Spieth has all the attributes to emulate Tiger, says Azinger

Spieth, 21, has enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2015 winning both the Masters and the U.

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S. Open and will be among the favourites at the British Open which begins at St Andrews next week.

Woods, a 14-times major winner, dominated the sport for more than a decade and Azinger said Spieth had shown enough in his fledgling career to suggest he is capable of emulating his compatriot.

“He’s all the things Tiger was,” Azinger, an ESPN analyst for the British Open coverage in the U.S., told reporters on Wednesday.

“Tiger was as composed as anybody and if he did get ticked off he was able to put it behind him. Tiger was strategic and studied, he knows a lot about the game and Jordan reminds me in that part. He shares what he’s thinking and I think that’s just great.

“My favourite thing about Jordan Spieth is he is who we think he is. He’s just a good guy who has got his act together.

“He’s an old head on a young body. He’s strategic in his approach and he just seems grateful; he works for everything he’s got.

“He’s a breath of fresh air.”

World number one Rory McIlroy announced on Wednesday that he had withdrawn from the Open at the home of golf after he suffered ankle ligament damage during a football match with friends.

In the absence of four-times major winner McIlroy, Azinger said the St Andrews course would suit Spieth in his bid to add a third major to his rapidly growing collection.

“I think he’s got his own things to deal with whether Rory is there or not,” he added.

“The golf course sets up nicely for him. It’s hard to get it close at St Andrews and he’s the best in the world between 15 and 25 feet.”

(Writing By Tom Hayward; editing Toby Davis)

Bellamy says Smith will tell his own story

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has defended his captain Cameron Smith but says it’s up to him to tell his side of the story following paralysed Knight Alex McKinnon’s television interview.

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Smith led Queensland to a stunning 52-6 victory on Wednesday night to claim this year’s State of Origin series days after being slammed by McKinnon for his reaction to the tackle during a 2014 NRL game which left him in a wheelchair.

Bellamy on Thursday defended Smith but said it was up to his skipper to talk about the incident and the McKinnon interview.

He didn’t want to discuss whether Smith and the club had done enough to contact McKinnon, who said he hadn’t heard from the Test rake since the injury.

“I think at some stage Cameron will tell his side of it and I will leave it up to him,” Bellamy said.

“One thing I will say is that Cameron Smith is one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever been involved with.

“He’s been an ornament to our game, he’s been a great ambassador for our club, for Queensland, for Australia and rugby league in general so it was a tough time for him.”

Smith will be back on deck for Melbourne when they face the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.

Bellamy said he hadn’t spoken to any of the Storm’s Queensland trio – Smith, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers – apart from a message they had come through the Origin decider unscathed.

They will travel directly from Brisbane to Auckland.

Cronk was a force in the Maroons’ crushing victory, after missing their loss in the second Origin match in Melbourne with a knee injury that had sidelined him since game one.

“I thought Cooper was really good because his last game was the first Origin so he’s had a big break in between,” Bellamy said.

“A lot of guys who had the operation he had wouldn’t have been playing so he’s done a great job to get himself ready for the game.

“You could tell the confidence Queensland have in him and when he’s not there they lack that.

“He gives them real guidance and a comfortable feel; the same for the Storm.”

Slater sparks Gagai’s Origin debut

A message from childhood hero Matt Bowen may have given Queensland winger Dane Gagai a shot in the arm.

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But Gagai credited another fullback for inspiring one of the great Origin debuts in Wednesday night’s 52-6 win over NSW – Billy Slater.

He may not have played but Slater still ensured he had a major impact on the series decider after taking rookie Gagai under his wing in Queensland camp.

Veteran fullback Slater caused a backline reshuffle for game three after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Origin II.

But he had a bigger impact on Gagai after bonding with the youngster while visiting their game three camp on the Gold Coast.

“He was unbelievable,” Gagai said.

“He came up to me before the game last night and he was in my ear making sure my positioning was good.

“He gave me a lot of confidence. He had a lot to do with the way I went tonight.”

Gagai already had a spring in his step thanks to his Origin hero Bowen.

“I loved watching Matty, just his footwork and speed,” Gagai said of Bowen, who played the last of his 10 Origins in 2006.

“On Instagram (on Wednesday morning) I see he had messaged me, saying good luck, congratulations I had earned it.

“To get that from a guy I looked up to meant a lot to me – I didn’t want to let anyone down.”

Queensland coach Mal Meninga hailed Gagai after notching 104m and scoring in the 15th minute on debut.

