Josh Hazlewood did the damage but a magnificent spell from Pat Cummins set up Australia's final-session momentum swing at Old Trafford on day three.

Rory Burns and Joe Root frustrated the tourists after no play was possible before lunch on Friday due to rain.

Hazlewood removed nightwatchman Craig Overton in the second over when play finally got under way, but Burns and Root dug in to prevent any further damage from being done before tea.

Steve Smith's double-century on Thursday enabled Australia to post a mammoth 497-8, making them strong favourites to take a 2-1 lead - and retain the urn.

Burns and Root were in no mood to roll over a fortnight after England were humiliatingly dismissed for only 67 in their first innings at Headingley, before going on to pull off a stunning victory.

Try as they might, the elusive breakthrough simply would not come for the Australia bowlers, but persistence paid off after tea on a gloomy evening.

Hazlewood removed Burns (81), Root (71) and the vulnerable Jason Roy (22) as England lost three wickets for 30 runs before closing on 200-5.

Yet it was Cummins who was the standout bowler in batting friendly-conditions and a 10-over spell either side of tea in particular showed why he is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world.

The paceman was relentless as he pounded in time and again without reward on a cold day in Manchester, where the recalled Mitchell Starc failed to make an impact.

He rapped Burns on the gloves and peppered the left-hander with rapid short deliveries, beating the bat and drawing edges on a slow, dry pitch.

Cummins, blighted by injuries earlier in his career, continued to steam in with an exhibition of control, hostility and skill, leaving Root writhing in agony after hitting him on the knee.

A brilliant 10 consecutive overs from the Brian Statham End kept Burns and Root on their toes before he was finally replaced by Hazlewood.

Hazlewood's burst left England in the mire, but it was Cummins who softened them up.

Although arguably the greatest player of all time, it's fair to say Diego Maradona isn't necessarily synonymous with coaching.

Nevertheless, El Pibe de Oro is back in the dugout having been confirmed as Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata's new head coach on Thursday, his first job in Argentina since leaving the national team in 2010.

Maradona, 58, was a remarkable talent as a player for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona and, perhaps most famously, Argentina and Napoli.

The 1986 World Cup winner is similarly infamous for his off-field antics and controversies, having suffered from drug addiction, been criticised for his political views and generally never been shy about expressing himself.

While some of his behaviour down the years may not be what one would expect of your average head coach, Maradona often takes his teams on something of a ride…

Deportivo Mandiyu de Corrientes – 1994

Having been suspended by FIFA for failing a drug test during the 1994 World Cup, Maradona quickly turned his hand to coaching, securing a role at Mandiyu de Corrientes.

He had to watch his first match from the stands due to not having passed a coaching course or owning a license, though he remained typically animated. He only presided over 11 more fixtures, winning once, or 8.3 per cent of his games in total.

Racing Club – 1995

After allegedly being sacked in the Mandiyu dressing room, Maradona was not out of work for long before he joined Racing. In Avellaneda, El Diego had significantly greater talent at his disposal, including future Argentina internationals Ignacio Gonzalez and Claudio Lopez, and during this time they beat Boca at La Bombonera for the first time in 20 years.

However, Maradona was not present on that occasion, as he only actually presided over five of the 11 matches of his tenure. Officially, he won 18.2 per cent of his 11 Racing games before the club's presidential elections ushered in a new era and he left.

Argentina – 2008-10

After being away from coaching for 13 years, Maradona somehow landed the top job in Argentinian football; the national team. A reportedly strained relationship with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria is said to have contributed to Alfio Basile's downfall and Maradona subsequently led them to the 2010 World Cup, but only by the skin of their teeth and not without a 6-1 humiliation by Bolivia.

They made it to the quarter-finals in South Africa, but Germany exposed them in a 4-0 demolition and Maradona departed. But his 75 per cent win record in 24 matches remains Maradona's best as a coach.

Al Wasl – 2011-12

"I do not want the club to be a graveyard for white elephants," was Maradona's opening gambit at Al Wasl, as he pledged to bring exciting young players to the UAE. That proved more difficult than expected, claiming in November 2011 many players weren't being paid on time.

A colourful season saw Maradona feud with two coaches, march into the stands to "protect my wife" from fans and flirt with the UAE national team job. He won 40 per cent of his 35 matches, but was hastily sacked after the club's entire board resigned at the end of a trophyless campaign.

Al-Fujairah – 2017-18

Following a five-year absence, Maradona was back in management in May 2017, again in UAE. His appointment at Al-Fujairah came as a particular shock given their second-tier status.

Maradona's spell was rather less controversial than at Al-Wasl and on the pitch things went better, losing just once in 23 matches. However, a haul of 11 draws proved costly, as Maradona left by mutual consent after failing to guide the club to automatic promotion.

Dorados de Sinaloa – 2018-19

Another eye-catching move followed for Maradona, as he headed to Mexico's Ascenso MX, the country's second division. "Some people said Maradona's useless," he raged after 4-1 debut win and he went on to lead Dorados to the Apertura and Clausura finals.

They suffered defeat to Atletico San Luis in both ties, with Maradona appearing to aim a punch at an opposing fan in post-match fracas after the Apertura defeat. Of his 41 games at the helm, Maradona claimed 20 wins (48.8 per cent) and suffered only 11 defeats.

He quit in June to focus on his health, but he is back with Superliga strugglers Gimnasia, signing a one-year deal.

Serena Williams will play her 10th US Open final on Saturday - 20 years on from her first.

The 37-year-old is set to step out at Arthur Ashe Stadium in pursuit of her 24th grand slam title and yet more history.

Williams is now established as one of the greatest athletes of all time, but how did she and the women's tennis world look in September 1999?

We take a step back in time.


SERENA'S EARLY STRIDES

Williams entered the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old, but she had already played four WTA Tour finals and was the seventh seed.

Victory over Steffi Graf in the Indian Wells title match had shown just what she could do on the big stage, and she had a whole host of victories over top-10 players to her name by the time she arrived at Flushing Meadows for what was her seventh major.

Williams defeated world number one Martina Hingis three times in 1999, with the third and final victory securing her landmark title in New York.

An incredible run had seen her already beat Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles and defending champion Lindsay Davenport.


