The talk in the NFL right now is about who is not there rather than who is.

In MLB, teams are starting to battle injuries and, in the NBA, a young team just locked up a key piece officially.

All that and more this week from the United States.

 

1. Holdout season

Let's be honest, NFL training camps aren't about who shows up anymore, they're about who is staying home. Le'Veon Bell didn't show up to Pittsburgh Steelers camp last season and missed the entire year because he refused to play under the franchise tag. That has to be in the back of everyone's minds this year as key players continue to stay away from their teams.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is officially holding out for a new deal, Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott wasn't on the plane with the team camp on Thursday and Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones also has yet to show up to any offseason activities with Kansas City.

Will any of these men be brave enough to do what Bell did and miss some of the season? We shall see.

 

2. Taylor Lewan's start of season in question

The Tennessee Titans are built on their offensive line, but one key piece may be gone to start the season.

Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan apologised to the Titans as he faces a four-game suspension after failing a drugs test. Lewan insists he never knowingly took a banned supplement.

This is huge to Tennessee's start to the year as quarterback Marcus Mariota has already dealt with a lot of injuries and will need all the protection he can get.

3. MLB injuries piling up

It's that time of year in baseball. As the 100-game mark passes, more little injuries start to pop up and playoff hopefuls have already been hit leading up to the trade deadline.

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is out with a groin injury for a while, Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell could be out for a month after undergoing surgery on his elbow and Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo could miss a month with a hamate bone injury.

All three of these players' teams have playoff aspirations and they will need each man going into the playoffs. It's tough to get hurt now, but missing a month in July is far better than missing one in September.

 

4. Jamal Murray extended

The Denver Nuggets have one of the best teams in basketball and they secured their future this week by officially announcing they have signed Jamal Murray to a five-year max extension.

The deal is reportedly for $170million and will make him the highest-paid Canadian basketball player in NBA history, according to TSN.

The Nuggets finished second in the Western Conference last season and will have some of the best continuity of any team in the conference as they bring back a great young core which includes Murray and Nikola Jokic.

Daniele De Rossi has extended his 18-year professional career by joining Boca Juniors in Argentina.

The former Italy international left hometown club Roma at the end of last season after learning his contract would not be renewed.

Revered at Stadio Olimpico, where he debuted in October 2001, the 36-year-old De Rossi will prolong his playing days at the equally iconic La Bombonera after signing a deal on Thursday.

He arrives in Buenos Aires as a World Cup winner who won Coppa Italia twice and the Supercoppa Italiana with the Giallorossi.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the dependable, highly decorated and vastly experienced midfielder Boca have gained.

616 - De Rossi played 616 times for Roma in all competitions, albeit still 170 short of the club's record appearance maker Francesco Totti.

61 - The midfielder has, however, featured in more Champions League/European Cup matches than any other Roma player. His tally of 61 is four more than Totti managed.

459 - In total, De Rossi featured in 459 Serie A games for Roma.

249 - With De Rossi in their side, Roma won 249 league matches. They lost on 99 occasions and had 111 draws.

63 - De Rossi scored 63 goals for Roma in his 18-year spell in the first-team – 43 of those were in Serie A, with 13 in European competitions.

117 - Only three players have won more Italy caps than De Rossi's 117. They are Gianluigi Buffon (176), Fabio Cannavaro (136) and Paolo Maldini (126).

21 - De Rossi found the net against 21 of the 40 teams he faced in Serie A. He also managed 21 international goals.

4 - Chievo were De Rossi's favourite opponents when it came to getting himself on the scoresheet, as the holding midfielder netted four times in 24 league appearances against them.

355 - Only two players in Roma's history – De Rossi and Totti – have made at least 500 appearances for the club. De Rossi also played alongside the forward 355 times in Serie A.

Robbie Farah is expected to join the NRL's 300-appearances club when Wests Tigers face Newcastle Knights this weekend.

The 35-year-old will become the 39th player to reach the milestone if he features for Wests at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday.

Newcastle start the 19th round in eighth place, but they will be hoping to get back on track after losing three in a row.

We take a look at the week's key statistics, courtesy of Opta.

Thursday

Cronulla Sharks (7-10) v North Queensland Cowboys (7-10)

- The Sharks have won six of their last eight NRL games against the Cowboys and are bidding for a third successive success after scoring 70 points in the past two victories.

- No other forward has made more line breaks than Cronulla's Briton Nikora, who has managed 11 this season.

Friday

Newcastle Knights (8-9) v Wests Tigers (7-10)

- Farah scored a try and provided an assist in his last game against the Knights.

- His team-mate Luke Brooks has been in fine form against the Knights having been directly involved in 10 tries (four tries and six assists) in his previous eight appearances.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (12-5) v St George Illawarra Dragons (6-11)

- After a run of just three wins in 17 against the Dragons, the Rabbitohs have now won 12 of their last 15 meetings.

