Hatton leads star-studded CJ Cup as McIlroy, Koepka and Spieth struggle

By Sports Desk October 15, 2020

Tyrrell Hatton holds a one-stroke lead following the opening round of The CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, where the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth ended the day over par.

The PGA Tour tournament is taking place in Las Vegas after being moved from South Korea because of travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, with world number one Dustin Johnson absent due to his positive COVID-19 test.

On the course, Englishman Hatton – who claimed last week's BMW PGA Championship via the European Tour – set the early pace with a seven-under-par 65 at Shadow Creek Golf Course on Thursday.

Looking to add to his sole PGA Tour victory after winning this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational, Hatton mixed an eagle with seven birdies and two bogeys.

It is Hatton's first career 18-hole lead on the PGA Tour as the 29-year-old tops the leaderboard ahead of Russell Henley and Xander Schauffele, having tied his career low nine-hole score by shooting a 30 on the back nine.

Spanish star Jon Rahm and Tyler Duncan are two strokes off the pace heading into the second round, a shot clear of Joel Dahmen, Ryan Palmer and Kevin Streelman.

Former world number one Jason Day posted a 70 to be two under – a stroke better off than Sergio Garcia.

Justin Thomas opened his title defence with a 72 after the two-time CJ Cup champion double bogeyed his final hole of the round.

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy – playing for the first time since finishing tied for eighth at the U.S. Open – struggled on day one.

McIlroy bogeyed his final three holes as he signed for a one-over-par 73, while Koepka and Spieth did not fare much better ahead of next month's rescheduled Masters.

Returning following a two-month injury layoff due to hip and knee issues after missing the FedEx Cup playoffs and U.S. Open, Koepka had three birdies, a double bogey and three bogeys on a mixed day.

Out of form and without a title since capturing the 2017 Open Championship, Spieth experienced a similar round with four birdies, a triple bogey and three bogeys.

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    Despite playing in a disappointingly empty new SoFi Stadium, few teams managed to electrify more than the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

    Even the most ardent Chargers fan would admit that, prior to 2020, there hadn't been much appetite for the franchise in Los Angeles.

    It will be interesting to see to what extent that has changed if fans are allowed in stadiums in 2021, following a record-setting rookie season from Justin Herbert.

    Herbert silenced all the doubters who questioned the Chargers for taking him with the sixth overall pick, delivering a remarkable campaign that earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

    It still was not enough to stop the Chargers from enduring a season defined by gaffes and late-game heartbreak, head coach Anthony Lynn paying with his job despite a four-game winning streak to end the year 7-9.

    Fuelling further optimism is the appointment of Brandon Staley as Lynn's replacement.

    Staley earned widespread plaudits for what he did as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, building a reputation as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the game.

    He will hope to get the most of a defense stacked with blue-chip talent while offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is tasked with helping Herbert to the next step in his development.

    What can that duo learn from the Chargers' performances of last season? Using Stats Perform data we look back on a 2020 campaign that left Chargers fans excited about what this team could become.

    Offense

    Herbert went into his rookie season being seen as an inferior quarterback to Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. As a rookie, he outperformed both, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener.

    He came in for Tyrod Taylor after the Week 1 starter had his lung punctured by a team doctor who was administering a painkilling injection.

    That error proved serendipitous for everyone but Taylor, who had to play the role of the onlooker as Herbert racked up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert's 4,336 trailed only Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

    Herbert was also second all-time among rookies with his completion percentage of 66.6, falling shy of Dak Prescott who connected on 67.8 in 2016. Where Herbert did set rookie records was in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

    Yet for all the remarkable exploits of the sixth overall pick, finishing drives and scoring points remained an issue for the Chargers.

    They ranked 21st in red zone touchdown efficiency and in average red zone points, putting up 4.79 per trip inside the 20-yard line of their opponents.

    Many will see the departure of Lynn, heavily criticised for his play-calling and game management in key situations, as a significant step towards the Chargers improving in that regard.

