2017 Australian PGA Championship – Preview

The 2017 Australian PGA Championship takes place this week, starting tomorrow in fact, from the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast, an event which is being co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia.

With that, there are a number of big names taking part in the tournament this week, including The Masters champion of 2017 in Sergio Garcia, The Masters champion of 2013 and the 2013 Australian PGA Champion in Adam Scott, the winner of the 2017 BMW Championship in Marc Leishman, and defending champion Harold Varner III.

Sergio Garcia comes into the Australian PGA Championship in patchy form, having only finished inside the Top 10 four times in the 16 events he has competed in since winning The Masters back in April, which has meant that he has fallen outside of the Top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings. However, Garcia has finished inside the Top 10 in three of his last six events, including two of his last three events, so he appears to be a strong chance of contending this week.

Meanwhile, Adam Scott comes into the 2017 Australian PGA Championship in rather poor form having not finished inside the Top 10 in his last eight events, with his ranking plummeting from seventh at the start of the year to being 31st in the world, and has not won a tournament since winning the WGC – Cadillac Championship back in March 2016.

Scott also faces the prospect of not winning a tournament in 2017 for the second time in three years after winning at least one event for 14-straight years from 2001 to 2014. In fact, Scott has only won twice in the last 75 events that he has competed in, and while that is completely normal for most mortals, it shouldn’t be normal thing for someone of Adam Scott’s calibre, and the form/mental adjustment must happen this week if he is to be any hope of recapturing past glories in the future.

Marc Leishman has had a career-best year in 2017 with seven Top 10 finishes from 25 events so far, including two wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, and at the BMW Championship, which has seen his ranking rise from 56th in the world at the end of 2016 to his current position of 13th on the Official World Golf Rankings.

Leishman also comes into the Australian PGA Championship in strong form having finished inside the Top Three in three of his last five events, and should be set to contend here.

However, Harold Varner III doesn’t look set to contend here after only one Top 10 finish since claiming the only win to date in his professional career at this tournament last year.

So, who is my tip to win the 2017 Australian PGA Championship?

While I would like to see Adam Scott win his first tournament since winning the WGC – Cadillac Championship back in March 2016, I am not going to be holding my breath for it to happen this week given that he is not the player that he once was, especially after the change of the putter regulations.

However, despite Sergio Garcia’s major breakthrough in 2017, I am going to tip Marc Leishman to win the 2017 Australian PGA Championship at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast as he is in great form, and claiming his third victory would be the perfect way to end his career-best year, which would be just the sixth victory of his career in his 299th event.

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My review of the First Ashes Test Match

It may have not been their best performance, but Australia has started the 2017-18 Ashes Series in the perfect way possible, defeating England by 10 wickets to take a one-nil lead in the series heading into the first-ever day/night Test match between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval.

Australia have now gone undefeated in the last 29 Test matches at The Gabba in Brisbane, including in the last eight Ashes Test matches against England, with Australia winning six of those eight against England, and 22 of the last 29 at The Gabba overall, and while all of the bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon all bowled consistently well throughout the Test match, it was Australian captain Steve Smith who set up the opportunity for an Australian victory with a fabulous, tough, and gritty 141 not out from 326 balls, which included 14 fours.

And with this, Smith is just 158 runs away from scoring 1000 runs for the fourth-calendar year in a row, which would put him one year behind Matthew Hayden’s record of scoring 1000 test match runs in five-consecutive calendar years. Smith is turning into one of the greatest batsmen of all-time, currently averaging 61.23 in Test match cricket, which is the highest average by anyone who has batted in at least 100 innings in Test match cricket, scoring 5511 runs, which is the most by any batsman after 57 Test matches, reaching 50 on 42 occasions in his Test career, and converting half of those into centuries.

In addition to this, Smith is just 29 runs away from becoming the 26th batsman, and the ninth Australian after Allan Border, Ricky Ponting, Greg Chappell, Michael Clarke, Steve Waugh, Bob Simpson, Mark Taylor, and Sir Donald Bradman to score 3000 runs as a captain in Test match cricket.

England captain Joe Root and the English bowlers tried just about every tactic in the book to attempt to get Smith out, but found out, if they didn’t know already, that it is very tough to bowl to the Australian captain, very hard to get him forward defending, and equally tough to get him edging the ball to the wicket-keeper and/or slips. He also has a wide-array of shots, meaning that the bowlers can struggle to tie him down.

So, how do you get Steve Smith out?