“Dane is an extraordinary footballer and he is only going to get better for the experience,” Meninga said.

In the biggest compliment, Gagai even received Hodges’ blessing.

He said the Newcastle flyer was a ready-made replacement in a new-look Queensland backline that will feature Will Chambers filling Hodges’ centre vacancy next to Gagai on the wing next year.

“I leave the team in unbelievable hands with Will Chambers and Dane Gagai ready to go,” he said.

“Those guys are going to be unbelievable on the right side together with Greg (Inglis) going back into the centres (and Slater back at fullback).

“He (Gagai) always had that talent, (but) to play the way he did in a decider is unbelievable.”

The feeling was mutual.

“I would like to take a few things from his game, playing in the centres back at the club,” Gagai said of Hodges.

“You see him coming out of dummy half, everyone knows it is coming but there’s a difference between knowing what he is going to do and stopping it.

“He’s an unbelievable player and to play outside of him was an honour.”

The signs were ominous for Gagai who knocked on a Mitchell Pearce cross-field kick in just the third minute.

“Mal said to me make sure my first action was a positive one,” Gagai said.

“I went up for the ball, thought I had it but lost it at the last moment.

“I just let that go. I didn’t want to be that winger who let the boys down.”

Wie looks to shrug off struggles as she defends Open crown

But after a subsequent year of struggles with illness, injury and swing changes, the 25-year-old from Hawaii is hoping to climb the mountain again as she defends her title at Lancaster Country Club in the year’s third major.

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“It’s definitely been a tough year with my game,” Wie told reporters ahead of Thursday’s opening round.

“It’s definitely not been as good as I want to be. I’ve been struggling with a couple of injuries and illnesses.

“I’m taking it day-by-day. Every day feels better than the day before.”

Wie, with her fluid, powerful swing, faces a difficult task at the long, hilly, rough-lined Lancaster course with its steeply sloping greens.

The 156-player field includes such formidable contenders as world number one Park In-bee, winner of five of the last 12 majors, 19-year-old number two Lydia Ko of New Zealand looking for her maiden major, and long-hitting Britanny “Bam-Bam” Lincicome, winner of 2015’s opening major, the ANA Inspiration.

Now that Wie has finally experienced the thrill of winning a major, the former prodigy is determined to overcome her recent setbacks.

A case of strep throat gave her a strength-sapping fever at an early-season event and she then struggled through an upper-respiratory infection.

She wears a brace to compensate for an ankle injury and is lately coping with a case of bursitis in her hip that caused her recently to withdraw from tournaments.

As a concession to her injuries, she has narrowed her stance and adjusted her swing to reduce the stress on her body.

“I’m staying positive and just trying to improve a little bit here and there every day,” she said.

Long gone are the days when the then-teenager spoke openly of her goal to compete with the best men in the world.

Wie these days would happily settle for success against her own gender and would love to add to her four career LPGA titles after an as yet fallow 2015 season that has dropped her to 17th in the rankings.

“It’s great being called (U.S. Women’s Open champion),” she said. “It doesn’t get old.

“Seeing my trophy, getting the ring, has definitely been inspiring. It’s definitely been a huge motivation for me moving forward.

“It’s been a fun journey.”

(Editing by ……)

Sea Eagles back themselves for finals push

Captain Jamie Lyon insists Manly are backing themselves to make a late-season finals charge despite languishing in 14th position on the NRL ladder.

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Lyon says his side are more than capable of obtaining the seven from nine wins required to crack the top eight.

“We just have to put a couple of games back-to-back,” he said on Monday while preparing to play his 200th game for the club.

“We love winning our games at ‘Brooky’ and hopefully we can jag a few away games as well.”

Prop Willie Mason said the Manly players had made a pact that they’d fight until the very end for a top 8 spot.

“We got ourselves into a bit of a hole but we’re digging ourselves out of it, week by week,” he said.

“Training has really picked up and our football has picked up.”

The trip to Queensland marks Manly’s first game against the Titans since halfback Daly Cherry-Evans reneged on a lucrative deal with the Gold Coast club to sign a lifetime contract with the Sea Eagles, a move that infuriated both the Titans and their fans.

Lyon said Cherry-Evans would be focused enough to put aside any crowd hostility and help Manly pick up the two points on offer.

“Daly, he’s a professional, I’m sure he’s looking forward to it.”

Monday night matches have struggled to attract crowds on the Gold Coast, with both Monday games in 2014 drawing less than 10,000 spectators.

Mason said he hopes the Cherry-Evans saga can beef up the crowd at C-Bus stadium.

