Aaron Rai: English golfer hits course record to lead Hong Kong Open

Aaron Rai

England’s Aaron Rai set a new course record at the Hong Kong Open by shooting a nine-under-par 61 for a four-stroke lead after round two.

The 23-year-old from Wolverhampton had six birdies in his first nine holes, including four in a row from the 12th, adding three more on the back nine.

Rai broke the course record at Hong Kong Golf Club by two shots as he moved to 14 under par for the two rounds.

“Again, we were lucky with the conditions,” said the world number 201.

“We didn’t have much wind and, starting out pretty early the first nine holes feels like you’re playing a round at home, which is nice.

“I played very well, kept the ball in play, had a lot of chances and made a lot of putts, too. Everything was on song.”

South Korea’s Hyowon Park shot a bogey-free 62 and is second on 10 under, while England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick is third, two strokes further back, after he also carded a 62, sinking five birdies in his last eight holes.

American Micah Lauren Shin shot a 67 to move fourth on seven under, while Tommy Fleetwood, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros, Brazilian Adilson da Silva and Australians Jake Higginbottom, Jason Scrivener and Scott Hend are all one shot behind in joint fifth.

Masters champion Patrick Reed produced six birdies in his final seven holes to reach level par and guarantee he makes the weekend.

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Cutting edge or crass? – Is Tiger v Phil the future of TV golf?

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The Match: Woods v Mickelson
Venue: Shadow Creek, Las Vegas Dates: 23 November
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

An entertaining showdown between two of the game’s all-time greats to settle a score which has rumbled on for more than two decades?

Or simply a crass cash generator for two ageing millionaires which leaves the sport looking desperate for attention?

Opinion has been divided over ‘The Match’ between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in Las Vegas on Friday, a $9m (£7m) winner-takes-all showdown which is being streamed on pay-per-view across the United States on Thanksgiving weekend.

One thing everybody can agree on is, for better or worse, golf will never have been seen anything like this before.

No spectators will be allowed on the course, meaning the only way to watch in the US is by paying the $19.99 (£15.50) fee for commercial-free coverage on television.

Viewers will be provided with a candid insight into what the microphone-wearing players and their caddies are saying between shots, while betting odds will be displayed on the screen to tempt them into wagering.

Real-time, hole-by-hole statistics, displaying the probability of different outcomes, will help them make their choices.

Other gimmicks include drones providing camera angles that “have never been seen before” in live golf coverage, according to the organisers, and a one-hour pre-event programme featuring NBA legend Charles Barkley and Hollywood actor Samuel L Jackson.

“This is me versus him, this is winner take all and it has a unique, special feel golf doesn’t have all the time, or rarely has ever had, if ever,” said Mickelson.

“I am hopeful this is received well, I am hopeful we provide a glimpse into the future of what sport-watching is all about.”

Graphic showing the respective career achievements of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods

All about the cash?

Woods and Mickelson, who will tee off at Shadow Creek around 20:00 GMT on Friday, were pictured behind stacks of cash – purportedly the money the victor will take home.

But the image of the American pair, who are among the richest golfers in history, drew some criticism.

Despite being outside the world’s top 10 and winning few tournaments, Woods and Mickelson still earned more money last year than any other golfers – $43.3m (£33.6m) and $41.3m (£32.1m) respectively – according to sports finance experts Forbes.

Iain Carter tweets the match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson is "'wrong on every level"

Money, unsurprisingly, is a key theme of an event being held in the US gambling capital.

During the round Mickelson and Woods will challenge each other with side bets – for example, nearest the pin or longest drive – with the money reportedly going to charity.

The bravado started at Tuesday’s news conference when Mickelson laid down a $100,000 (£77,600) wager that Woods would not birdie the first hole. Woods told him to double it to $200,000 (£155,200).

If, indeed, that money is coming out of the pockets of the players – or sponsors – the rest of the pot is being paid for by the viewers.

Mickelson says the watching public are being given the ability to play “fantasy golf” and believes allowing them to take part in live, real-time betting will only pique interest in the sport.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan admitted in April that “there are commercial opportunities” for the professional body in the expansion of legalised sports betting in the United States.

Fifteen years too late?

With 19 majors between them and two decades apiece at the top, Woods and Mickelson are two of the most recognisable golfers on the planet.

Battles for the game’s biggest prizes and the number one ranking, plus a frostiness in their relationship which has since thawed, created an enduring rivalry between the pair.

In recent years their powers have waned, 42-year-old Woods not adding to his 14 majors since 2008 after personal and injury problems and 48-year-old Mickelson not lifting one in the past five years.

However, both have shown glimpses of recapturing their form by claiming PGA Tour victories this year and, in Tiger’s case, threatening at the Open Championship and US PGA Championship.