If you are a fast bowler, I think if you are wanting to get Smith out, you have essentially got to rough him up early, and test out his footwork, bowling some well-directed short balls, some full-pitched balls/yorkers, some good-length balls, even going from over to round the wicket to see if you can muddle up his footwork, and if you can do this, then you need to consistently bowl a good line on or just outside off stump to try and get him out caught behind, or possibly leg before wicket (LBW).

If you can’t do this, and get him out early, you are going to be in for a tough time because when he is in, he is tough to get out, averaging 97.92 when he reaches 20 in a Test match innings. If Smith does get in, you will then have to employ the tactic of bowling a fourth to fifth stump line on a good length if you want to have a chance of troubling him.

If you are a spin bowler, it is going to be extremely difficult to get him out since he plays spin bowling so well, unless he makes a mistake and/or there is a little bit of turn or variation from the pitch itself.

So, what do I think of England’s prospects in Adelaide?

Well, I predicted England to win the second test match in Adelaide before the series, and while Australia won comfortably in the end in Brisbane, I still think England can win the second test match due to the patchy form of the Australian batsmen, and the conditions for the first-ever Ashes day/night test match likely to suit England better than Australia.

However, if England don’t win in Adelaide, I think things are looking grim for them as far as the rest of the series is concerned.

Joe Root needs to start making big runs and convert those fifties into hundreds, and Stuart Broad and James Anderson need to be at the top of their games if they want to defeat Australia in Adelaide.

It has the potential to be a classic!

 

Australia vs. Fiji (TV style) – My call (2017 Rugby League World Cup – First Semi-Final)

Earlier tonight, I called the first semi-final of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup between Australia and Fiji.

It is the third time in a row that the two teams have met in a Rugby League World Cup semi-final, and Fiji came into this match with their confidence levels at sky-high, having caused the greatest upset in rugby league history by defeating New Zealand (4-2) in Wellington last week.

However, Australia were starting to come into great form after smashing Samoa (46-0) in Darwin in a match where Valentine Holmes scored five tries!

So, who would make it through to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Final?

Find out here, and enjoy!

2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Preview

The 20th and final round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and while the battle for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship has been decided, there is still plenty to play for many drivers and teams on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton (345 points) for Mercedes leads the drivers’ championship by an unassailable 43 points over Sebastian Vettel (302 points) for Ferrari. Hamilton had an unusual weekend in Brazil, being strong in practice before losing control of his car on the first flying lap in qualifying, going straight into the wall, forcing him to a pit-lane start after his team decided to change and add new components to his car. Then he stormed from the back of the field to the front, leading the race for 13 laps, starting on Lap 30, before finishing in fourth, 5.468 seconds behind race winner Vettel.

Vettel, after his win in Brazil, is on track to claim second spot in the championship ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (280 points). This will only change if Bottas wins in Abu Dhabi, and Vettel finishes ninth or lower.

The battle for fourth in the championship is interesting between Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (200 points), and Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen (193 points), who are only separated by seven points in the championship. They are followed in the championship by Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen (158 points), who cannot catch fifth-place Räikkönen in the championship standings.

Also important to note is that it will be the final race in the Formula One career of Felipe Massa, currently 10th in the championship on 42 points. From 268 starts, Massa has won 11 races, claimed 41 podiums, 16 pole positions, and 15 fastest laps in a career spanning from 2002 to 2017, driving for Sauber, Ferrari, and Williams. We wish him all the very best for his future endeavours!

Looking at the constructors’ championship, Mercedes (625 points), Ferrari (495 points), Red Bull (358 points), and Force India (177 points) have secured the top four spots respectively, while Williams (82 points), Toro Rosso (53 points), who are starting their last race with a Renault engine, Renault (49 points), and Haas (47 points) are all in mathematical contention for fifth spot, while McLaren (28 points), who are starting their last race with a Honda engine, are in mathematical contention for sixth spot in the constructors’ championship, and are ahead of Sauber (five points), who are in mathematical contention for eighth in the championship.

As for who is going to win the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, this circuit on paper suits the Ferrari, and should really ought to end the season on a high, for Vettel to secure second spot in championship, but I think Lewis Hamilton is going to bounce back after a couple of difficult races to claim his 10th victory of the season to set a marker for the 2018 season.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 1pm and 5pm local time (Friday 8pm and Saturday 12am AEDT).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (Saturday 9pm and Sunday 12am AEDT).

The 55 lap race is on Sunday from 5pm local time (Monday 12am AEDT).