- South Sydney's Cameron Murray has scored the opening try on four occasions in 2019, the joint-most of any player along with Sydney Roosters star Latrell Mitchell.


Saturday

Parramatta Eels (9-8) v New Zealand Warriors (7-1-9)

- The Warriors are bidding to avoid defeat for a fifth straight game away from home, a sequence they last managed in 2002.

- However, the Eels have won five of their six NRL matches at Bankwest Stadium by an average margin of 22 points per game.

Gold Coast Titans (4-13) v Brisbane Broncos (7-1-9)

- Bryce Cartwright is set to play his 100th NRL game for Gold Coast, who have won two of their last three games against the Broncos.

- Brisbane's Tevita Pangai Junior has made 48 offloads this season, five more than any other player.

Melbourne Storm (15-2) v Manly Sea Eagles (10-7)

- Melbourne claimed a thrilling one-point victory in the last clash between the two in 2018, the fourth time in the past five matches they have been victorious.

- The Storm's back three have made only 36 errors in 2019, five fewer than the back three of any other team in the NRL.


Sunday

Canterbury Bulldogs (5-12) v Sydney Roosters (11-6)

- While the Roosters have scored 11 opening tries this season, the Bulldogs (five) have the fewest in the NRL.

- Sydney are on a five-game winning sequence against the Bulldogs and have won nine of the last 11.

Penrith Panthers (9-8) v Canberra Raiders (11-6)

- Penrith will equal a club record set in 2003 if they can beat Canberra and record an eighth straight win.

- Brent Naden has scored six tries in as many games since making his NRL debut in round 12. Only Josh Dugan and Ken Maumalo (seven each) have touched down more often in that time.

Just 12 months out from the 2020 Olympic Games, sport fans can look forward to seeing the world's top established athletes in action in Tokyo.

But stars will also be born when eyes are trained on Japan this time next year.

And a number of young prospects who will still be teenagers when the Olympics rolls around can already have their sights set on making a mark.

We look at five such talents to watch in Tokyo.

 

ARIARNE TITMUS

Titmus will only be 19 when the Games get under way, but she made waves at this year's World Aquatics Championships, beating the great Katie Ledecky in the 400 metre freestyle in Gwangju.

The Australian holds the short-course world record for the 400m freestyle and won four medals, three of them gold, at last year's Commonwealth Games.

With such pedigree at such a young age, Titmus should be firmly in contention for multiple medals in the pool.

SHAN LIN

China could have another diving superstar in their midst in the form of Lin, who starred at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games with victories in the 10m platform and 3m springboard.

She won world championship gold in the mixed team event in Gwangju this year and if she continues in this vein then plenty more medals will be coming the 17-year-old's way in Tokyo.

 

TOMOKAZU HARIMOTO

The hopes of the home nation in table tennis may rest on the young shoulders of Harimoto.

That should not daunt the 16-year-old, however, with Harimoto having already established himself as one of the world's best.

Ranked fourth in the world, Harimoto won gold at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals last year and may take some stopping in his pursuit of Olympic glory with the home crowd behind him.

 

TAKEFUSA KUBO

Another who will be able to rely on the support of the home fans is Real Madrid's Japan international footballer Kubo.

The winger was previously on Barcelona's books, predictably encouraging comparisons to Lionel Messi, but he joined their great rivals Madrid from FC Tokyo in June.

Although he is likely to play for their second string, Kubo starred for Japan at the Copa America and then featured for Madrid's first team in the International Champions Cup.

With the Samurai Blue preparing a serious assault on the Olympics, Kubo - 19 this time next year - is set to be a key figure.

JAGGER EATON

Skateboarding will make its Olympic bow next year, and America's Eaton will have his sights set on making history with a medal in Tokyo.

The youngest ever X Games competitor having made his debut at 11, Eaton won silver in the street event in Minneapolis and Oslo in 2018 and is a genuine contender to go one better in Japan and become one of the first Olympic skateboarding champions.

With just a year to go until the Olympics gets under way in Tokyo, athletes from all over the world already have gold medals in their sights.

Many are well on course to mount a strong challenge for glory, while others may consider themselves a long way from where they need to be.

With 12 months to go until the opening ceremony, excitement is building and over 3.2 million tickets have been sold.

We take a form check on five of the stars who could prove the big draws in Japan.

 

SIMONE BILES

Superstar Biles will retire from gymnastics after attempting to add to her medal tally in Tokyo.

Fitness permitting, it would be a surprise if the 22-year-old does not increase her haul of four Olympic golds and one bronze medal.

The American declared she will quit as "I feel like my body is kind of falling apart".

Biles put on another masterclass to win the women’s all-around title at the GK U.S. Classic last Saturday and eyebrows will be raised if she does not achieve more podium-topping success in her swan-song Games.

ADAM PEATY

Exceptional British swimmer Peaty continues to hit new heights, shattering world records and winning gold medals galore.