THE WILLIAMS DYNASTY

The Williams name was well known on the tour by the time Serena started to really make waves, as sister Venus, two years her senior, had reached the US Open final in the 1997 season.

That was a first tour-level final of any sort for Venus and she was thrashed by Hingis. But Venus won the Miami Open in consecutive years - beating Serena in the 1999 final - and triumphed at the Internazionali d'Italia before heading to the US Open.

Venus was made to wait until Wimbledon in 2000 to taste grand slam victory, however, losing to Hingis in the 1999 Flushing Meadows semis as Serena celebrated a first triumph.

Yet the dominant Williams doubles team had already been established, with victory at the French Open and another in New York.


SEIZING THE POWER

Just as is common in 2019, the major titles were evenly distributed on the WTA Tour in 1999. Hingis won in Melbourne, Graf triumphed at the French Open and then Davenport came out on top at Wimbledon.

Davenport had been the title holder at the US Open, too, until Serena triumphed.

But the arrival of the Williams sisters signalled the end of dominant times for Hingis, Graf and Davenport. The latter claimed her final grand slam title at the 2000 Australian Open, but Hingis did not win a singles major again after Serena's breakthrough. Graf retired just weeks before the 1999 US Open.

Hingis still topped the rankings at the end of 1999, but Venus was third and Serena fourth. And this was still months before Bianca Andreescu, Saturday's opponent for Serena in New York, was even born.

'Think different'.

In 1997, Apple pushed that slogan in an advertising campaign launched well before it became a mobile communications behemoth.

Having only been born a year earlier, nearly 5,900 miles away from Silicon Valley, Daniil Medvedev may not be familiar with that part of tech history.

Medvedev, though, has become the living embodiment of the philosophy.

The Russian world number five was heading into a US Open semi-final on Friday, taking on Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the final. There has been very little normal about Moscow-born Medvedev's route through to this point, everything about it has been different.

Boasting the biggest stadium in tennis and home to some extremely passionate locals, Flushing Meadows is a place capable of producing the kind of atmosphere players dream about playing in.

However, it is also a venue where nightmare experiences are possible, with many players taking exception to behaviour in the stands when the late-night New York crowd gets a little too invested in proceedings.

Medvedev is not like those players, though, and has instead thrived in the face of a sustained level of heckling many would have buckled under.

Amid a disagreement with an umpire in his third-round match with Feliciano Lopez, Medvedev was seen to aim a middle-finger gesture at the crowd. It was shown on the Louis Armstrong Stadium big screen and vociferous booing followed as Medvedev was cast in the role of villain.

He was still able to close out the victory but took part in a post-mach interview that was the antithesis of what is expected in the often-sterile on-court Q&A. The jeers were relentless and, in a situation where many would have pleaded with the fans to stop or cut the interview short, Medvedev soaked up the boos and thanked the crowd for them, praising spectators for giving him energy "to win the next five matches".

Medvedev's response was the same in the fourth round against Dominik Koepfer. Never has such a negative reception been so gleefully welcomed. The rocky relationship between Medvedev and the crowd proved mutually beneficial, as it provided fans with a hate-figure and Medvedev extra motivation to rile them up as he slogged his way through the draw.

Everybody loves to have a villain to hate. However, villains are more convincing when they have the game to back it up. It was the unique way in which he backed it up that turned the fans in Medvedev's favour.

Facing Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, Medvedev developed a problem with his left thigh. It was clear that movement was a huge issue. It would have been the end for most players, and Medvedev later conceded he thought it would spell the end for him.

However, he masterfully ensured it did not finish him off. Restricting his most intense movement for his own service games, Medvedev changed up his tactics superbly, relying heavily on drop shots and exquisitely placed lobs to work a 34-year-old Wawrinka around the court at will.

Even though the Swiss won the third set, the revised plan bore fruit as Wawrinka faltered badly in the fourth, though Medvedev was not happy to win in such a fashion.

"After the match, it was tough for me to express many emotions because I felt the way I won was quite ugly," Medvedev said. "Because that's what I had to do."

It may have felt ugly from his perspective, but, from up in the stands, the speed and the effectiveness with which he altered his approach was a joy to behold, and he received a deserved standing ovation at the end of his last-eight triumph.

Asked if he and the crowd are friends again, Medvedev replied: "Hopefully. It's not for me to decide. What I got I deserved. Usually I'm not like this, as I was in the third-round match. I'm not proud of it. I'm working to be better."

Medvedev's is a redemption story nearing a fascinating conclusion that will come in the final if he defeats Dimitrov.

It may never be exactly clear why Medvedev felt the need to turn the spectators against him. On and off the court, he is an incredibly difficult player to read, even for his coach Gilles Cervara, who summed up his protege using another term adopted by Apple.

"It's like to coach a genius," said Cervara. "Sometimes a genius, you don't understand them. It's like this. They are different."

The eyes of the MMA world will be locked on Khabib Nurmagomedov when he makes an eagerly awaited return at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

It has been 11 months since Nurmagomedov last fought in Las Vegas, where his excellent victory over Conor McGregor was marred by an ugly post-fight melee.

But Nurmagomedov remains one of UFC's greatest attractions and the battle for supremacy in the lightweight division is on when he goes head-to-head with interim champion Dustin Poirier.

Ahead of the bout, we take a look at some of the key questions for what promises to be a blockbuster main event.


What happened at UFC 229?

Oh boy…where do you start with this one? The build-up to this was fight was, let's dilute this a little, ugly. Back in April 2018, McGregor was involved in an attack on a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters. McGregor would eventually be forced to undertake community service and an anger management programme over the incident. So, naturally the scene was set for a red-hot build-up that had many barbs that crossed the line. After Nurmagomedov submitted McGregor in the fourth round the bad blood spilled over, with the Russian launching himself over the cage to fight members of his rival's team, leading to a mass brawl. It was all rather unpleasant, unsavoury and unnecessary, and in truth not a great look for UFC.

What's Khabib been up to since?

The fallout from the ruckus landed McGregor and Nurmagomedov hefty fines and sizeable suspensions, with the latter having been banned for nine months. But it has been a busy year nonetheless. There has been parenting advice from Vladimir Putin, an airport opening with Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a meeting with Vladimir Vasilyev, the head of the Republic of Dagestan. There was also time to call out boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr – who has also fought McGregor – and take in trips to watch AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.

Will he fight McGregor again?