“I hope so,” Mason said when asked if Cherry-Evans would feel the crowd’s displeasure.

“Probably put some bums on seats, because it’s been pretty empty up there.

“He hasn’t ruined the club, like all the garbage that’s going on in the press.

“There’ll be a few signs, a few boos, but at the end of the day, we shake hands and everyone can get on with it.”

Moeen hails Bayliss influence

England all-rounder Moeen Ali claims inside knowledge from new coach Trevor Bayliss was key to his dismissals of Australian batting king-pins Michael Clarke and Steve Smith.

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Moeen helped his side reach 434 after resuming day two on 343-7 with a breezy 77 from 88 balls.

He then starred with the ball by taking the scalps of the tourists’ two most dangerous players as Australia slipped to 5-264 at stumps – a deficit of 166 runs.

Moeen’s spot in the side had been questioned ahead of the series after he struggled against the West Indies in May, but he revealed a few quiet words from the former NSW coach, who only took on the England job three weeks ago, had worked wonders.

“He knows a lot of the (Australian) guys quite well,” he said.

“He’s had an input, but a lot of the guys have played against them already.

“Input has come from everybody. Trevor’s more of a motivator … telling us to enjoy and play our best cricket.”

Smith looked well set for big score and showed his class with three boundaries off a Moeen over.

However, the world’s No.1-ranked player, whose technique as a No.3 batsman has been questioned by former England spinner Graeme Swann, got himself into a terrible tangle facing a fairly harmless looking delivery when on 33.

With his arms and legs all over the place, Smith attempted to shovel the ball over the top of Moeen’s head, but only succeeded in lobbing it straight to Cook at short mid-on.

Clarke also got a start and, although he lacked fluency early on, was beginning to find his range with a classy drive through extra cover from a Moeen delivery that pitched too short.

But from the off-spinner’s very next over, Clarke was back in the dressing room for 38 after trying to dance down the pitch to a full delivery, only to hammer the ball straight back at the bowler who took a sharp catch at waist height.

“Smith kept using his feet to me and I almost went a little bit one-day mode, trying to bowl at his hip or fire it down the leg side,” Moeen said.

“He got himself into a bit of a mess really, but I’m obviously happy to get him.

“They were two big wickets … but it’s more in the context of the game – two very good players.”

Another Origin dynasty for Qld?

Criticism of Queensland’s veterans may have planted the seed for another State of Origin dynasty, Maroons great Petero Civoniceva warns.

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Coach Mal Meninga hopes his side finally silenced the Dad’s Army jokes after their “extraordinary” series-sealing 52-6 record rout of NSW at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.

Queensland’s eight-tries-to-one romp sealed their ninth series win in 10 years.

It was a fitting farewell for 33-year-old centre Justin Hodges and made a pretty good 55th birthday present for Meninga who also marked an unprecedented 30th Origin as Maroons mentor.

Civoniceva said on Thursday the barbs aimed at Queensland’s stalwarts ahead of game three reminded him of the sledging his “experienced” Maroons team received in 2006.

Back then Civoniceva was feeling the heat most as a 30-year-old prop.

The response was stunning.

Queensland famously went on to win a record eight straight series.

Civoniceva played another six years of Origin football before retiring in 2012 aged 36.

And he believes the signs were there on Wednesday night that history could repeat.

“Looking back a few years, a few of us senior players were labelled in 2006,” he told AAP.

“We learned as a group how to use that for motivation.

“To prove the doubters wrong, to show the critics out there there was plenty of football left in their legs.

“I reckon these guys have just done the same.”

Civoniceva also believes NSW only have themselves to blame after stoking a fire in the Maroons’ belly.

NSW’s in-your-face approach was led by rookie David Klemmer, ensuring he was public enemy No.1 at Suncorp Stadium.

“No doubt some of the remarks that were made definitely stung,” Civoniceva said.

“There was plenty of motivation for a huge performance but who was ever going to predict this?”

Seven of Queensland’s starting 13 are on the wrong side of 30.

Not that Meninga thought that was relevant.

“They keep pestering with that age thing – it’s not an issue,” Meninga smiled.

“It all came from intent.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a better defensive effort from a Queensland side.”

No prizes for guessing what Meninga wanted on his birthday.

“To have 17 play at the best of their ability for themselves and each other – that’s the best birthday present ever,” Meninga said.

“It’s an extraordinary thing to achieve.”

Lock Corey Parker, 33, claimed the Wally Lewis Medal for player of the series.

He did not believe retirement was on anyone else’s radar after Hodges’ farewell.