It was mission accomplished in the 24-year-old's quest to achieve 'Project 56' at the World Championships in Gwangju this month when he became the first person to dip under the 57-second barrier for the 100 metres breaststroke.

That record swim of 56.88secs ticked off one of Peaty's biggest goals and he has by no means finished yet.

The Englishman has raised his total of World Championships titles to six and the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion will be expected to be on the top step of the podium at least once in Tokyo.

 

CASTER SEMENYA

The Olympics might not be at the forefront of all-conquering South African athlete Semenya's mind at the moment.

Semenya has endured a complicated, drawn-out saga in a case involving world governing body the IAAF which has raised worries for her career.

The double Olympic 800 metres champion is awaiting a Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland verdict over whether she can continue to run against women over two laps of the track.

Semenya has long been challenging the IAAF's decision to impose restrictions on testosterone levels in women competing at distances ranging from 400m to one mile. The Swiss court has suspended that restriction for now.

Semenya's testosterone count is high but naturally occurring. It could see her sidelined if she refuses to take medication to reduce her level, unless the courts come down on her side.

The 28-year-old has not let the ongoing case affect her performances, setting the fastest 800m time by a woman on American soil of one minute and 55.70 seconds at the Diamond League meeting in Stanford last month.

 

CHRISTIAN COLEMAN

What is certain at the Games next year is that the men's 100m athletics gold is up for grabs, in the absence of Usain Bolt.

Bolt retired after the World Championships in London two years ago with eight Olympic gold medals to his name.

It is not the Jamaican legend's old rival Justin Gatlin - Olympic champion in 2004 - who is rated as the favourite to take Bolt's crown next year.

World champion Gatlin's fellow American Christian Coleman appears to be the man to beat, leading the way in the Diamond League and establishing himself as the top-ranked male sprinter on the planet.

 

RORY MCILROY

McIlroy was criticised for stating he would not watch the return of golf to the Olympic calendar three years ago in Rio, after opting out of the competition.

The four-time major champion cited the Zika virus as his reason for not teeing off in Brazil, where Justin Rose won the first Olympic golf event for 112 years.

However, Northern Irishman McIlroy stated he could not pass up the opportunity to be an Olympian next time around.

The former world number one will be hoping it is a case of 'what a difference a year makes' in terms of his summer form, having failed to make the cut at The Open in his homeland at Royal Portrush last week.

The Open Championship concluded on Sunday with Shane Lowry as its hugely popular and deserving winner.

Royal Portrush excelled as the host course and Northern Ireland revelled in having the world's oldest major back on its shores.

Omnisport had a team of reporters at the Dunluce Links covering the 148th edition of the historic tournament from all angles.

And here they pick their best moments, the players who impressed, and those who did not...

BEST MOMENT ON THE COURSE

Russell Greaves: You can wander around a golf course during tournament play without actually seeing many shots of note. While you hear cheers and gasps from elsewhere, the action that unfolds in front of you can prove quite unremarkable. So I considered myself fortunate to catch Tony Finau's super chip-in birdie to conclude his third round. 

Peter Hanson: I can barely remember a crowd as raucous as the one at Portrush. And the sight of throngs of supporters rushing the ropes to try to catch a glimpse of Lowry's winning putt at the 18th is one that will live long in the memory. A special moment at a special tournament.

Joe Moore: Watching Rory McIlroy come down the 18th during round two. After sending his second shot left of the green only a miraculous chip shot would have seen him progress to the weekend. But despite the long odds, the expectant crowd all rose to their feet as he made the final walk to his ball.

 

BEST MOMENT OFF THE COURSE 

RG: The fans and the atmosphere in general made this tournament greater than the sum of its parts, which is substantial enough in its own right. The course was such an enjoyable place to be. The crowds were noisy but respectful and the scenes on Sunday were just joyous.

PH: There were several things to love about this tournament, but I think my personal favourite away from the action was listening to the reaction Shane Lowry received after going four clear after Saturday's play. The atmosphere was more akin to a football match with the Portrush fans singing his name and making a real noise around the course. Lowry was grinning from ear to ear when he entered the media room, it was a truly special occasion.

JM: After Shane Lowry hit a weekend-low 63 on Saturday at The Open, Portrush was buzzing, and that all came to a head when he made his way back to the media area to do his interviews, the crowds built around the fenced-off area and what seemed like a thousand people chanted constantly for 20 minutes.

 

STAR MAN

RG: I'm not sure if this counts - but it has to be mentioned - Royal Portrush was the star for me. The course and its surrounding area won me over from the start. The enthusiasm of the locals to have this historic tournament back in Northern Ireland after 68 years was infectious. It won't be another seven decades before the prize of the Claret Jug is contested on these shores again.

