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Tiger Woods shoots 6-under-par 64 to share first-round lead in Japan

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Tiger Woods returned to competition in style, shooting his best score in more than a year to take the lead with a spectacular six-under-par 64 in the opening round at the Zozo Championship on Thursday.

Two months after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, the 15-time major champion made an “ugly start”, hitting his opening tee shot with a five wood into a pond at Narashino Country Club.

Three straight bogeys augured for a long day but for the next 15 holes he could do nothing wrong, running up nine birdies in his first career appearance in the Tokyo area.

Followed by a huge sellout gallery of 17,000, nearly all of whom had eyes for one player only, Woods did not let them down with a performance that conjured up images of the halcyon days when he strutted the fairways with an aura of invincibility.

“It was a crazy day,” he said after earning a share of the lead with fellow American Gary Woodland, one shot in front of home favourite Hideki Matsuyama.

“I hit bad shot after bad shot after bad shot … and next thing you know, things aren’t looking very good,” Woods said.

“I certainly was not expecting to shoot six under par after that start. That was a very ugly start. It flipped and I got hot and made a bunch of putts.”

He was also aided by a lucky bounce at his final hole, the par-four ninth, where he slammed his driver into the ground in frustration after carving his tee shot way right.

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But he had a bashful smile on his face a few seconds later after his ball hit a tree and ricocheted back towards the fairway.

He made the most of his reprieve. From 194 yards, he took direct aim at the pin and hoisted an eight iron that landed a few feet in front of the hole, setting up a closing birdie.

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It was by far the most impressive performance by the 43-year-old American since he ended a 10-year major drought by winning the Masters in April.

His season petered out after that amid a psychological letdown and a worsening left knee, and he was not a factor in the other three majors.

After failing to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship, he had the knee procedure in August which he had long postponed.

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The Zozo Championship, the first official-money event in Japan, will be his final event before he, as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, must select four players to complete his line-up for December’s event in Australia.

His form on Thursday can only strengthen the case to be a playing captain.

His 64 was his best score since he carded 62 in the first round of the BMW Championship in September of last year.

“This is how I’ve been hitting it at home, so that (64) wasn’t a real big surprise,” he said.

The opening round on Thursday was played in fine if cloudy weather, but a forecast for torrential rain on Friday has players wondering how much competition will be possible before the course becomes unplayable.(Reuters/NAN)

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Barcelona defender, Umtiti, tests positive for COVID-19

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Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti has tested positive for coronavirus, the club confirmed on Friday.

Umtiti, 26, is currently recovering from his latest injury setback after once more suffering discomfort in his left knee, which has kept him out of action since July.

And he has now joined fellow defender jean-Clair Todibo in catching the virus,  although without showing any symptoms or health problems.

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Dutch boss Wiegmann to replace Neville as England coach

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Sarina Wiegman is to replace Phil Neville as head coach of the England women’s football team next year, the Football Association announced on Friday.

The 50-year-old Dutch woman will take charge of the Netherlands in next year’s Olympics before assuming control of England.

The former Dutch international defender will be in charge when England hosts the 2022 Euros, the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and the following Euros in 2025.

Wiegman was the FA’s preferred choice ahead of reportedly two-time World Cup-winning former USA coach Jill Ellis.

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Ellis’s second World Cup triumph came at the expense of Wiegman’s Dutch side last year.

“I’m delighted and honored to join England Women next year,” Wiegman said in a statement.

“England is the cradle of football and the major developments in women’s football globally over recent years have been led by the FA.

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“I’m very much looking forward to contributing my experience and expertise to this ambitious team.”

Under Wiegman, Holland won the 2017 European Championship as hosts

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Matuidi joins Beckham’s Inter Miami

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France’s World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi will join David Beckham’s Major League Soccer club Inter Miami, the American club announced Thursday.

Matuidi, 33, has left Italian champion Juventus by mutual consent after three years, for the club co-owned by Beckham, his former Paris Saint-Germain teammate.

Matuidi joined the Turin giant from PSG in 2017 and had one year left on his contract.

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The move comes less than a year before the European football championship, postponed this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Matudi played in the 2018 World Cup final when France beat Croatia 4-2.

Matuidi won three Serie A titles, one Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup at Juve, where he played 133 games in all competition.

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He helped the club to a ninth Serie A title in a row this season, but the Italian giant crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16.

He also won four Ligue 1 titles during six years at PSG, having previously played for French clubs Troyes and Saint Etienne.

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