In the world of combat sports you should definitely never say never. Nurmagomedov said this year that McGregor does not deserve a rematch and the Irishman's lack of activity in the octagon raises legitimate questions about whether we will see him in UFC again. But money talks and if the stars align and the finances are right then it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility these great rivals will dance again.

What's Khabib's record like?

In a word: formidable. Nurmagomedov has had 27 fights and earned 27 victories. In a world of the finest margins it is a phenomenally dominant record.

What is his style?

Nurmagomedov is one of the best wrestlers in UFC and no one has been able to defend against his extraordinary grappling and takedown skills. But there are several more strings to his bow, as McGregor found out to his detriment when caught with an awesome overhead right in their bout. Trying to find a weakness in his game is tough.

Who is his opponent Poirier?

Hardcore fight fans will need no introduction to Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Poirier. The American has notable victories over big hitters like Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje and Max Holloway on his resume – a second win against the latter seeing him named interim lightweight champion in April. 'The Diamond' collected aluminium cans and picked pecans prior to getting into the fight game, landing in MMA having first looked into the possibility of boxing. Poirier is a talented grappler and also has decent stand-up. He is sure to be a tricky customer.

What's been said in the build-up?

There has been no repeat of the ill-tempered baiting prior to the McGregor dust-up, but Nurmagomedov insists the respect he has for his opponent ends on fight night, saying: "Generally, I only have respect for him. That will stop as soon as I enter the octagon. That's where we'll have to fight. If you get into the octagon and you see your opponent, then that's it. You have to compete." Few are tipping Poirier for the upset, but the man himself is full of confidence: "I'm mentally ready for 25 minutes of bleeding and sweating and being uncomfortable. The fans can expect me to put Khabib in positions you haven't see him in. And to hurt him."

Who will win the fight?

At 30, Poirier is a seasoned campaigner and you do not compete for a decade in UFC unless you are highly talented. But Nurmagomedov is as fearsome a fighter as the MMA world has ever seen and will be chomping at the bit to make up for lost time.

Jofra Archer flattened Steve Smith at Lord's but Australia's masterful talisman delivered what could be a knockout blow to England's hopes of regaining the Ashes after being dropped by the paceman at Old Trafford.

Smith was ruled out of England's astonishing series-levelling win at Headingley with concussion after he was struck by an Archer bouncer in the second Test.

It was Archer who was rattled on day two of the fourth Test in Manchester, though, after failing to grab a caught-and-bowled chance offered by Smith on 65.

Jack Leach also let the batsman off the hook after he had reached an 11th Ashes century, the spinner paying the price for overstepping when he looped up a delivery which Smith edged to Ben Stokes at slip.

Smith had 118 to his name at that point but he was nowhere near finished yet, striding back to make a magnificent 211 before the tourists declared on 497-8. They reduced England to 23-1 by stumps.

If ever proof was needed that fortune favours the brave, it was provided by Smith less than three weeks after being hit on the neck by a searing short ball.

The former captain has had boos ringing in his ears since arriving in England ahead of the Cricket World Cup for his part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, which landed him a one-year ban and cost him the captaincy.

Yet a packed Old Trafford crowd rose in appreciation for what they had witnessed when he brought up a third double hundred against England.

Smith saluted all corners of the ground when given another standing ovation following his dismissal to Joe Root, having struck two sixes and 24 fours in the 319 balls he faced.

The irrepressible Smith started the second day looking even more fidgety than his usual hectic self at the crease but was soon toying with England after riding his luck.

He mixed unconventional strokes with glorious drives on both sides of the wicket in another incredible display of skill and application, with Tim Paine also punishing England for two drops by making 58 in a sixth-wicket stand of 145.

Only the great Don Bradman has more Ashes hundreds than Smith, while Jack Hobbs (12) is the solitary Englishman to better the ex-skipper's tally in Tests between the two old rivals.

The domineering right-hander averages 147.25 in his four visits to the crease in his first Test series since serving his suspension.

Smith showed you cannot keep a good man down and the bad news for England is there could be more runs to come, with Australia in a great position to retain the urn.

Few would disagree that men's tennis is due a makeover and perhaps we are closer than ever to glimpsing its new face.

The same names are reeled off at every grand slam when talk turns to the 'next generation', and Kei Nishikori ran us through them on the first day of this US Open.

The Japanese put himself forward as a possible contender, then added: "You see [Dominic] Thiem playing finals, and I think a couple of guys are getting closer.

"Of course, Sascha [Alexander Zverev] is a great player and a couple of young guys: Felix [Auger-Aliassime], [Denis] Shapovalov, [Nick] Kyrgios, those guys who are coming up, too. Oh, yes, and [Daniil] Medvedev."

Four times a year, the debate turns to which '#NextGen' star – Nishikori is now 29 – might be able to end the slam dominance of the 'Big Three'.

Andy Murray had made it a 'Big Four' and Stan Wawrinka won three majors in three years, but the latter's Flushing Meadows triumph in 2016 was the last time one of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, three of the greatest players in history, did not win a grand slam.

There is certainly no shame in coming up short when those three represent the competition.

Federer has made his home in Melbourne and at Wimbledon, Nadal is close to untouchable on clay, and Djokovic, on his day and when fit, has the full package.

Opportunities for the rest are scarce. Thiem has been able to beat Nadal on the red dirt but not at Roland Garros, losing consecutive finals. The US Open has seen a varied cast of recent finalists, yet Djokovic has played in three of the past four deciders and won two of them.

This is the golden era of men's tennis, and yet...

Whisper it quietly, but might there be an argument that it has become a little dull seeing the same three names top the honours boards four times a year?

Can we have too much of a good thing? Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are certainly a good thing. They have done wonders for tennis with their efforts both individually and collectively.

But sport is arguably at its best when it is unpredictable, when fans come along for the ride not knowing which way it will twist or turn.

Look at the NFL or the NBA, where regular-season records count for nothing when the top seeds – like the New Orleans Saints or the Milwaukee Bucks – fall short in the playoffs. Look at the Champions League, where Manchester City, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, try as they might, cannot turn domestic dominance into European success. Look a little closer to home at the WTA Tour.

For while men's tennis is a closed shop, the women's equivalent is anything but. Since Serena Williams completed her second 'Serena Slam' in 2015, there have been 10 different champions across 16 major tournaments.

