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Ken Borland



Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

Proteas’ future muddied by a lot of disruption 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

The Proteas have just returned from a sorry tour of England and there has understandably been plenty of speculation over what the future holds for South African cricket.

Coach Russell Domingo seems to have accepted his fate, but Cricket South Africa have been absolutely stum over the whole coaching situation, having only too happily made it clear they were looking elsewhere in the middle of the home series against Sri Lanka in January.

Ottis Gibson is clearly the man CSA have earmarked to take over from Domingo, and he has considerable international experience, having been head coach of the West Indies as well as spending a lot of time with England as their bowling coach. The 48-year-old also played in South Africa for a decade, representing Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng.

The uncertainty over the coaching situation, made worse by Domingo having to return home twice due to the tragic death of his mother, clearly unsettled the Proteas, but there were a lot of other disruptions on their tour as well. Faf du Plessis missing the first Test and Vernon Philander’s health problems did them no favours either.

The most crucial thing that CSA need to do for the national team is to provide stability.

AB de Villiers is still leaving the team hanging as to when and what he wants to play and those in the know are quite clear about the fact that his presence has now become at best a distraction and, at worst, a disruption. In terms of talent and reputation, De Villiers is like a supernova, but we all know that a supernova also tends to produce explosive shockwaves that destroy everything in their path.

South Africa’s recent limited-overs form suggests the team is overshadowed when De Villiers plays, so unused to his presence they have become.

So there needs to be complete clarity over De Villiers’ availability and, if he is not available for everything, then he should also not be allowed to captain the limited-overs teams.

Test captain Du Plessis clearly believes De Villiers will retire completely from the longest format, and the question of who should fill AB’s number four berth has not been answered, with three different batsmen filling the spot in the series against England.

It is Du Plessis himself who should take responsibility and step up into the number four berth. He has the all-round game, being able to both attack and defend, that is needed in that position and as captain he also needs to set the tone.

Temba Bavuma is the incumbent number four, but he seems to be more of a gritty middle-order batsman, coming in at five or six. His displays thus far in Test cricket suggest he will inherit the Jonty Rhodes mantle of his value being far greater than just the sum of the runs he scores.

To me, it was an especially poor decision to move Quinton de Kock up to number four, it betrayed a management that was pandering to the views of those outside the camp. The man touted as the new Adam Gilchrist must have the same role as the great Australian wicketkeeper/batsman; De Kock will have much more impact coming in at six or seven where he can play his own game. He does not want to have to rebuild an innings coming in at 40 for two the whole time, he’s the type of batsman to take the game away from the bowlers.

Which brings us to the openers. It is Heino Kuhn’s misfortune that he waited so long for a chance and it came against one of the greatest new-ball pairings in conditions that were always difficult for batsmen; Dean Elgar fared best of all the openers with an average of just 36.37.

But by jettisoning Stephen Cook after four unsuccessful Test matches, the selectors have created a precedent and it would be only fair to give Aiden Markram a go against Bangladesh at the end of next month. He is unlikely to be tested by their gentle pace bowlers, but at least he is a player for the future who needs a chance sooner rather than later.

There is only one round of Sunfoil Series matches before that, so it seems Kuhn will not even have much opportunity to save himself by scoring a whole lot of runs back on home soil. Even Cook will have a better chance as he will play two four-day games for SA A.

When there are problems in a relationship, people start looking elsewhere 0

Posted on August 08, 2017 by Ken

 

When the chief executive of SA Rugby talks about “problems in Sanzaar” and feeling “shackled” by the southern hemisphere rugby body, then it is clear South African rugby sees its future as lying elsewhere.

But while Jurie Roux admitted to SA Rugby’s relationship with Sanzaar not being ideal, he stressed that there were no plans to leave the alliance with New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, even though South African rugby will be dallying elsewhere with northern hemisphere competitions like the Pro14.

“This is a very exciting time for South African rugby. We feel shackled in Sanzaar but now we have the opportunity to go north. It gives us options. People think that the Pro14 move is just about the Cheetahs and Kings, but it’s so much more than that.

“With the world calendar not aligned, we were all signing six or seven-year deals that were out of sync with each other. But now we have so many more opportunities and options. I’m super-excited for the Pro14. It’s an elegant solution for our Sanzaar problems,” Roux said on Monday at the announcement of FNB becoming a sponsor of the Springboks.