“We’re not going too bad (for older players),” he said.

“I suppose from the media’s perspective you’ve got to write something.

“That was certainly topical at the time but I’m not sure what you’re going to write now.”

Asked if they had proven a point in game three, captain Cameron Smith said: “I think we were proving a point to ourselves to be honest”.

Hodges was given the honour of kicking the final conversion, denying Johnathan Thurston a shot at equalling the Origin record of 10 goals.

“We are going to miss him,” Meninga said.

Russia in no danger of losing 2018 World Cup, says Mutko

But Mutko, a member of FIFA’s executive committee, added that drastic change was needed at “a world class organisation” that “needed to reclaim the trust of fans”.

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Speaking to a group of foreign journalists assembling in Moscow at the start of a tour of the 11 World Cup cities, Mutko said: “No change in management at FIFA will change anything.”

Turning to the 2018 finals his country is hosting he said: “The World Cup does not belong to Russia, it belongs to FIFA but Russia will organise the World Cup for FIFA as planned.

“There is no threat to us here. The World Cup is a gem which has to be valued and it will be.”

The FBI is investigating widespread allegations of FIFA corruption going back more than two decades, while the Swiss authorities are probing the voting mechanism that saw Russia win the right to stage the next edition and Qatar the 2022 finals.

But Mutko, who is also the CEO of the 2018 Organising Committee and has repeatedly said his country’s bid was clean, brushed aside the investigations as far as Russia was concerned.

“As the sports minister of Russia, I could suggest many other federations where the FBI might want to investigate,” he said without elaborating. “There are 209 countries in FIFA.”

STAUNCH ALLY

Russia has been a staunch ally of outgoing FIFA chief Sepp Blatter over the years and have supported him during his 17 years as president, and Mutko praised the 79-year-old Swiss.

Blatter said last month he was “laying down his mandate” just days after winning a fifth term and less than a week after police arrested seven FIFA officials in a dawn raid in Zurich.

“Mr Blatter has worked for FIFA for 40 years and is a world class official who, during that time, has made FIFA into a world class organisation and one of the most powerful organisations in the world,” said Mutko.

“But the image and the profile now needs a drastic change to stabilise the situation and bring it back to what it was.

“Our football family needs to get over what has happened and needs to regain the trust of fans around the world, and I think it will be able to regain that trust as long as no-one’s goal is to kill off football.”

FIFA’s executive committee meets on July 20 in Zurich to determine when an extraordinary congress will be held to elect a new president on a date between December and March next year.

(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris)

Knights ready for cold clash in Canberra

Newcastle forward Tariq Sims reckons he’s got the secret to surviving the “cold and miserable” trip to Canberra: a tube of Deep Heat.

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Temperatures are expected to drop below five degrees at GIO Stadium on Friday night in what’s a must-win NRL match for both sides if they want to contend the finals.

The 11th-placed Raiders have been horrible at home this season, winning just once in seven games.

The second-last Knights, meanwhile, have claimed three of their past four meetings in the nation’s capital.

But Sims still rates the ground a fortress.

“It’s cold, it’s miserable – and they like that,” he said on Thursday.

“They play and train in it every day.

“Personally I don’t mind the cold but it might affect others.”

Sims said he learnt to deal with the chill from cross-code pioneer Peter Ryan, who played in Canberra with Super Rugby’s Brumbies after a decade in the NRL with Brisbane.

“He taught me a really good trick: to put Deep Heat on the bottom of your feet and in between your toes,” Sims said.

“I’ll be passing it on, absolutely. Finger-tips and toes.”

The Knights are hoping to turn up the heat on the Raiders, who won their last clash 44-22 only a month ago at Hunter Stadium.

Sims said they were pretty embarrassed by that “ambush”.

“So we’re going to be doing our best to go down there and try to spring a little trap on them with a couple of new plays,” he added.

They welcome back playmaker Jarrod Mullen after 10 weeks on the sideline with a foot injury, while prop Kade Snowden returns from suspension and Jeremy Smith from injury.

Dane Gagai has also been named to back up from Wednesday’s State of Origin decider.

They will, however, be without NSW back-rower Beau Scott who copped a one-week ban for his tip tackle on Queensland skipper Cameron Smith in Origin III.

While it was good to have some troops back, Sims is still expecting an almighty challenge against the likes of Maroon enforcer Josh Papalii and five-eighth Blake Austin.

“They’re a couple of strike players we did some video on and we’re going to make sure we’re on top of them,” he said.

“I’m up for a physical game because they’re big boys down there.”