Serena can dismantle any opponent when on top form and has at times done so this year, but the competition is healthy, the results are often unexpected.

So this year's men's US Open has been similarly refreshing.

We can all remember classic Djokovic-Federer clashes – as recently as the Wimbledon final – but Grigor Dimitrov downed the great Swiss in a New York epic, while Matteo Berrettini described his own quarter-final against Gael Monfils as "one of the best matches I've ever seen".

Seeing new faces compete at the business end of the tournament has been uplifting, with unusually early exits for Federer and Djokovic presenting opportunities for others to forge legacies.

And now, one could argue, we must have a new winner. Only Nadal, with a patchy recent hard-court record, remains of the superhuman trio. He is the favourite but surely he is beatable.

Because how quickly would a thrilling fortnight be forgotten if, come the start of next year, Nadal and Djokovic each held two slam titles? Conversely, a triumphant Medvedev, Dimitrov or Berrettini would renew hope within the locker room.

The 'Big Three' might not have long left at the top – particularly in 38-year-old Federer's case – but the 'next generation' need not wait that long to get over the hump. This looks like a fine opportunity.

US Open spectators had their appetite for world class tennis satiated once again on Wednesday, as Matteo Berrettini and Gael Monfils delivered a thriller at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Berrettini needed nearly four hours to see off Monfils in five sets to reach his first grand slam semi-final.

The secret to his success at Flushing Meadows may be in the meals he is eating at his favourite New York restaurant, which was soon on his mind after his marathon victory.

Omnisport's man on the ground, Nicholas McGee, provides the details in our daily diary from New York.


GIOVANNI A GOOD LUCK CHARM FOR BERRETTINI

Berrettini had a new face in his box during his victory over Monfils, Giovanni Bartocci, the owner of Via Della Pace, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan's East Village that the 23-year-old has frequented during his time in New York.

Bartocci will likely be invited back after witnessing Berrettini's performance in defeating his French opponent, with the Italian set to face Rafael Nadal in the last four.

Asked in his media conference about his friendship with Bartocci, Berrettini replied: "The owner, yeah, Giovanni. Actually, he's from Rome, my city. So, you know, is not tough to get friend with a guy from the same city.

"I knew him last year. He's such a nice guy. He's always cheering for Italians. I mean, I'm the only one left, so now he's cheering for me."

On his favourite dish at the restaurant. he added: "Pasta for sure. But I like pasta in bianco. I don't know if you know it. It's like just oil and parmesan. Simple but really good."


A SUSHI CELEBRATION FOR MURRAY

Shifting to culinary delights from a different region, sushi was on the menu for Jamie Murray after his and Neal Skupski's win over Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow in the men's doubles.

The Scot snacked on the Japanese fare as he spoke to reporters following that three-set triumph.

It clearly provided the boost he needed as Murray went on to also claim victory in the mixed doubles alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the pair progressing to the final by defeating Rajeev Ram and Samantha Stosur.


SCHWARTZMAN WINS SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD

Diego Schwartzman received no reward for an admirable performance against Nadal, as he was defeated in three sets by the highest remaining seed and now tournament favourite.

He can take some solace, however, in that his conduct on and off the court has been recognised.

Before speaking to reporters following his elimination, Schwartzman was presented with the US Open sportsmanship award for 2019.

A well-deserved honour for a player who should have won plenty of new fans with his displays at Flushing Meadows.

In the NFL's 100th season, one of two founding franchises will be hoping to hold off the league's most successful team in the NFC North.

The Chicago Bears, who began life as the Decatur Staleys, will kick off the century campaign on Thursday at home against a Green Bay Packers team turning over a new leaf after rookie head coach Matt LaFleur was hired to revive the 13-time champions following a 6-9-1 campaign in 2018.

Chicago's decision to turn to a first-time offensive-minded head coach paid off last year as Matt Nagy led the team to their first division title since 2010 and Coach of the Year honours for him.

The Packers, meanwhile, have the best quarterback in the division — and arguably the NFL — executing LeFleur's plays and a defense with top-10 potential on the other side, so the expectations are high in Green Bay.

"I think there's an incredible amount of talent here," LaFleur said at his introductory news conference back in January. "Obviously when you have a quarterback of the calibre of Aaron Rodgers, we're going to have high expectations. We are going to be process-driven in the pursuit of bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay."

 

Player to watch

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings running back

Do not tell those with a keen interest in who wins Thursday at Soldier Field, but there is another NFC North team with aspirations of a deep playoff run. The Vikings had the number one-ranked defense when they made the NFC championship game two seasons ago, and quarterback Kirk Cousins was supposed to be the final piece of the jigsaw when he arrived in 2018.

Instead, Minnesota went 8-7-1 last year and missed the playoffs, though there is reason for optimism anew in 2019, particularly if Cook can finally stay healthy. A second-round pick in 2017, he has missed 17 of 32 games due to knee and hamstring injuries but has flashed potential in averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He also ripped off an 85-yard touchdown run this preseason to suggest he could finally breakout.

Crucially, the Vikings' troublesome offensive line should be better after they drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first round and acquired guard Josh Kline in free agency. Even more important, Super Bowl-winning coach Gary Kubiak is on board as an offensive adviser and Cook should thrive in his zone-blocking scheme.

"Most great players that I've been around in this business are workers and when you come out here every day, you see why he's a great player, really works hard," Kubiak told reporters of Cook in August.

Impact rookie

David Montgomery, Chicago Bears running back

Chicago had no first- or second-round picks in the 2019 draft, but they were not prepared to stand pat and moved up in the third round to land Iowa State back Montgomery.

"We didn't have a first-round pick, we didn't have a second-round pick … and when he was sitting there, to us, he was a first-round talent," Nagy recently told Yahoo Sports.

Montgomery led college football in broken tackles last season and is expected to slot in as the Bears' primary back after Jordan Howard's departure, with the electric Tarik Cohen and bruising Mike Davis also in the mix.

The consensus in Chicago is that Montgomery is a better fit for Nagy's offense than Howard due to his versatility and ability to contribute in the passing game. At a position where rookies can often shine, Montgomery could really wow right away in the Windy City.

Coach on the hot seat

Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions

A fine coordinator who impressed with the New England Patriots failing to deliver as a head coach? We have been here before. The evidence so far is that Patricia will not buck the trend after a 6-10 debut season.