Nevertheless, it does not seem to have captured the imagination of the younger generation of leading players.

“Look, if they had done it 15 years ago it would have been great,” Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy said. “But nowadays, it has missed the mark a little bit.”

World number four Justin Thomas, who is an American Ryder Cup team-mate of Woods and Mickelson, indicated last month he would not be paying the $19.99 subscription fee to watch.

“Love TW and Phil to death, but there’s a zero percent chance I order that,” Thomas tweeted. “I’ll be watching football!”

Spain’s Jon Rahm, ranked eighth, said he felt the match is “10 years too late”.

“Maybe when they were both in their prime it would have been extremely amazing,” he said.

England’s Eddie Pepperell, the world number 38, described the match as “putrid attempt at attention” which will “be futile for everyone”.

English golfer Eddie Pepperell voiced his concerns in a Tweet containing an explicit word...

Anyone in favour of exhibition golf?

While there have been plenty of dissenting voices, few high-profile players have publicly backed the event.

When the Mickelson versus Woods match was confirmed earlier this year, former Masters winner Adam Scott said he was open to more exhibition golf being played and welcomed the prospect of a 18-hole match against fellow Australian Jason Day.

“I think it’d all be in good fun,” Scott said. “I’d like to think there is room for exhibition golf; it’s something the tour down there should maybe look at trying to do.”

One suspects any future plans will depend on the number of people who engage with – and most importantly, spend money on – Friday’s match between Mickelson and Woods.

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England’s Poulter and Hatton in joint lead at World Cup

England's Tyrrell Hatton (right) and Ian Poulter

World Cup of Golf leaderboard
-10 Australia, England, South Korea; -9 Belgium, Denmark, Malaysia; -8 Ireland, India
Selected others:-6 United States
Full leaderboard

England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter hold a share of the lead after the first round of the World Cup of Golf in Australia.

In the opening round of fourballs, the pair shot a bogey-free 10-under par round of 62 in Melbourne.

They are level with Australia’s Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith as well as South Korean duo Kim Si-woo and An Byeong-hun.

The two-man teams compete in alternate shot foursomes in Friday’s round two.

Australia have been paired with England on Friday, one day before both countries meet in a rugby union match at Twickenham.

“You’ve got the Ashes and the rugby and all that,” said Smith. “So yeah, there is a rivalry. We’re looking forward to that.”

Hatton and Poulter are aiming to win a third title in the event for England and first since Paul Casey and Luke Donald won the 2004 tournament, which was held in Spain.

“You can’t make bogeys in this format and be happy,” said Poulter. “It’s about attacking the golf course and making as many birdies as you can.”

Denmark are the defending champions and their team of Thorbjorn Olesen and Soren Kjeldsen are on nine under, along with Belgium and Malaysia.

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Tiger Woods v Phil Mickelson: Face-off aborted before pay-per-view duel

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The efforts of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to “talk smack” ahead of their winner-takes-all match in Las Vegas ended in laughs and handshakes.

Organisers of Friday’s $9m showdown (£7m) hoped to stoke up the rivalry in a news conference before the pay-per-view duel at Shadow Creek Golf Club.

But there were more compliments than ‘trash talk’ from the American pair.

And a boxing-style ‘face-off’ lasted only a few seconds, with neither man able to keep a straight face.

There was a frosty relationship between the two as Woods had the better of Mickelson, six years his senior at 48, early in his career.

Woods had racked up eight major wins before Mickelson broke his duck in 2004.

Mickelson now has five major wins while Woods, a 14-time major winner, recovered from back surgery to claim his first PGA Tour win for five years in September, and they now play practice rounds together.

“I just don’t want to lose to him and give him the satisfaction because the bragging rights are going to be even worse than the money,” said Mickelson.

“Every time I see you I want to be able to rub it in. I want to sit in the champions’ locker room at Augusta and talk smack. I want that.”

Woods described Mickelson as “one of the greatest players to ever pick up a golf club” while Mickelson said: “He’s the greatest of all time. I’ve seen him do things with a golf ball that have never been done.”

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods

Woods added: “We’ve gone at it for over two decades. I missed competing [while injured] and being able to go against Phil like this. It gets my juices flowing, for sure.”

The contest, which will see both players wearing microphones, coincides with Thanksgiving weekend. And with no fans allowed on the course, the only option to watch it live is on pay-per-view television.

“This event is designed to be a unique experience for the golf viewer, to create a production from drone coverage to on-screen gambling, to live mics and interaction,” said Mickelson.

“It’s an insight into the game which you’re normally not able to see. It’s why it’s on pay-per-view, because we had to eliminate the commercials to have that insight in between the shots.”