2017 Newcastle 500 – Preview

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The 14th and final round of the 2017 Supercars Championship will take place this weekend from the Newcastle Street Circuit in the east-end of Newcastle alongside a beautiful coastline, the perfect scene for a titanic championship decider between Jamie Whincup of Triple Eight Race Engineering, and Scott McLaughlin of DJR Team Penske, with three others in Fabian Coulthard of DJR Team Penske, Chaz Mostert of Prodrive Racing Australia, and Shane Van Gisbergen of Triple Eight Race Engineering still in mathematical championship contention.

Whincup (2850 points) leads the championship by 30 points over McLaughlin (2820 points) in a championship battle that has been topsy-turvy throughout. They are ahead of Coulthard (2674 points), who is 176 points behind Whincup, Mostert (2586 points), who is 264 points behind Whincup, and defending Supercars champion Van Gisbergen (2574 points), who is 276 points behind Whincup in the championship after a round of drama in New Zealand, realistically leaving us with a two-horse race in the championship.

In any tie-breaker to decide the championship involving McLaughlin if the points are tied at the end of the championship, McLaughlin will win the championship due to winning more races, since his seven race victories in 2017 cannot be surpassed.

However, on Saturday, Whincup is the only driver who can win the championship with one race remaining.

On Saturday, if Jamie Whincup wants to create history, and win his seventh Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

  1. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 26th or suffer a Did Not Finish (DNF) result.
  2. If McLaughlin does suffer a DNF result, Whincup only needs to finish third or higher.

However, this is not the only championship on the line this weekend in Newcastle with the all-important Teams’ Championship between DJR Team Penske (McLaughlin and Coulthard), and Triple Eight Race Engineering (Whincup and Van Gisbergen), which will decide which team’s garage will be closest to the pit-exit in 2018.

DJR Team Penske (5529 points) leads the Teams’ Championship by 105 points over Triple Eight Race Engineering (5424 points) in a heavyweight battle that will go right down to the wire at the Newcastle 500.

In any tie-breaker to decide the championship, DJR Team Penske will win the championship due to having more race wins with an unassailable lead over Triple Eight Race Engineering on that count by 11 to 7.

On Saturday, if DJR Team Penske wants to win its first Teams’ Championship at the Newcastle 500:

  1. DJR Team Penske must out-score Triple Eight Race Engineering by 183 points. For example, if DJR Team Penske finish Saturday’s race in first and second, Triple Eight Race Engineering must finish in 17th and 18th to claim the Teams’ Championship. However, DJR Team Penske need both cars to finish 24th or higher in the race on Saturday if they want to be a chance of claiming the Teams’ Championship on Saturday, and at least one car must be inside the top seven, with the permutations differing depending on the situation.

During the weekend, I will keep you up-to-date in regards to what certain drivers have to do to win the 2017 Supercars Championship, particularly when it comes to the final race of the season on Sunday.

So, who will be strong at the Newcastle Street Circuit?

Looking at the predicted characteristics of the newest circuit on the Supercars calendar, the Newcastle Street Circuit is 2.652 kilometres long, which would make it the third-shortest circuit on the championship calendar.

The predicted average speed of the circuit is set to be around 133 kilometres per hour, which would make it the slowest circuit on the calendar, with speeds set to reach around 231 kilometres per hour on approach to Turn 11, with speeds set to reach over 200 kilometres per hour on a total of three occasions across the lap, including on the pit straight, and on the run to Turn Two.

It will be a circuit that will reward a car that has strong braking and traction, so the cars will run with high-downforce, not because there is a lot of high speed corners, but to make sure that the cars are stable when accelerating out of a corner, and that the cars are stable under braking. There is really only one genuine high-speed corner, which should be a relatively simple flat-out, full-throttle run through Turn 10.

It isn’t a high engine power circuit on paper, even when you consider the uphill run to Turn Two, but it will put huge stresses on the gearbox, which large number of gear changes expected during a lap of the circuit, and during the race overall.

It will also reward driver bravery and technique, especially when they go down Shortland Esplanade, a place on the circuit that will sort out the great drivers of the sport from merely just the good ones, as well as the drivers’ ability to think on the run, whether it is to attack another car or defend from another car, because passing will be difficult around the Newcastle Street Circuit.

That means strategy will be very important, not to be stuck in traffic, and avoiding the plague known as double-stacking, because we are very likely to see the safety car be called upon at some point during the weekend.

However, I think the drivers, knowing that overtaking is likely to be difficult will be looking to overtake cars at the start, and attempt to get into Turn One in first position. However, the drivers should be reminded that both races are 95 laps long, and that you can’t win the race at Turn One, but you sure can lose it, so it will be important early on for the championship contenders to stay out of trouble during both races (should they be in contention for the championship).