Patricia has the comfort of being the handpicked selection of general manager Bob Quinn — himself a former Patriots staffer — but seven losses in their final 10 games of 2018 could not have gone unnoticed by the Lions hierarchy.

The Lions do look strong on both sides of the trenches, but if quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for just 3,777 yards in 2018, disappoints again, Detroit may consider ripping it up and starting over (again) in 2020.

A first winless preseason since 1989 has only given Patricia's naysayers more fuel. Though Lions fans will remember the team went 4-0 in the 2008 preseason, only to go 0-16 in the regular season.

Key matchup

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers, December 15

Thursday's opening clash between these two in Chicago could set the tone, but the Packers beat the Bears at Lambeau in week one last year only for Nagy's team to win the division.

We will have a better idea of these two teams by Week 15, when they will meet for the 200th time.

That is Green Bay's final home game of the season and the Packers will want to record a fourth successive victory over the Bears at Lambeau given they finish the season with tricky road games against the Vikings and Lions.

Interestingly, the Bears have a 10-day break between hosting the Dallas Cowboys and visiting the Packers. With contests against the Chiefs and Vikings to round out the season, Week 15 could be crucial to their postseason aspirations too.

Predicted finish

Number one ranked defenses typically tend to fall back to the pack the next year — the Vikings went from the top in 2017 to ninth in 2018, for example — and as well as losing key personnel in the secondary like Adrian Amos (now a Packer) and Bryce Callahan — their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio departed to become Denver Broncos head coach.

Even if quarterback Mitchell Trubisky takes a significant step forward in his third season, the Bears may struggle to duplicate their 2018 record, especially with the Packers primed for a comeback. Rodgers will be determined to prove it was ex-head coach Mike McCarthy and not him who was holding the Packers back, while an exciting young defense should improve if Jaire Alexander and Kenny Clark move themselves into the elite category.

The jury is still out on Cousins with the Vikings, though it would be no surprise to see them get a wild card in a stacked division. The Lions may struggle to keep up if only because of how strong the other three are.

1. Packers

2. Bears

3. Vikings

4. Lions

The 2018 season gave us a number of record-breaking performances, and there is even more to come in 2019.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees reached the biggest milestone of the season when he surpassed Peyton Manning's mark of 71,940 yards as he became the NFL's all-time leading passer.

Brees also set records for career completions (6,586) and single-season completion percentage (74.4).

But it was young star Patrick Mahomes who ran away with MVP honours after the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback became only the second NFL player in history to pass for more than 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a season.

Other players who had an impressive statistical season included Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who set a rookie record for touchdown passes (27), and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri – who moved past Morten Andersen (2,544 career points) to become the NFL's all-time scoring leader.

But there is more to come for the NFL's historic 100th season in 2019.

 

NFL milestones that could be reached this season

— Tom Brady (70,514) needs 1,325 passing yards to eclipse Brett Favre for the third most all-time. 

— Philip Rivers (374) requires 26 passing touchdowns to reach 400 in his career.

— Cam Newton (4,808) needs 121 rushing yards to pass Randall Cunningham for the second-most rushing yards ever by a quarterback. Michael Vick holds the record at 6,109.

— Russell Wilson (196) requires four passing touchdowns to reach 200 in his career.

— Adrian Peterson (106) needs one rushing touchdown to pass Jim Brown for the fifth most in NFL history. He (13,318) requires 345 rushing yards to surpass Jerome Bettis for the seventh-most all-time.

— J.J. Watt (92) requires eight sacks to reach 100 in his NFL career.

— Ben Roethlisberger (363) needs 37 passing touchdowns for 400 in his career.

— Larry Fitzgerald (116) requires one touchdown catch to leapfrog Antonio Gates for the sixth-most all-time. He needs 23 receptions to pass Tony Gonzalez for the second-most all-time.

— Antonio Brown's next touchdown catch will be his 75th in his career.

— Cordarrelle Patterson (six) needs two kick-off returns for touchdown to tie the NFL record.

— Von Miller (98) requires two sacks to reach 100 in his NFL career.

There's no telling what will happen in the NFC East.

If past is prelude, then chaos will likely reign in the division again this year, as there are quite a few interesting situations that need to be tracked.

Eli Manning and Daniel Jones are battling for the support of New Yorks Giants fans, the Philadelphia Eagles' success is based on whether Carson Wentz can hold up for an entire season, and Ezekiel Elliott's holdout in hopes of becoming one of the NFL's highest-paid running backs overshadowed the Dallas Cowboys.

Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins are looking to rebound from a year in which they lost not one but two signal-callers to season-ending leg injuries - and they have put their faith in Case Keenum.

No team has won the division in consecutive years since the Eagles won three straight NFC East titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004, so anything could happen.
 

Player to watch

Carson Wentz, Eagles quarterback

Wentz undoubtedly has MVP-calibre talent, but he needs to stay healthy in order for Philadelphia to have any shot this year. The 26-year-old has thrown for 10,152 yards and 70 touchdowns in three NFL seasons - actually two and a half seasons, considering he has played in only 40 games because of injuries.

Speaking of injuries: Wentz hasn't managed to play in a single playoff game, as now-Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles took over for the Eagles in the postseason in each of the last two years.

Wentz has weapons like Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz at his disposal, so Philadelphia appear to be built for success on paper. If Wentz can start (and finish) at least 14 games and is in relatively good shape at the end of the regular season, he could very well live up the expectations set by the four-year, $128million extension he signed this offseason and be the best quarterback in the NFC East in 2019.

"I feel like I'm just mentally in a much different place, and physically I feel good too," Wentz said, via Philly.com. "A little more relaxed, you could probably say."

He's a natural when it comes extending plays to make something out of nothing, but his knack for this also increases his risk of injury. Wentz, 26, will need to choose his battles and know when to throw the ball away or take a sack in 2019. Moderation will be key in what could be his biggest season yet.
 

Impact rookie

Derrius Guice, Redskins running back

Derrius Guice technically isn't a rookie, as he was drafted by Washington as a second-rounder in the 2018 NFL Draft. But he did miss all of what would have been his rookie campaign after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Expect big things from this explosive running back in 2019.