PH: I mean, the answer here is obvious; Shane Lowry was simply astounding here this week and the fans were fervent in their support. But further down the leaderboard, there must be an honourable mention for young Robert MacIntyre. The 22-year-old Scot was making his Open debut, yet he defied any suggestion of the occasion overawing him. In contention after the first round, MacIntyre finished the tournament at five under - not bad for an Open first-timer, not bad at all.

JM: For me, it's Tommy Fleetwood. Despite not having the fairytale ending on the final day, he was consistent throughout the competition. If a couple of his early chances at birdie found the hole in the final round the pressure would've been on Shane Lowry. It's safe to say that it won't be long until Fleetwood has a major of his own.

 

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

RG: Rory McIlroy came down the 18th on Friday needing a birdie to complete a stunning revival and make the cut after his abysmal opening-round 79. I had a spot on the media viewing gallery at the back of the last green and the sense of anticipation from the packed grandstand was palpable. Something remarkable may have been about to happen... but it didn't. He pulled his approach left and couldn't make a frankly unmakeable chip. The dream died and seeing a crestfallen McIlroy somewhat dampened the mood.

PH: There was only one place I wanted to be just after 10am on Thursday morning. On the first tee, watching Rory McIlroy in front of an expectant home crowd. The reception that met McIlroy was deafening. What followed was the stuff of nightmares, an out-of-bounds tee shot cracking a fan's phone and setting the tone for a quadruple-bogey eight. The applause as McIlroy trudged to the second was almost apologetic. It was not the moment anyone here had imagined.

JM: Tiger Woods. Since winning the Masters he hasn't had the best of times but there was a part of me that thought he could do something at Portrush. I didn't believe he'd win the tournament but a top-10 finish seemed possible. Unfortunately, his injury got the better of him and he struggled to hit the ball straight off the tee, as he missed the cut.

 

FAVOURITE HOLE

RG: Those pictures you saw in the build-up to The Open of the Claret Jug sat proudly on a lush green with a stunning coastal backdrop were shot on the fifth hole. It is the most scenic part of a beautiful course. That putting surface gives way to cliffs which rise from a sandy beach, with the North Atlantic Ocean beyond.

PH: There is so much to love about this course, every hole is a picture in itself. But for me, the 16th is the best. Aptly named 'Calamity Corner', so it proved for McIlroy on that fateful first day as he three-putted inside five feet on this devilish 263-yard par three. Birdie chances were few and far between on a hole with, as Portrush's official website itself puts it, a "yawning chasm" to clear.  

JM: It was inevitable more than one of us would opt for the fifth! By no means the toughest hole on the course, statistically playing under-par for the four rounds, but the views from the green of the beach and coastline were simply spectacular.

On The Open's first visit to Northern Ireland since 1951, Shane Lowry became the latest in a string of Irish golfers who have enjoyed recent success in a major championship.

Lowry's stunning six-shot triumph at Royal Portrush on Sunday represented the 10th major victory by a player from either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland in the last 12 years.

The new Open champion, who hails from County Westmeath in the Republic, follows in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington, the winner of The Open in 2007 and 2008 and also the US PGA Championship victor in the second of those seasons.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has had three major champions in the past decade, with Rory McIlroy winning four titles and triumphs also coming the way of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

Since the start of 2007, the year Harrington first tasted Open glory, only the United States - with half of the 52 titles since then - can boast more major wins than either Northern Ireland or the Republic, and Lowry denied America a clean sweep in 2019.

We look at how many major winners have come from each country in that period.

 

Major wins by country since 2007:

26 - UNITED STATES - Brooks Koepka (4), Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth (both 3), Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson (all 2), Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland.

6 - NORTHERN IRELAND - Rory McIlroy (4), Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke.

4 - REPUBLIC OF IRELAND - Padraig Harrington (3), Shane Lowry; SOUTH AFRICA - Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els.

2 - ARGENTINA - Angel Cabrera (2); GERMANY - Martin Kaymer (2); ENGLAND - Justin Rose, Danny Willett, AUSTRALIA - Adam Scott, Jason Day.

1 - SOUTH KOREA - Y.E. Yang; SWEDEN - Henrik Stenson; SPAIN - Sergio Garcia; ITALY - Francesco Molinari.

The 148th Open Championship came to its rain-drenched climax on Sunday as Shane Lowry claimed the Claret Jug.

It concluded a wonderful week at Royal Portrush and Lowry's victory thwarted an American clean sweep of the majors.

That an Irishman triumphed on the island of Ireland certainly raised the noise levels on the Dunluce Links.

And while the final-day field battled the elements, Omnisport's reporters on the ground were attempting to stay dry and pick out a few unseen tidbits for the last instalment of The Open Daily Diary.

TWO GOING ON 30

After Lowry prevailed, he hugged runner-up Tommy Fleetwood, but that wasn't the most heart-warming sight on the final green.

That came when Lowry's two-year-old daughter came onto the putting surface and was swept up in her father's arms.