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Solheim Cup 2019: Dame Laura Davies named Europe vice-captain

Dame Laura Davies

Despite saying that she has no leadership ambitions, Dame Laura Davies has been named as a vice-captain to Europe’s team for next year’s Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.

Skipper Catriona Matthew appointed Davies, the continent’s most successful Solheim player, to complete her backroom team for the contest against the United States from 13-15 September.

Davies, who has always said she has no interest in a captaincy role, is the event’s leading points scorer with 25 and has played in a record 12 events.

She will join Suzann Pettersen and Kathryn Imrie to support captain Matthew as Europe seek to win back the trophy for the first time since 2013.

Speaking ahead of the Ladies European Tour’s season-ending event, the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de Espana, Matthew said selecting Britain’s most successful golfer was an obvious choice.

“It was a no brainer,” said Matthew. “I’m delighted to have Laura alongside me on the journey to Gleneagles. She is hugely respected by the players and has a great sense of humour, which will bring a bit of levity.

“Her experience speaks for itself: she has played in 12 Solheim Cups, on both winning and losing teams, she has won 87 titles around the world and has been the lynchpin of the Ladies European Tour for the last 30 years.

“The players that will be in the team have such respect for her that if any of them need a question answered, they will listen to Laura.”

Dame Laura Davies and Suzann Pettersen

Davies’ decision to accept the role is a surprise given that she has always rejected overtures to lead the European team.

“Solheim Cup players lose the ability to function for one week every two years, and it would drive me insane to be asked to go and get bananas on the third green,” Davies commented last August.

“I couldn’t handle it. I’m not interested. I don’t want to do it,” she added.

However Davies now says she is thrilled to have been offered the role. “I’m delighted and honoured to have been asked to be a vice-captain for the first time by Catriona,” Davies said.

“She sent me a text message when I was doing commentary at The Ryder Cup and I thought, ‘Ah, I wonder what this will be about’.

“Sure enough, she asked me if I would do it and I didn’t even have to think about it. I want to be part of the team and I hope that I can make a positive contribution and help in any way that I can.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles. She won the inaugural US Senior Women’s Open last July and the Senior LPGA Championship in October.

Davies has featured in four victorious Solheim Cup teams, in 1992, 2000, 2003 and 2011, winning 25 points from 46 matches.

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Willett wins Tour Championship for first title since 2016 Masters

Danny Willett

DP World Tour Championship: Final leaderboard
-18 Willett (Eng); -16 Wallace (Eng), Reed (US); -14 Rahm (Spa), Otaegui (Spa), Burmester (SA); -13 Frittelli (SA), Lewis (Eng)
Selected others: -11 Bjork (Swe), Smith (Eng); -10 Fleetwood (Eng); -9 Southgate (Eng); -8 McIlroy (NI), Westwood (Eng)

Danny Willett has won the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai – his first title since the 2016 Masters.

He carded a four-under final round of 68 to finish on 18 under par, two shots ahead of fellow Englishman Matt Wallace and Patrick Reed of the United States.

The 31-year-old nearly hit his tee shot into a stream on the 18th hole before recovering to make par.

“I’m massively proud of myself,” an emotional Willett told Sky Sports.

“It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s been tough [the past two years].”

Willett won his first major at Augusta two years ago but slipped from a career-high of ninth in the rankings to outside the top 450 earlier this year because of injury and a loss of form.

He shared the lead with Reed going into the final round, but went three shots clear with an eagle on the par-five second and then made birdie on the seventh.

He lost that lead after bogeying the 10th and 12th, but birdied three more holes before holding his nerve on the 18th.

“You never quite know when a win is around the corner. With everything that’s happened you’re never sure if another win is going to come,” Willett said.

“It’s been a hell of a lot of work. It’s just nice to be back.

“I’ve started pretty slowly on the first four or five holes all week – but I got off to a quick one today. For that to happen on a Sunday in the position I was in, I knew I was in a good place.”

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CME Group Tour Championship: Lexi Thompson wins LPGA season finale

Lexi Thompson playing at the CME Group Tour Championship

CME Group Tour Championship: Final leaderboard
-18 Thompson (US); -14 N. Korda (US); -13 Lincicome (US), SY Ryu (Kor); -12 A. Jutanugarn (Tha), Ko (Nzl), Alex (US), Ciganda (Spa); -10 Hataoka (Jpn)
Selected others: -9 Henderson (Can), SY Kim (Kor); -7 Kang (US), J. Korda (US); -6 Hull (Eng)

Lexi Thompson won the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship to erase memories of last year’s loss.

The American, 23, fired a two-under-par 70 to beat compatriot Nelly Korda by four strokes in Naples, Florida.

Thompson missed out by one stroke in 2017 to Thailand’s world number one Ariya Jutanugarn, who tied for fifth to clinch the $1m season points prize.