Looking at the strengths of the cars, I believe this circuit will probably suit Triple Eight Race Engineering slightly over DJR Team Penske, with Prodrive Racing Australia in the mix. However, I think drivers who are not in championship contention, and have proven themselves over the years to being the top drivers in the Supercars Championship will be able to show their stuff, even if their cars aren’t normally a match for the front-runners.

However, to pick who will win the championship is tough. I think Jamie Whincup will hang on to win his seventh championship, but I won’t be surprised if Scott McLaughlin does enough to claim his first championship.

****

Scott McLaughlin has taken the championship lead after winning Race 25 (Race One of the Newcastle 500) of the season, while Jamie Whincup finished 21st and last after suffering steering damage after a collision with Michael Caruso. This means that McLaughlin has a 78 point lead heading into the final race of the 2017 Supercars Championship with Fabian Coulthard, Shane Van Gisbergen, and Chaz Mostert all out of mathematical contention.

DJR Team Penske has claimed the Teams’ Championship.

On Sunday, for Scott McLaughlin to claim his first Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

1. If McLaughlin finishes ahead of Whincup.

2. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 11th or higher.

3. If Whincup finishes second, McLaughlin must finish 15th or higher.

4. If Whincup finishes third, McLaughlin must finish 18th or higher.

5. If Whincup finishes fourth, McLaughlin must finish 21st or higher.

6. If Whincup finishes fifth, McLaughlin must finish 24th or higher.

7. If Whincup finishes sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth, McLaughlin must finish 26th or higher.

8. If Whincup finishes 10th or lower, McLaughlin is the CHAMPION!

However, if Jamie Whincup wants to win his seventh Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

1. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 12th or lower.

2. If Whincup finishes second, McLaughlin must finish 16th or lower.

3. If Whincup finishes third, McLaughlin must finish 19th or lower.

4. If Whincup finishes fourth, McLaughlin must finish 22nd or lower.

5. If Whincup finishes fifth, McLaughlin must finish 25th or lower.

6. If Whincup finishes sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth, McLaughlin must suffer a DNF result.

 

2017 Australian Open – Preview

This week, the 102nd Australian Open takes place at The Australian Golf Club,  located in the suburb of Rosebery, which is around 10 kilometres south of the central business district of Sydney, and it will host the PGA Tour of Australasia’s flagship tournament for the record 20th time.

The 2017 Emirates Australian Open brings together some of Australia’s and the world’s best golfers to Australia, but the field is headlined by two of the best golfers in the world in current World Number Two and defending champion Jordan Spieth, and current World Number 12 Jason Day.

Spieth has had another strong and consistent year in 2017, winning three tournaments, including The 146th Open Championship, as well as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the Travelers Championship before that. In total, Spieth has recorded 11 Top 10 finishes out of the 22 events he has competed in this year, and heads into the Australian Open in solid form, having finished inside the Top 10 in his last four events, but he hasn’t won a tournament since winning The Open Championship back in July.

However, Spieth has great memories of Australia having won the Australian Open twice, including last year at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, where he won in a playoff over Ashley Hall and Cameron Smith, as well as at The Australian Golf Club back in 2014, where he shot an eight-under final round of 63 to claim his first Australian Open title by six strokes, and just the second title of his then young career to announce himself to the world as a potential superstar in a tragic and symbolic week for Australian sport, a week that we remember oh so well!

In between that, Spieth finished second at the 2015 Australian Open behind Matt Jones by just a single stroke at The Australian Golf Club, so he will certainly be primed for a huge showing this week.

However, what do I make of the form of Jason Day?

He hasn’t had the greatest years on so many levels, dealing with the health issues of his mother, and then later on in the year, he parted ways with his caddie Col Swatton, although Swatton is still a key part of Day’s team as a swing coach. This is before you get to his form on the course.

Only five Top 10 finishes from 21 events in 2017, with his best finish being a second-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson back in May after being defeated in a playoff by Billy Horschel. Day’s last Top 10 finish came at the BMW Championship, where he finished fourth behind eventual winner Marc Leishman, as well as Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler.

At this stage, Day is facing the prospect of becoming the first player since Tiger Woods to finish a year outside of the Top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings after being the year-end world number one the year before. In addition to this, Australian men’s golf is facing the prospect of having no golfer inside the end-year Top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time since 2010.

However, Day has finished inside the Top 20 in six of his last seven events, so he heads into the 2017 Australian Open in decent form.

So, who is my tip to win this week at The Australian Golf Club?