It is a scene Lowry hopes to repeat as he expects to be making many more Open Championship visits with his little girl in tow.

"Look, I'm going to be coming back on another 27 Opens to play," he said. "She's going to be nearly 30 when I play my last one."

MIND THE ROPE, LADS

There's a wonderful vantage point midway down the first, where you are pretty much in the landing zone, can see the players hit off the tee and watch them on the greens.

One of our reporters was stationed here early on Sunday to take in some of the morning starters, and as ever there was an enthusiastic group creeping ever forward to try to get the best view possible.

"Lads, this is the second time - stay behind the white line," one steward warned as the group took the ropes a few feet inside the out of bounds line."

"Sorry mate, we did help you find those two balls, though," one replied.

"That's true... fair deal." Compromise is lovely.

YOUR WORK HERE IS DONE

There's an odd experience to be had on the final day of an Open if you choose to walk a few holes in reverse order once the final group has passed through.

Wandering from the third back towards the media centre, having caught Lowry and Fleetwood card a par and a bogey respectively, you see the holes where the work is done for the week.

The second and first, their fairways still lined with boundary ropes, lay dormant, with no spectators at their side. The tee boxes waiting patiently for players who will not arrive.

This Omnisport reporter found it a little bit emotional, but was stirred from his sombre reflections by a huge roar from down on the fourth green. A birdie for Lowry! And another hole had served its purpose.

MEDIA LEAKS IN THE MIXED ZONE

Omnisport covered all parts of The Open at Royal Portrush, including the mixed zone where players chat to reporters after a round.

The heavy rain was causing particular concern for our man on the ground in the interview area when water started to make an unwelcome appearance inside the tent.

Clearly he needed to adopt the spirit of those hardy souls in the Fan Village who saw the saturated ground as a prime spot for a bit of diving, with several of them sliding face down across the floor.

One word was prevalent ever since Shane Lowry surged into contention at The Open this weekend. Oakmont.

"Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger," Lowry said after moving into a co-share of the lead on Friday.

"I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I'll be better. It definitely won't affect me, what happened in Oakmont."

Amid the chanting, raucous cheers and sheer euphoria that greeted Lowry walking off the 18th green at the conclusion of the greatest round of his life at Royal Portrush on Saturday, there was an unsettling sense of deja vu due to his four-stroke advantage.

Three years ago, Lowry held the same lead going into the final 18 holes of the U.S. Open. He had one hand on the trophy, a major breakthrough in his grasp.

Yet in golf things are never that simple and that fateful Sunday just outside of Pittsburgh was dragged back to the fore for Lowry this week.

The pressure of holding a significant lead in a major for the first time was evident. Lowry never recovered from a difficult start at Oakmont and struggled to a six-over 76, eventually finishing three shots adrift of Dustin Johnson – who himself had to endure a nervy penalty-shot controversy to win what is to date his only victory in one of golf's big four.

However, at Portrush, Lowry only fleetingly betrayed his insistence that no mental scars remained from the most painful of experiences. A wayward drive down the first and an approach into the greenside bunker leading to an opening bogey would surely have had his heart rate skyrocketing.

Lowry is a different man to three years ago, though. He has a young daughter, Iris. His priorities and perspective have changed.

"If I'm sitting here this time tomorrow evening it will be one of the biggest things that ever happened to me, there's no denying that," Lowry commented in a news conference on Saturday.

"But I just felt at the time in Oakmont my golf meant a lot more to me back then than it does now. I'm not saying that it doesn't mean everything, it's my career. But I've got certain things in my life that make it different. I've got family now. No matter what, my family will be waiting for me."

It has been a long journey back to this point. After missing the cut at last year's Open, for the fourth time in succession, Lowry slumped to a ranking of 92nd. 

Following the first round at Carnoustie 12 months ago, there was a pretty blunt declaration from Lowry.

"I'm not enjoying my golf at the minute, and my golf is not really enjoying me and that's the way it is, and it's hard to take," he said.

There was a recognition change was needed. Lowry split with long-time caddie Dermot Byrne in September and there has been a huge upturn in fortunes with new man on the bag Brian 'Bo' Martin, who grew up around two hours away from Portrush in Ardglass.

Victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, after which an emotional Lowry spoke about a "tough couple of years on the golf course", preceded top-10s at the RBC Heritage, US PGA Championship and Canadian Open.

"With Bo I find I play golf now like there's no consequences, you know what I mean? You need to hit shots like there's no consequence," explained Lowry.

"What's the worst thing that can happen? If I swing the club here and hit the ball, no matter where it goes, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? That's kind of the mindset he brings into it. That's when I play my best. That's the way I am. I think we gel together nicely that way.

"I think as a golfer you have such a long career, well, hopefully you have such a long career, I've been [a professional for] 10 years now and it's just a rollercoaster.

"I think the reason I'm so good mentally now is I feel like I know how to take the downs."