    But Los Angeles will also look for more from the running game. An injury-affected season for Austin Ekeler hindered the ground attack, which was 30th in yards per rush (3.83) and tied 27th in touchdowns (12).

    Too often Herbert led the Chargers into the red zone only to see the drive end in a field goal or a stop for the defense. While Ekeler being at full health would help, the onus will be on Lombardi to ensure their issues inside the 20 are less frequent in 2021.

    Defense

    As is so often the case with the Chargers, misfortune was a critical factor in their defense not realising its potential.

    They lost Derwin James for the season before a ball had even been snapped, the All-Pro safety sidelined following torn meniscus surgery.

    It was also another year in which edge rusher Joey Bosa did not play a full season. Had both of those stars been available for the entire year, the Chargers might not have ranked so poorly in opponent scoring efficiency.

    The Chargers ranked 23rd in that respect and 21st in opponent touchdown efficiency, with an inability to create turnovers playing a role in their issues.

    They generated 19 takeaways in 2020, putting the Chargers tied for 22nd in the NFL, though that number was only three fewer than Staley's Rams defense registered last season.

    However, the Rams scored 15 more points off takeaways than the Chargers and were significantly better at creating negative plays for opposing offenses overall.

    The Rams forced 88 negative plays for minus 441 yards, ranking seventh in the league, while the Chargers were 30th with 72 negative plays for minus 222 yards.

    Yet Staley should be confident he can create a similar formula to what he had with the Rams, with Aaron Donald wreaking havoc up front and Jalen Ramsey an eraser in the secondary. Bosa and James are excellent candidates to fill those roles for the Chargers.

    Los Angeles will need to add talent around that duo for this defense to realise its potential, but the Chargers do possess the resources with which to do that.

    Offseason

    The Chargers used what financial resources they had, in a year where the salary cap was reduced, to beef up the offensive line and ensure Herbert will have the benefit of better protection.

    Corey Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62million deal that was more than justified after a 2020 season in which he was named first-team All-Pro, having allowed a pressure rate of 2.8 per cent last season (NFL average: 4.9).

    The versatile and underrated right tackle Matt Feiler arrived on a three-year deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers while another tackle, Oday Aboushi, was brought in on a one-year contract.

    Los Angeles will hope Jared Cook can help fill the void left by tight end Hunter Henry’s departure to New England. Cook produced a big play on 31.6 per cent of his targets in 2020. The league average for tight ends is 26.1 per cent.

    Further help for Herbert, who suffered the ninth-most sacks in the NFL (32) last season, may come with pick 13 in the draft if the Chargers choose to spend it on a long-term solution at left tackle.

    However, with Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram still on the open market and Rayshawn Jenkins having left for Jacksonville, cornerback, edge rusher and safety are all areas Los Angeles could target.

    After hiring a defensive mastermind at head coach, better support from that unit and cleaner pockets for their franchise quarterback will be the keys to the Chargers going from upstart to playoff team in Staley's first season.

  • Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours' Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours'

    Ibrahima Konate has cast fresh doubt on suggestions he will leave RB Leipzig to join Liverpool at the end of the season.

    The 21-year-old French defender is said to have a €40million (£34.8m) release clause in his contract and reports have claimed the Reds may activate that.

    However, Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche last month told Stats Perform News the move was "not an option" for Konate to consider.

    Now, Konate has spoken on the matter, telling German newspaper Bild: "I have a contract until 2023. And contracts are there to be fulfilled.

    "There are often rumours in football and many believe them immediately. I or my agents did not get a call from Liverpool.

    "I also have big goals with RB Leipzig: to get the best possible result in the Bundesliga, reach the cup final and the Under-21 European Championship with France."

    Leipzig, sitting second in the Bundesliga, were facing a home assignment on Friday against Hoffenheim as they looked to put pressure on leaders Bayern Munich.

    Unlike Liverpool, whose hopes hang in the balance, Leipzig appear certain to be in the Champions League next season.

    Yet they will lose one star French defender when Dayot Upamecano defects to Bayern Munich at the end of the campaign, and to see another depart might be considered a body blow.