For me, it is hard to go past Jordan Spieth given his strong record not only in Australia, but also at The Australian Golf Club, but I sense that Jason Day is going to be on much better than he has been throughout 2017, and will be looking to win his first tournament since winning THE PLAYERS Championship in May 2016, aiming to avoid his first winless year since 2012.

 

 

2017-18 Ashes Series Preview

We are almost there! We are almost ready to continue the most storied rivalry in world cricket!

It is Australia versus England in the 2017-18 Ashes Series, and it begins on Thursday with the first test match from The Gabba in Brisbane, and there has been a lot of debate in the build-up on both teams.

Australia are ranked fifth on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Match Rankings, the same position that they were on those rankings before the 2010-11 Ashes Series, a series which England won 3-1, and a rating that is 13 points less than the rating they had back before that series. There has been plenty of debate as to who should be in the Australian Cricket Team, and many people, including former players and so-called experts, have made their feelings known as to what they think about the selections made for the opening test match of the series, in particular the selections of Cameron Bancroft, Shaun Marsh, and Tim Paine.

Looking at these three divisive selections, Bancroft was a near-certainty to be selected in the team, having scored 442 runs across the opening three matches of the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield season for Western Australia at an average of 110.50, highlighted by a wonderful innings of 228 not out in the first innings against South Australia at the WACA, but what no one seemingly expected was that Matt Renshaw was going to be dropped in favour of Bancroft, who although was struggling with his form a touch, having made 70 runs across three Sheffield Shield matches, seemed under no pressure for his spot in the team just a few weeks ago.

Marsh was another one of those divisive selections, and although he has made three half-centuries so far this season in the Sheffield Shield, you feel like his level is going down a touch, and many people would have preferred the selectors to go with either Bancroft in this middle-order position, or if they had to drop Renshaw, to go with a younger player, such as a Jake Lehmann, or a player that could a match-winner for Australia, such as the ultra-talented, but potentially-flawed Glenn Maxwell.

However, the selection which probably created the most debate was the wicket-keeping position, and it came as a huge shock to many people that Tim Paine, and not Peter Nevill or Matthew Wade, was selected. Paine has battled a number of injuries, especially with his fingers for a number of years, but when he has been fit, Paine has proven himself to being a great gloveman, and with two half-centuries in his last two first-class matches, compared with zero between Nevill and Wade across six first-class matches, and it was a very easy decision in the end to go with Paine.

However, when you look at the Australian team, the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon will be expected to perform strongly throughout the series, but the key players who could decide whether Australia wins this series or not will be the likes of Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, and Pat Cummins, who along with the five I mentioned before, will be under pressure to deliver decisive contributions for Australia with bat, or in the case of Cummins, ball.

England are ranked third on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Match Rankings, one position higher than where they were before the 2010-11 Ashes Series, but with a rating seven points lower compared to before that series. In general, England appear to be a more settled team before this series, which can be a good thing, but they have also had their issues in the lead-up to this series, especially in regards to Ben Stokes.

Stokes was involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol back in September, and while there was damning video footage showing Stokes continually punching a person into submission, there is speculation that he may not be charged for what he did by local authorities, and could be in the England Ashes squad sooner than we may think.

Also, despite being more settled, I think there are some question marks on some players, not on the likes of Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Ben Stokes (if he plays a part in the series), Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, and James Anderson, but on the fringe players looking to fill the more open spots in the team.

Mark Stoneman looks set to fill the opener’s role alongside Cook despite his modest first-class record, but has passed 50 on all four occasions so far in the three tour matches for England, including scoring 111 against the Cricket Australia XI in Townsville.

James Vince also seems to be the likely candidate to bat at number three despite his mixed form, while Dawid Malan looks a near-certainty to bat at number five, and Chris Woakes, along with Craig Overton look set to be the extra bowling options to support Anderson, Broad, and Moeen Ali for the first test match in Brisbane.

So, who is going to win the series?

While I don’t think they will win 5-nil this time, I am favouring Australia to win the series by a scoreline of 3-1.

I think Australia will win the first test match in Brisbane, but England will hit back immediately to win the first-ever day/night Ashes Test Match at the Adelaide Oval. Australia will respond to this by winning what appears to be the final Ashes Test Match at the WACA in Perth inside four days thanks to a dominant performance by the Australian fast bowlers, before England respond in stoic style to force a draw at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to keep their chances of retaining the Ashes alive.

At the fifth and final test match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Australia will dominate most the match, forcing England into the position, where under normal circumstances, they would be forced to play for a draw in the fourth and final innings of the match. However, England decide to go after the massive target, but get bowled out with about eight overs left in the test match, losing the final test match by between 30 and 50 runs to give Australia back The Ashes.