There was no bigger down in Lowry's career than Oakmont three years ago. Now, standing a Champion Golfer after an astounding six-shot victory, there is no greater high.

That it should happen at Portrush, an Irishman winning on Irish soil, makes it only more special.

It was for so long unthinkable the tournament could be held here as the days of the Northern Ireland conflict, a period of history known as The Troubles, devastatingly split the country.

But this is a different time and there was a wonderful buzz around Portrush as home hero Rory McIlroy prepared to begin the week as one of the favourites for glory.

McIlroy, of course, did not even make the weekend and it was instead left to Lowry, from County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland, to slip under the radar and earn the acclaim of an adoring crowd.

He will, at some point after what will no doubt be a hefty celebration, go to bed with the Claret Jug, fresh in the knowledge the demons of Oakmont have been truly banished.

Shane Lowry held his nerve magnificently under pressure to claim his first major title at The Open.

The Irishman secured a hugely popular success at Royal Portrush, finishing six shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood after following up his sensational third-round 63 with a one-over 72 that was arguably even more impressive given the challenging weather conditions and the magnitude of Sunday's final 18 holes.

Lowry had begun the fourth round leading by four at 16 under, with Fleetwood his nearest challenger.

We look at how the last day unfolded.

 

1:47pm BST - The final pairing of Lowry and Fleetwood tee off in rising winds, with Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes having already gone out of bounds on the first. Lowry and Fleetwood both avoid that horrible fate, although the Irishman's tee shot is a nervous one into the rough on the left.

2pm - Having struggled badly on the opening hole, finding the bunker with his second and then coming up short with both his third and fourth shots, Lowry shows resilience to drain a six-footer for his bogey. That means his lead is only cut by one stroke, with Fleetwood having missed a presentable birdie opportunity.

2:26pm - Lowry's lead becomes four strokes once more as Fleetwood's cold start with the putter continues, the Englishman missing a short par-saver on the third. Meanwhile, Lee Westwood picks up a shot at the fifth - having earlier pitched in for birdie at the third - to trail by five.

2:39pm - The leader stretches his advantage over Fleetwood to five, birdieing the fourth after a fine approach shot. In the penultimate group, Brooks Koepka makes a spectacular eagle on the fifth. However, that comes after he had bogeyed each of the first four holes. At seven under for the tournament, he is nine behind Lowry.

2:51pm - As conditions worsen at Portrush, Fleetwood can only birdie the fifth despite leaving himself a fairly short eagle putt. Lowry matches his partner's three to reach 17 under and remain five clear.

3:22pm - Fleetwood gets up and down from a greenside bunker at the seventh to save par, but Lowry makes a tap-in birdie, his third gain in four holes. At 18 under, he leads by six and is in command of the tournament.

3:57pm - After he and Fleetwood had each bogeyed the eighth amid a burst of torrential rain, Lowry gives up another shot at the ninth to turn in a level-par 36. A fine up-and-down sees Fleetwood end the outward nine with a par and sit five off the pace, with Westwood two further back after a bogey at 11. Everyone else appears to be out of the running.

4:31pm - Lowry's wobble continues as he follows up a gutsy par save at the start of his back nine with a third bogey in four holes at 11. However, he remains five clear of Fleetwood, whose putter let him down from close range at the 10th. Westwood's race is run as he slides back into the group at seven under, eight off the pace.

4:51pm - Fleetwood reduces his deficit to four shots for the first time since the third hole, courtesy of a two-putt birdie at the par-five 12th.

5:20pm - Despite making his fifth bogey of the day at the 14th, Lowry finds himself five clear once more as Fleetwood drops two shots. After finding a bunker off the tee and heavy rough with his second, the Englishman looks to have left himself with too much to do.

5:32pm - Lowry makes a brilliant birdie at the 15th to move further clear, extending his lead to six with just three holes to play. The crowd favourite celebrates with a determined fist pump.

6:09pm - The crowd at Royal Portrush goes wild as a beaming Lowry finishes with his third par in a row to complete a round of 71 and triumph by six strokes.

There was one name on everybody's lips at the start of the week at Royal Portrush - Rory McIlroy.

Cast into a leading role he seemed eager to shun, McIlroy winning The Open Championship on home soil was the story everybody wanted to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

Too bad, then, that he shot a quadruple-bogey eight on the very first hole to slide from pre-tournament favourite to a likely bet to miss the cut.

The incomplete miracle of his stunning second-round revival aside, McIlroy's race was effectively run inside 15 minutes of madness on Thursday.

It left a void at the Dunluce Links that was initially filled by compatriot Darren Clarke, the 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year getting home in even par on an opening day when he had the honour of teeing off first.

But then he too fell before the weekend, a gut-wrenching triple bogey on the last ending his fun.

At least Graeme McDowell made it to the business end of things, giving the sell-out crowd a home hope to lend their significant backing to.