“We don’t have options in Sanzaar, which means you’re actually nowhere and that’s not where you want to be. But we are really good for each other, so we will still participate in Sanzaar; we are strong because we play against Australia and New Zealand.

“But we can never have eight franchises in Sanzaar, we can have four or five maximum and maybe we’ll even go down to three. But at least we now have options. We still need to play against Australia and New Zealand to be the best, so I don’t see the relationship ending. It’s just the way and how we play that will change. And we’ll have more international exposure up north,” Roux said.

The CEO added that the whole structure of South African rugby competitions would change in 2020 when the global calendar kicks into play.

Roux admitted that the Kings and Cheetahs were like guinea-pigs as they take the first steps into the brave new world of European rugby.

“The Kings will be ready, but it will be a very tough first year for them, although they’ve gone through that before and done pretty well, with Deon Davids one of the most under-rated coaches around; you must watch them from the second year onwards. The Cheetahs are more established and will be there or thereabouts.

“We needed to go north at some stage and we’ll have proof of concept now, you’ll be able to see if it works,” Roux said.

http://citizen.co.za/sport/sport-rugby/1602552/jurie-roux-suggests-the-sanzaar-marriage-is-on-the-rocks/

Sanzaar have forgotten the importance of tournament integrity 0

Posted on July 31, 2017 by Ken

 

There is a forgotten early-1980s pop star by the name of Jona Lewie, a rather avant garde electro-pop musician who just happens to be one of my all-time favourites. Perhaps songs like Stop the Cavalry, You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties and Louise will jog the memory because they were all big hits in South Africa.

But apart from those hits, Lewie also wrote a more classical piece entitled Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic, which is all about making changes to something which are always doomed to be futile.

I was thinking about that piece when SuperRugby’s regular season came to an end last weekend and the Cheetahs and Kings played their final games, while the critically endangered Western Force made a statement of their own by hammering the Waratahs, the favourite sons of Australian rugby.

Sanzaar have not only forgotten the high standards and norms that made Super Rugby the greatest competition in rugby but have also shifted away from one of the cornerstones of any successful sporting endeavour and that is the integrity of the competition.

There is no doubt that the current iteration of SuperRugby is not a hit and it is rapidly losing value, while costs have escalated by bringing in extra teams, especially the expansion sides from Japan and Argentina.

I believe it is always a good thing to be inclusive, though, and the problem with SuperRugby is not so much the number of teams participating but the totally farcical nature of the tournament itself.

It is guaranteed to cause disdain amongst a sports’ customers – the people who watch it – when a team like the Brumbies, who won just six of their 15 conference matches, gets to host a quarterfinal, like they did on Friday against the Hurricanes. Even the people of Canberra didn’t seem enamoured by the idea, given the poor crowd that was present.

There is no integrity to the competition because lesser-performing teams are advantaged and not everyone plays each other – not having to face any New Zealand sides is clearly a massive advantage.

So cutting the number of teams but keeping the same competition format is clearly merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic and is not going to stop SuperRugby from sinking into the depths of history.

And, let’s be honest, the axing of teams like the Kings, Cheetahs and possibly Force is not about their competitiveness. Sport is not only about those teams that are consistently winning, part of the romance are the wonderful stories of the underdogs causing shock upsets.

The Kings and Force, having won just as many games as the Brumbies, who made the finals, can argue that they are not even minnows, while the Cheetahs finished above the safe Bulls in the final standings.

The fact that the Kings and the Cheetahs will now ply their trade in Europe will have far-reaching consequences. With much easier travelling schedules and no country as dominant as New Zealand, I’m sure SA Rugby will discover the grass is greener in the northern hemisphere.

If South Africa pull out of SuperRugby entirely, it will definitely hurt New Zealand because it was our viewership numbers that fetched top dollar with the broadcasters, and without their share of that bigger pool, the All Blacks will find it increasingly more difficult to stop European teams from raiding their best players.

If Sanzaar are to have any hope of saving SuperRugby, they have to sort out the format and somehow come up with something that is going to ensure the integrity of the competition as well as be easier to understand for the average fan.

The current format was largely brought in to ensure bigger interest in Australia, but for how much longer will New Zealand rugby be willing to carry their neighbours across the ditch?



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