his invoice to FIFA in January 2011, only weeks after the World Cup vote. It was quickly paid as Blatter’s next re-election campaign took shape.
Qatar’s top soccer official, Mohamed bin Hammam, used the momentum of his nation’s rising status in a failed challenge to Blatter. Platini was seen as both Blatter’s presumed heir, likely in 2015, and a key ally Bin Hammam needed to win European votes.
In the published indictment, Swiss prosecutors do not cite FIFA politics as a motive for payment. They focus on the facts of Platini being enriched by an allegedly unlawful salary claim and a further 229,000 Swiss francs ($238,000) of social security taxes paid by FIFA in Zurich.
The Platini money was “accounted for accordingly and approved by all responsible FIFA authorities,” Blatter said in a statement. That view is disputed by a former employee, however.
The additional money was never accrued as it should have been in FIFA accounts from 1999, according to then-FIFA accountant Jeannine Erni, who was interviewed for different investigations. She said the payment was “odd” and looked related to the 2011 presidential election.
Another former staffer, then-FIFA head of compliance Ivo Bischofsberger, said in questioning cited by CAS that he “always had doubts about the whole story. Did it smell? Yes.”
Platini’s contract with FIFA, signed in August 1999, was for 300,000 Swiss francs ($312,000) annually. Platini said he asked for “1 million” but Blatter would pay only the same as FIFA’s then-secretary general and promised the balance later.
Platini’s contract expired in 2002, when he was elected to the FIFA executive committee. A letter to him, signed by Blatter in September 2002 and seen by The Associated Press, said their agreement was settled and terminated.
Platini testified at CAS he first asked for extra money early in 2010 after FIFA paid a seven-figure severance to Jerome Champagne, a French former diplomat who was ousted as a Blatter aide. The invoice eventually requested 500,000 Swiss francs ($520,000) extra for each year of advisory work.
Witnesses due in court include two former elected FIFA and UEFA officials, Ángel Maria Villar of Spain and Antonio Mattarese of Italy, and former federal prosecutor Olivier Thormann, who was cleared in 2018 of misconduct in the FIFA investigation.
Thormann will be questioned Thursday as Platini’s lawyers try to show the prosecution office colluded with soccer officials, and helped Gianni Infantino become FIFA president in 2016.
Attempts to summon Infantino to be questioned in court have failed. Platini has also filed a criminal complaint in France against Infantino, his former general secretary at UEFA.
Platini and Blatter have both questioned how prosecutors learned about the disputed payment.
Swiss prosecutors began investigating FIFA in November 2014 when the soccer body filed a criminal complaint about suspected money laundering in bid contests to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Russia and Qatar won those votes by the FIFA executive committee in December 2010.
Swiss authorities seized documents and data at FIFA headquarters on May 27, 2015 — the day soccer officials were arrested in Zurich hotels in a separate, sprawling American investigation of corruption.
Three weeks later, then-attorney general Michael Lauber said 53 suspect transactions possibly linked to World Cup bidding had been alerted by banks in Switzerland.
More than 11 years after Platini was paid, FIFA is trying to recover the money.
“FIFA has brought a civil action against both Blatter and Platini to have the money which was illegally misappropriated repaid to FIFA,” the soccer body’s lawyer, Catherine Hohl-Chirazi, said in a statement, “so it can be used for the sole purpose for which it was originally intended — football.”