Adrian Peterson eclipsed 1000 rushing yards last season, but Washington's Jay Gruden has already made it clear he expects Guice to handle the bulk of the carries.

"It's not so much about Samaje as it is about Derrius Guice, how much faith we have in him to carry the ball," Gruden said, via the Washington Post. "We drafted him for a reason. We feel like he can be a first-, second- and even third-down back if needed. The offense, carries-wise, will probably go through him, pretty much."

The 22-year-old ran for more than 1,000 yards in two of his three seasons at LSU and even led the SEC in rushing yards as a sophomore. 

Washington's lack of depth at receiver and questionable quarterback situation will likely force them to pound the ground with their top option early and often.
 

Coach on the hot seat

Jason Garrett, Cowboys

Jason Garrett is entering his ninth full season as Dallas' head coach since going 5-3 as their interim in 2010, and he simply has to do more with the talent he has. Garrett has arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott, a talented dual-threat quarterback in Dak Prescott and one of the games more dynamic receivers in Amari Cooper. The Cowboys also have a top-flight defensive line.

But Dallas have won only two playoff games under Garrett, despite winning the NFC East three times during his reign. 

Garrett's five-year, $30million contract he signed in 2014 is nearing its end, and this might be his make-or-break season.

Garrett downplays any pressure - for a third consecutive season.

"Our biggest focus is on what we need to do to be our best as players and coaches and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself," he said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
 

Key matchup

Cowboys at Eagles, Dec 22

It's easy to see that Dallas and Philadelphia are the two teams in the NFC East with the most talent. There's no quarterback controversy and each team's top skill players have defined roles and most have proved they can perform at a high level.

The Cowboys and Eagles will likely be the two teams fighting for a division title as the regular season comes to a close, so this Week 16 matchup could seriously affect the playoff picture.

It wouldn't be that surprising if this game outright determined which side takes the cake.
 

Predicted finish

We're just going to stick with recent trends in predicting how the season shakes out. Since no team has repeated as division champ in the NFC East in 15 years, the Eagles will dethrone the Cowboys. But Dallas shouldn't be too far behind.

It's a toss-up between the Giants and Redskins when it comes to third and fourth place.

1. Eagles

2. Cowboys

3. Giants

4. Redskins

There's a legitimate case to be made for the NFC West being the most exciting division in the NFL.

After their Super Bowl letdown, the Los Angeles Rams enter 2019 knowing they will likely face an extremely difficult fight to maintain supremacy in the division.

With the health of Todd Gurley's knee a huge question mark hanging over their season, the Rams face stiff competition from a Seattle Seahawks team that made the playoffs last season and potentially a San Francisco 49ers team set up to contend if their quarterback can stay healthy and return to his 2017 form.

Lurking as a dangerous worst-to-first contender is a Arizona Cardinals team that promises to be one of the most fascinating in the league in 2019.

After he guided them to within a win of the Lombardi Trophy, Rams quarterback Jared Goff signed a four-year extension.

"He's just getting better and better," coach Sean McVay says of Goff.

For the Rams retain the division title, they'll need that to continue to be the case.
 

Player to Watch

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers quarterback

Last year, the 49ers were expected to make the leap to playoff contention because of Garoppolo. That all went south when Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3, and now he is under considerable pressure to prove he is the right man to lead the offense and deliver much-needed results for coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch in year three of their regime.

Garoppolo rebounded from a dreadful preseason performance against the Denver Broncos with a solid outing against the Kansas City Chiefs, though the concerns his performance in the first game raised will not be extinguished until he starts winning.

Niners tight end George Kittle, though, has full belief in Garoppolo. Kittle told StatsPerform: "I know for a fact that Jimmy Garoppolo is really, really good at football and I can't wait until everyone can see what he can do in a full season. He's a special player, so I'm just looking forward to being back on the field with him.

"When he came in, he played in five games and won all five. That year we were kind of banged up too, we were missing some pieces and he still led us to five wins, so I'm just looking forward to what he can do with a fully healthy roster and a whole year with coach Shanahan under his belt. I'm really looking forward to it."
 

Impact Rookie

Kyler Murray, Cardinals quarterback

Sometimes the best answer is the obvious one. That is certainly the case with Kyler Murray, the clear frontrunner to have the biggest impact of any rookie not just in the division, but in the whole NFL, too. As the Cardinals adjust to Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense, they will go as far as the dual-threat (potential) superstar can take them.

There has been so much attention on what Murray can do with his legs, but what has stood out most to his Arizona team-mates is his unerring accuracy.

"Obviously, he's a dynamic quarterback. He can change just the whole style of a team's offense when he scrambles," running back Chase Edmonds said, via ESPN. "But I think it overshadows just how accurate he truly is and just how calm he's able to stay under pressure when you look at his footwork when guys are approaching him or how he's so quickly able to just settle back and get an accurate throw going on."

If the Cardinals are to bounce back from a dismal 3-13 season and surprise those who expect another last-place finish, Murray will need to showcase that accuracy right off the bat.
 

Coach on the hot seat

Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals

There is a strong argument for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan being on the hot seat after two losing seasons, but injuries likely bought him time and, given Shanahan's play-calling wisdom, general manager John Lynch would likely go before him.

Questions about Pete Carroll's longevity may come if the Seahawks struggle, but the most likely scenario is that the Cardinals' gamble on Kingsbury and his offense backfires and Arizona are forced to cut bait.

Kingsbury, for his part, is adamant his attack will not look the same as it did during his time with Texas Tech, telling The Ringer: "We won't throw it 88 times [a game] the way we did with [now-Chiefs QB] Mahomes."

However, his hiring is still one with potential for disaster, and he has a chance to be one and done should the Cardinals be as bad as they were last season - 3-13 in, ahem, Steve Wilks' one-and-done season.
 

Key Matchup

Seahawks at 49ers, Nov 11

The Niners ended a long winless run against the Seahawks in 2018 with a meaningless late-season overtime victory. This primetime clash should have a lot more riding on it, though, and if San Francisco are victorious again this time around, it will be a clear signal the Seahawks' time as a force in the West is coming to a close.
 

Predicted finish

It's an offense-dominated league in which play-callers are perhaps even more important than those executing the instructions. In that area, the Rams and 49ers have the edge over the Seahawks. A lot is dependent on Garoppolo, but the two California teams looked best placed to fight for the division, with the Seahawks looking ill-equipped to keep up with them should both the Rams and Niners offenses fire on all cylinders.