England’s Charley Hull, on the course where she won her first LPGA title in 2016, hit a 73 to finish tied 15th.

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Fleetwood fades from Race to Dubai running

Tommy Fleetwood

Third-round leaderboard
-14 Willett (Eng), Reed (US); -13 Smith (Eng); -12 Westwood (Eng), Burmester (Rsa), Wallace (Eng)
Selected others: -11 Lewis (Eng), Otaegui (Spa); -9 McIlroy (NI); -6 Fleetwood (Eng)

Tommy Fleetwood’s chances of retaining his Race to Dubai title are all but over after he carded a third round of 74 at the DP World Tour Championship.

The Englishman, 27, had played himself into contention at the halfway stage with a five-under 67.

But he fell eight shots behind leaders Danny Willett and Patrick Reed, who are on 14 under with one round to play.

“It’s just golf, but it does hurt when you have days like that,” Fleetwood said.

“Today pretty much summed up the second half of the season. I’ll go home and I’ll spend time with my son tonight.

“I feel the adrenaline might have gone now. I think you kind of know when your time’s up. I lasted within two days of the [end of the] season and it was always a stretch trying to win it.”

Fleetwood needs to win at the Jumeirah Golf Estates course to overhaul Ryder Cup team-mate and Open champion Francesco Molinari, who leads the Race to Dubai.

Sheffield’s Willett is chasing his first title since he won his debut major at Augusta in April 2016.

The 31-year-old, whose season has been troubled by injury, said: “I’m not going to lie – it would be an amazing thing to win, but regardless of what happens, just looking more in the long-term of my career, really, is pretty good.”

Overnight leader Matt Wallace, who is chasing his fourth title of 2018, fell down the field after hitting a third-round score of 71.

His compatriot Jordan Smith is third on 13 under, while Lee Westwood, who is seeking back-to-back wins following his victory in Sun City, is two shots off the lead, alongside Wallace and South Africa’s Dean Burmester.

Rory McIlroy is five adrift after a 71 which included a double bogey on the 17th.

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Fleetwood moves into contention in Dubai

Tommy Fleetwood

Second-round leaderboard
-11 Wallace (Eng); -10 Smith (Eng), Otaegui (Spa); -9 Willett (Eng), Reed (US); -8 Aphibarnrat (Tha), Burmester (SA), Fleetwood (Eng), McIlroy (NI)
Selected others:-7 Bjork (Swe), Stenson (Swe); -6 Lewis (Eng), Rahm (Spa), Pavan (Ita), Cabrera-Belo (Spa), Pieters (Bel)

Tommy Fleetwood moved into contention to retain his Race to Dubai title with a five-under second-round 67 at the DP World Tour Championship.

The Englishman, 27, who sits joint sixth in the standings, must win this weekend to overtake Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari.

The Open champion dropped down the field to 27th after a one-over 73 at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Leader Matt Wallace, who carded 65, is chasing his fourth title of the year.

Rory McIlroy shot a second-round 67 to leave him on eight under, level with Fleetwood.

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Molinari ahead of rival Fleetwood in Race to Dubai title battle

Francesco Molinari

First-round leaderboard
-6 Smith (Eng), Otaegui (Spa); -5 Willett (Eng), Rahm (Spa); -4 Molinari (Ita), Li (Chn), Wallace, (Eng), Fisher (Eng), Pieters (Bel)
Selected others: -3 Fleetwood (Eng), McIlroy (NI), Reed (US); -2 Westwood (Eng); -1 Garcia (Spa); E Poulter (Eng)

Italian Francesco Molinari remained on course to win his first Race to Dubai title after finishing the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship a shot better than rival Tommy Fleetwood.

The 36-year-old can only be denied the overall crown if Fleetwood wins the season finale and he finishes worse than tied fifth with one other person.

Molinari is two behind leaders Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui on four under.

England’s Danny Willett is on five under alongside Spaniard Jon Rahm.

Molinari held a share of the lead after 14 holes at Jumeirah Golf Estates, but then three-putted both the 15th and 18th.

The Italian, Fleetwood’s playing partner, said: “It’s only Thursday so there are so many things that can happen. Both of us did not hit the ball our best but we managed to scramble well and close out two decent rounds.

“I did a good job of thinking shot by shot and that’s what I need to do. I don’t think there is any benefit to thinking about what-ifs. It’s too early.”

Fleetwood, whose partnership with Molinari at the Ryder Cup was known as “Moliwood”, added: “You come into this week still with a chance of the Race to Dubai – one round down and we still have a chance. As long as our head’s above water for that, we’ll be happy and keep going.”

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Patrick Reed are part of a 12-way tie on three under on a day when 46 of the 60-man field shot par or better.

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