It was no more than a consolation, for sure, but it was still a long way short of filling the McIlroy-shaped hole that had been left by the four-time major winner's shock exit, because McDowell was not threatening to win it.

And, worse still, after two rounds there was an American sharing the leaderboard summit as J.B. Holmes primed himself to complete the first US clean sweep of the majors since 1982.

Something had to be done to keep the Claret Jug a little closer to home. Step forward Shane Lowry, the man with whom Holmes was unwillingly sharing that lead.

A couple of rounds of 67 had the Irishman in the hunt for a maiden major. Here was Royal Portrush's new leading man. 

On Saturday, he lived up to that billing - and indeed went some way beyond it - with a round of golf that he may never surpass.

It read on the scorecard as a blemish-free 63 - impressive enough even by the raw data - but the way in which he came to sign for that number was breathtaking.

He hit 17 of the 18 greens in regulation and when the chasing pack were threatening he accelerated once more, nailing birdies at 15, 16 and 17 despite having made no gains on those holes over the first two rounds.

That run, including a mighty close call with another birdie at the last, worked the Portrush crowd into a frenzy. Where 24 hours prior there had been sympathetic applause for McIlroy's closing par, which sealed his fate, Lowry's tap-in four was met by a deafening roar.

It left him four shots clear heading into Sunday and ‘Lowry!’ chants rang out around the course, which was again packed to capacity when he returned for the final round.

Although he had let a four-stroke margin vanish in a major before, Lowry refused to wilt in abysmal conditions, just as the fans refused to let their spirits be dampened by the wind and rain that so often feel obliged to make their presence known at an Open.

After a 68-year absence from these shores, the return of golf's oldest major to Northern Ireland was never going to be a quiet affair, but Lowry made damn sure of that fact.

He gave the crowd - be they from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, or frankly anywhere on the planet - something to root for; he gave us that story to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

Now there is a different name on everyone's lips at Royal Portrush – and that name is Shane Lowry.

Believe it or not NBA free agency is still happening, even if there are not any All-Star calibre players remaining on the market.

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard are all spoken for. But there are still players available who can make a difference.

Let's look at some of the top role players for hire this offseason.

 

Carmelo Anthony

No one really knows what Anthony plans on doing. The 35-year-old forward only played in 10 games for the Houston Rockets in 2018-19 before stepping away after the team decided he was not a good fit. He was later traded to the Chicago Bulls and released.

Some wonder if Anthony is just washed up and should retire, but he can still have some value as a spark plug off the bench. It is just a matter of whether he is willing to accept that role.

The 10-time All-Star has a career scoring average of 24.0 points per game and averaged more than 20 points for his first 14 seasons in the league. His already questionable efficiency has dropped in recent years, but plenty of teams need firepower from their reserves.

Everybody shipped Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers after he was released by the Bulls. But that did not pan out. Nevertheless, it is not crazy to think a team will take a chance on signing a consistent double-digit scorer for the league minimum.

Thabo Sefolosha

Sefolosha can be plugged into basically any line-up, making him one of the best catches available.

The three-and-D wing has length at 6-7 and can pester opposing teams on the ball or off it. He shot 43.6 per cent from beyond the arc with the Utah Jazz last season. However, his durability could be looked at as a major concern, as he has played more than 70 games just five times in his 13-year career.

Sefolosha consistently demonstrates his skillset and knows exactly what role he is brought in to fill, regardless of schemes.

Kenneth Faried

Whoever signs Faried will get the ultimate hustle guy.

The 6-8 big man is undersized but can bring an influx of energy to any line-up when he is on the court. Faried catches lobs, blocks shots and grabs rebounds with an intensity that is rarely matched by the opposition.

Faried did not make any noise as a reserve of the Brooklyn Nets last season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds. Once Brooklyn waived him, he tallied 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds on a significantly better Rockets team.

Faried is a product of his environment and plenty of teams could benefit from his grit and relentless effort. He is called "The Manimal" for a reason.

There was little time to stop and take stock on a glorious day at Royal Portrush as The Open Championship cranked up a notch in round three.

Bright skies and low winds were the order of the day in Northern Ireland, a stark contrast to the heavy rain that is forecast to provide a huge challenge for the leaders on Sunday.

On a moving day when Shane Lowry took Portrush apart to establish a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood, our Omnisport team were out and about on the ground once again.

Here, we bring you stories you may have missed from Portrush.


COVERING THE OPEN IS A GIANT TASK

An Open Championship is an absolute privilege to cover for a journalist, but it's also hard work!

The days start early, finish late and are filled with any number of tasks from writing stories, interviewing, shooting video, talking on the radio and television...

If you're struggling to feel any sympathy for the lot of the many journalists at Royal Portrush this week, the revelation that one of Omnisport's reporters found time for a spot of sightseeing will certainly not change your mind.