1. Rams

2. 49ers

3. Seahawks

4. Cardinals

The 2019 NFL season is a celebration of the century - and such an occasion requires lots of attention.

The league returns on Thursday as the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers renew the NFL's oldest rivalry, opening its 100th season with an NFC North showdown.

But it's just the beginning of a season with many intriguing games and narratives that are sure to follow as the New England Patriots chase a record-breaking seventh Super Bowl win, the Indianapolis Colts deal with the aftermath of Andrew Luck's retirement and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz continues a(nother) comeback campaign.

We take a look at the key storylines.

 

Will Antonio Brown's season be as turbulent as his offseason?

It seems hard to top, but the 31-year-old did lead the league in receiving touchdowns last season and has plenty of other eye-popping stats on his resume. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers' disastrous 2018 campaign is proof that distractions can be divisive, and Brown has dealt with a number of diversions this offseason, from his frostbitten feet to his helmet holdout. Will business boom or bust in Oakland? Keep your popcorn full.

How will quarterbacks on the mend fare?

Cam Newton (shoulder) and Jimmy Garoppolo (knee), Andy Dalton (thumb) and Marcus Mariota (foot, rib, shoulder, neck, back, nerves). Need we go on? There are a number of signal-callers seeking retribution after their 2018 campaigns were interrupted or cut short due to injury. Can these prominent passers prove they still have it or will it be next man up on the depth chart?

Are the Browns contenders?

It's a legitimate question after the overhaul offseason that saw the addition of new targets for second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield in Odell Beckham Jr and Kareem Hunt - who will begin the season suspended - but like first-year coach Freddie Kitchens, the team is still young. The Cleveland Browns improved to 7-8-1 after their infamous 0-16 season in 2017, and the team's offseason acquisitions give reason to believe the long-suffering fanbase is finally in for a treat this year. The AFC North is ruthless, but this could be the year Cleveland return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

How long will Eli Manning last as the Giants' starter?

There's a reason the New York Giants drafted Daniel Jones out of Duke with the sixth overall pick in April, but how quickly will that backup plan will be put into action? While the rookie impressed in preseason, it's said the starting job will remain Eli Manning's as long as the team is in contention. But it's hard to forget the veteran's irregularity last season. Manning completed 66 per cent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as the Giants missed the playoffs for a second straight year. Do they have the patience for another year?

Can Le'Veon Bell stay healthy after nearly 600 days away from the game?

The star rusher has remained relatively quiet since leaving the Steelers for the New York Jets, but could it just be the calm before the storm? Le'Veon Bell does have 5,336 rushing yards, 2,660 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns through his first five NFL seasons, but practice isn't the same as in-game action - and it's been a while since he's seen any. Still, the Jets running back appears ready to let his performance this season do the talking.

How will Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury adjust with the Cardinals?

The rookie quarterback and first-year NFL coach face the tall task of turning around a team that finished with their worst record in nearly two decades as the Arizona Cardinals went 3-13 in 2018. Arizona will still need to be cautious with Kyler Murray, as the dual-sport star continues to get comfortable following his preseason inconsistencies, but Kliff Kingsbury is expected to be more aggressive. The duo should be able to shake their nerves fairly quickly.

Will the Raiders bid farewell to Oakland with a winning season?

The Raiders have had only one winning season since 2002, but they have plenty to be optimistic about after selecting four rookies in the top 40 picks of this year's Draft in addition to acquiring Brown, Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict. They could even advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, something that would certainly be a sweet send-off to Sin City ahead of the team's 2020 relocation.

Can the Steelers still thrive without the 'Killer Bs'?

Bell and Brown left Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion this offseason, leaving only Ben Roethlisberger after a turbulent 2018 season in which the Steelers finished 9-6-1 and outside the playoffs for the first time since 2013 amid myriad distractions. Now it's time for third-year stars James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster to shine in their stead - if they can stay healthy. As for the team's Ryan Shazier-sized void on defense, there are high hopes first-round pick Devin Bush can bring back Blitzburgh.

How will the new pass interference rule play out?

Just don't ask a New Orleans Saints fan, because it will always be too little too late for them. Now that coaches can challenge pass interference calls and non-calls as part of the replay review system, such catastrophes like the infamous no-call in last season's NFC championship game can be avoided. But the new rule could also open a can of worms and change the strategies for using challenges in general. To see how it plays out, you'll just have to stay tuned.

Will the NFL negotiate a new CBA?

The league has been hinting that a new collective bargaining agreement could be finalized as early as September, but an ominous "work stoppage ready" plan distributed in July, urging players to be prepared for "loss of income, loss of health insurance, increased training costs and loss of camaraderie and structure", suggested otherwise. The current CBA is set to expire after the 2020 season, so the clock is ticking.

"I don't have a crystal ball, do you?"

Roger Federer was terse when asked if he felt he would have more opportunities to win grand slams like the one he just let slip at the US Open, with Novak Djokovic out of the draw and the Swiss having a clear path to a potential final with Rafael Nadal.

He is right, of course. He does not have a crystal ball and neither does anyone else. However, he certainly could have used one ahead of Tuesday's match with Grigor Dimitrov, as even the most confident of fortune tellers could not have envisaged what the Bulgarian produced at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Dimitrov stands as one of a growing number of once highly regarded ATP Tour players who have been unable to live up to their potential. So lofty was the opinion of Dimitrov's considerable talents, that he was once nicknamed 'Baby Fed'.

There have been considerable highs in Dimitrov's frenetic career that justified his reputation. His 2014 Wimbledon quarter-final win over then-defending champion Andy Murray was a supremely accomplished performance against an opponent playing with the vociferous backing of the home crowd.

His 2017 run to the Australian Open semi-finals was another strong hint at a breakthrough but it again appeared to be a false dawn, and there was nothing going into the last eight at Flushing Meadows to suggest he would be able to topple Federer.

Federer had won their previous seven meetings and had looked imperious in swatting Daniel Evans and David Goffin in the third and fourth rounds, while Dimitrov was playing in his first Tour-level quarter-final since January.

Even with Dimitrov having played extremely well to win the second set, there were few inside Ashe who expected it to be little more than a blip in the five-time champion's progression to the last four, with that assessment seemingly set to be vindicated when he took the third.