    Konate is already thinking about life at Leipzig after Upamecano leaves, insisting he wants to be appraised on his own merits rather than compared to the future Bayern star.

    "I don't want to be Dayot's successor. I'm me," said Konate. "We both came to Leipzig in 2017 and played well together here. Unfortunately, our paths are now parting. I'll let Dayot have his new job and continue doing my thing here."

    Injuries have got in the way of Konate's progress and he has played in just 11 Bundesliga games this season, starting five times in the competition.

    In that time he has achieved a duel success rate of 68.66 per cent, which is the third highest among defenders with more than 500 minutes on the pitch this season in Germany's top flight. Opta defines a duel as a '50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides'.

    Konate has also won 23 of his 26 aerial challenges in the Bundesliga during the current campaign, and three of four tackles.

    On the tackles front, Konate has good examples to follow in the Leipzig ranks of players with strong success rates. Among defenders with over 500 minutes of action in the Bundesliga this term, Lukas Klostermann ranks first in the league with a 92.31 per cent rate (12 of 13 tackles won), while Upamecano is fourth with 81.82 per cent (27 of 33 won).

  • Matsuyama's Masters win has changed golf and Olympic gold could follow, says former caddie Matsuyama's Masters win has changed golf and Olympic gold could follow, says former caddie

    Hideki Matsuyama's history-making Masters triumph has changed the face of golf, according to the 29-year-old's former caddie.

    Matsuyama claimed the famous green jacket on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese man to win a major tournament in the process.

    His victory came in thrilling fashion, Matsuyama seeing off competition from Will Zalatoris, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele to finish 10 under par at Augusta.

    Before Matsuyama's achievement, female stars Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women's British Open) and Chako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) were Japan's previous golf major winners.

    Daisuke Shindo caddied for Matsuyama between 2013 and 2018, and he believes Matsuyama's win will lead to a change in the sport not only in Asia, but across the globe.

    "He has made history, not only in Japan but also Asia and the world. I think it was a moment that changed the world of golf. I think it was such a great achievement," Shindo told Stats Perform News.

    "I think that is huge. We grew up watching Tiger Woods when we were young. I grew up watching Jumbo Ozaki and Shigeki Maruyama. I still admire them now.

    "I think it was a great inspiration for all the children who saw Hideki win the Masters, and not only the children but also the professional golfers.

    "I think Hideki's victory had a great impact on people who don't play golf. For the past a couple of days, I've been hearing 'golf, golf' anywhere all over town. It's amazing. I've never heard ordinary young people talking about golf. I think it's amazing."

    Shindo also backed Matsuyama to win another major this year, as he believes his ex-university classmate has finally delivered on his promise after previously managing five PGA Tour wins.

    "Every player is really hard on themselves. That's why they keep the position as top athletes," Shindo added.

    "But if you're too hard on yourself, you're not going to be able to relax and you're going to get frustrated. Golf is a sport [in] which you have to accept mistakes, but it's very important to find a balance. I think Matsuyama accepted his mistakes this time and played golf in a very positive way.

    "Even in a tough situation, he didn't panic, and even when the flow of the game was bad, he was always patient. He didn't look frustrated, he wasn’t shaken at all and looked calm.

    "I still play golf and have dinner with Hideki when he comes back to Japan. We are more like brothers in arms than former partners.

    "I was really happy. I saw how he was always fighting, with all the pressure from Japanese supporters. At the moment Hideki was finally rewarded, I really cried."

    One certain way to cement golf's growing popularity in Japan would be with a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, with Shindo foreseeing a rise to world number one.

    "I think it has boosted the confidence of not just Matsuyama but all the members of 'Team Matsuyama'," Shindo said.

    "It's a great way to build momentum as a team. Now Hideki has that confidence. I think the team will be strong when that happens. I am confident that he will win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

    "For Hideki, it's better for him to have a little pressure. He is such a strong and big guy. I think he's going to do well at the Olympics and he's going to be number one in the world ranking.

    "When I was on tour with him, his highest ranking was two, but I think he will rise to number one."

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