Early on Saturday, said reporter headed for the Giant's Causeway to take in the stunning views around this world-famous tourist attraction that sits just a few miles from the golf course.

The tens of thousands of interlocking basalt columns form a spectacle so grand and beautiful that it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BLACK CAPS CWC LOSS STILL RANKLES WITH FOX FAN

When roving the course, you get the opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life.

One of the Omnisport team was involved in a three-way chat with an Indian man and New Zealand woman, who were there mainly supporting Shubhankar Sharma and Ryan Fox.

The conversation briefly turned to cricket, where the Black Caps supporter was adamant the Kiwis should not have lost the World Cup, which incredibly was less than a week ago.

"Our own countryman stole it!" she said, in reference to New Zealand-born Ben Stokes dramatically and accidentally deflecting the ball for four additional runs at a crucial juncture.

Sport hurts, kids...

PORTRUSH LOCAL SHOWS THE WAY

Often after the cut at a major championship, the field is left with an odd number of players, meaning one poor soul is scheduled to tee off alone.

But usually the said player - on this occasion Paul Waring - will play with a marker, and Royal Portrush head professional Gary McNeill had that honour on Saturday.

And he enjoyed a moment to savour at the 17th hole when he drained a monster putt in front of an appreciative local crowd.

SHANE LOVES LOVE ISLAND...

One of the more popular TV shows in the United Kingdom right now is Love Island, a show where young, single males and females spend time in a villa looking for love... and it's not to everyone's taste.

But for the Open Championship leader it's the ideal way to unwind after a round on the course.

"I'd be lying if I said Love Island wasn't on [in the house]," Lowry said, to laughter among the press pack. "I do the same things as any other person [to relax], I lay back and watch on TV. "

Each to their own, Shane...

Minus two of their superstars for different reasons and with a defiant coach facing an uncertain future, it is tough to know quite what to expect from Australia in the Rugby Championship.

What is clear, however, is that the Wallabies will be pleased to have seen the back of 2018, when Michael Cheika’s side won just four of their 13 Tests.

A dismal year began with a series defeat on home soil to Ireland, included a first loss to Argentina in their own backyard since 1983 and climaxed with a 37-18 thumping at Twickenham against Eddie Jones' England.

As if results were not bad enough, off-field issues have left them without key components.

Israel Folau, one of the team’s leading names and a certainty for the Rugby World Cup, had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia following anti-homosexual posts on social media. A hearing in May found him guilty of a high-level breach of the governing body's code of conduct, just three months after he had signed a lucrative long-term deal to remain in rugby union.

"The World Cup is a big target of mine this year and I believe this Wallabies group can go a long way if we keep on improving,” Folau said at the time his contract news was made official. Now, the rugby league convert is in a dispute with his former employers for unfair dismissal.

While Folau is set for a court battle, David Pocock faces a fight of a different kind after cutting short his Super Rugby career in the hope of recovering from a calf injury in time to feature at the World Cup.

Australia’s hopes of glory in Japan looked bleak at the start of 2019; with their try-scoring full-back no longer an option and their talismanic flanker stuck on the sidelines, they must quickly regroup and work out a way to prosper in a shortened Championship campaign that begins in South Africa on Saturday.

Cheika has increased the pressure on his own shoulders by reiterating in the build-up to the game that he will walk away if they are not crowned world champions in Yokohama on November 2.

"I know most people would think that's a pipe dream but we don't,” he told the media ahead of the clash with a Springboks squad seemingly keeping their powder dry ahead of facing New Zealand in round two, judging by their team selection for the opener.

"We came second last time and if we come first next time I will have earned the right to stay on as the coach and if I don't then someone else earns the opportunity. I think that's fair."

Fair? It feels more like a giant leap of faith for a man who appears ready to jump before he is pushed. They are words of either a man who retains faith despite results, or who knows a line in the sand needs to be drawn.

Still, recent history offers hope for Australia.

They won the last shortened Championship in 2015, opening up against South Africa before securing the title by beating New Zealand at home (the same run of games they have this year, too). Nic White was the hero in the decider, contributing 10 points in the closing minutes to complete a remarkable rally from the hosts in Sydney.

Scrum-half White played in just one more Test but is back from a successful stint in England, as is also the case with James O'Connor, who last represented his country in 2013. James Slipper, meanwhile, is another familiar face to earn a recall, while Christian Lealiifano has overcome leukaemia to return to the international fold. Cheika will hope they can fill the gaps - other, less optimistic types may suggest the selections are just adding old deckchairs to the Titanic.

Slipper was the only one of the quartet who was involved in the last Rugby World Cup final, the replacement prop unable to stop the All Blacks prevailing. While their trans-Tasman rivals are expected to reach the same stage again in Japan, a repeat appears a long shot for this current version of Australia.

For Cheika, it is win or bust. After a torrid 2018, this year will either end in glory with the Webb Ellis Cup, or be the start of a huge rebuild under a new head coach.

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