Yet, as Federer later said, this was "Grigor's moment", and he made sure of that in a tremendous fourth-set performance encompassing everything that had once led to him being considered the heir to Federer's throne.

There was power, variety, excellent movement and there were passing shots, oh so many passing shots, continually thundered beyond an ailing Federer off the forehand and backhand sides.

Federer insisted he was not surprised by Dimitrov's performance.

"It's the Grigor I expected. He has returned against me in the past also a little bit further back. He has been in, chipped, come over. He has the arsenal to do all sorts of things. He used it all tonight to great effect," said the 38-year-old.

That opinion is probably only shared by Dimitrov, as the sense of shock inside the world's biggest tennis stadium was palpable as the 28-year-old wore Federer down to the extent that he had to take a medical time-out for a back injury at the end of the fourth set.

Dimitrov displayed incredible character and endurance in doing so. Service games on both sides played out as mini-dramas within a fascinating thrill ride, with the Bulgarian's desire to make Federer play as many balls as possible paying dividends in the seventh game of the fourth. 

Federer held after a game that featured eight deuces and in which he had to save seven break points. Dimitrov may have been unable to get the double break, but he knew the damage had been done.

He said: "I think even when I lost that game, I was actually smiling going through the changeover because I was [thinking], 'That game must have hurt him a lot.' For me, it actually filled me up.

"After that fourth set, I felt also he kind of needed a little bit of a break, as well. I kept on pushing through. I think in the first game in the fifth, I put so many returns back, pretty much all the returns, so he had to go. He wanted to keep the points really short. I used every single opportunity I had."

That was the difference between the Dimitrov of old and the one that stunned a hugely pro-Federer crowd, perceptiveness and patience. He knew his opponent was struggling, he knew he did not have to swing for the fences. He did not have to go for the kill, because he knew the kill would come to him.

It came in rapid fashion in the fifth set as Dimitrov secured a 3-6 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2 triumph that will go down as one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. It was a result virtually nobody expected from the world number 78 but, regardless of what he does from here in New York, Dimitrov's shock defeat of Federer will make sure nobody doubts his ability to deliver on the grand slam stage again.

Tom Watson celebrates his 70th birthday on Wednesday, a notable number for a golfer who appeared to defy time a decade ago at Turnberry.

The American won eight majors in a hugely successful career, but perhaps it is the one that got away that remains so fresh in many memories.

At The Open in 2009, Watson rolled back the years to produce a performance that delighted those watching on, both those lucky to be there at the course but also around the world on television.

To mark his notable milestone, we look back at a tournament that will never be forgotten...

Fairy tales have enthralled, entertained and educated us for centuries.

Whether it be a lesson in morality, a magical escape or a triumph for good over evil, fairy tales have the exceptional ability to let us escape from reality.

It is a formula that succeeds time and time again. The problem is when it comes to sport, however, the lines become blurred and there is no one formula to follow.

Sport has no room for sentimentality, no time for history, no interest in assuaging our desires for the feel-good narrative. There is not always a lesson to be taught, nor always a battle between good and bad.

Just ask Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, who were part of a real-life fable that will live forever in golfing folklore.

Once upon a time, Watson was considered among the best players on the planet. At the peak of his powers in the 1970s and early 80s there was a magic and aura about the American great that resulted in eight major championships.

But, as with any great sports star, time eventually caught up with the great champion, which is what made the story of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry so special.

By this point of his career, Watson was 59. His last major success was back in 1983, when he clinched a fifth Open at Royal Birkdale.

And yet, despite pre-tournament odds of 1500-1 and hip replacement surgery just nine months prior, Watson was on the brink of the most remarkable of victories, one that would have made him the oldest major winner of all time.

Even when Watson rolled back the years with an opening-round 65 that left him one off the lead, it was hard to imagine what we were witnessing was anything other than a nostalgic throwback to a bygone era.

Through 36 holes, though, there was an ever-increasing feeling of 'what if?' A gritty level-par round in tricky Ayrshire conditions left Watson tied for the lead. He couldn't... could he?

By the end of Saturday - which yielded a one-over 71, enough to take the outright lead - the most far-fetched dream was becoming a scarcely believable reality.

A couple of bogeys early on the Sunday hinted that the rigours of major golf on a 59-year-old's body had finally caught up. But even as Ross Fisher and then Mathew Goggin moved ahead, Watson refused to slip quietly into the background.

As the day progressed, there was drama that even Martin Scorsese in his full, creative flow could not have scripted.

While Lee Westwood played himself in and out of contention, Cink climbed the leaderboard and rolled in a 15-footer at the last to join Watson on two under and crank up the pressure. However, Watson replied to the situation with a gain of his own at 17, meaning he was just four strokes away from creating history.

Yet the fairy-tale nature of the weekend was replaced by the cruel reality of professional sport. A crisp eight iron sailed over the green, while his third back onto the putting surface left a tricky 10-footer for victory. The putt, as would be the case for Watson's efforts over the weekend, came up just short.

There was still the lottery of a play-off, yet the grind of the previous four days finally took their toll as Cink made a major breakthrough in a one-sided extra four holes.

So near, yet so far. For Watson, there was little solace to take from a herculean effort that had warmed the hearts of those watching, both at the venue and on television.

"It's a great disappointment. It [losing] tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take," he reflected after the final round.

For Cink, too, the gravitas of what had transpired on that fateful final day was tough to comprehend.

"I'm a little intimidated by this piece of hardware here," Cink admitted following his win. "There are a lot of emotions running through my mind and heart and I'm as proud as I can be to be here with this.

"It was fun watching Tom all week and I'm sure I speak for all the rest of the people too."

It's easy to feel for Cink. The 2009 Open was the crowning glory of his career but he is somewhat the forgotten champion, such was the narrative that played out around him.

Since lifting the Claret Jug, Cink has failed to win another trophy on the PGA or European Tour.

But this is where those blurred fairy-tale lines come into play. This was never a story of good versus evil, never a tale of morality.

More just an epic event encapsulating sporting theatre, with a dream ending never getting to see the light of day. Certainly from Watson's point of view, it was the greatest fairy tale never told.

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" Watson said.

It sure would have been, Tom, it sure would have been.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.