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Tiger Woods could be a dream draw for Rory McIlroy at the US PGA Championship with no spectators

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tiger woods could be a dream draw for rory mcilroy at the us pga championship with no spectators

For a man who owned up recently to losing focus, the first-round draw for the first major in 382 days must surely have commanded all of Rory McIlroy‘s attention.

How does Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and the Northern Irishman sound as a welcome back threeball to golf at the highest level, and Thursday’s first round of the 102nd US PGA Championship in San Francisco?

Normally, you would consider such a high-profile match-up as bad news for Rory. It was in California he once complained of needing a couple of Advil after playing in Tiger’s company. The last thing you need when you are trying to play your way into a major is a vast crowd with eyes on one man, and it is not you.

Rory McIlroy will fancy his chances against Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship first round

Rory McIlroy will fancy his chances against Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship first round

Rory McIlroy will fancy his chances against Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship first round 

There will be no crowds watching the American at Harding Park, which could help McIlroy

There will be no crowds watching the American at Harding Park, which could help McIlroy

There will be no crowds watching the American at Harding Park, which could help McIlroy 

SELECTED FIRST ROUND TEE TIMES (UK TIMES)   

4-11pm: Shane Lowry, Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka

4-22pm: Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

4-33pm: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

9-36pm: Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama

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This time, of course, there will be no spectators walking when McIlroy is trying to hole a four-foot putt. 

The 31-year-old confessed recently to losing concentration when playing with no crowds but this time, with Tiger and the new world No 1 for company, it might all just work in his favour.

As for Woods, he turned up for his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday looking like a man who had been out for a few holes in January rather than August. 

Underneath a thick jumper was a snood to keep his neck warm. The temperature was 15C, and it is not forecast to climb much higher all week.

As if the 44-year-old did not have enough going against him, therefore, with just four competitive rounds under his belt in five months, the cool weather is a nightmare for a man with a fused back. 

In each of his two starts this year, Woods has complained of stiffness.

‘I’ll make sure I’m properly layered up and I’ll keep my core warm, but it is just the way it is that I won’t have the same range of motions that I would if I was playing in the 95-degree heat (35C) in Florida,’ he admitted.

The Irishman has admitted to losing focus with no crowds but should be inspired on Thursday

The Irishman has admitted to losing focus with no crowds but should be inspired on Thursday

The Irishman has admitted to losing focus with no crowds but should be inspired on Thursday

This is a return to old haunts for Tiger. He went to university at Stanford, just a 30-minute drive from the Harding Park venue. 

He has been on site since Sunday, getting to know the considerable changes made to the course since he beat John Daly in a play-off to win a WGC event in 2005.

He also played a starring role when Harding Park hosted the 2009 Presidents Cup, winning all five of his matches. 

‘The noise was so loud, I think I was deaf for a couple of days in my left ear after the play-off against John,’ Tiger recalled. 

‘I still think about it. I just wish it had a better ending (Daly missed a two-foot putt to lose at the second extra hole). We’d both played too well for it to finish like that.’

Woods is concerned the cool conditions could prove to be a nightmare for his fused back

Woods is concerned the cool conditions could prove to be a nightmare for his fused back

Woods is concerned the cool conditions could prove to be a nightmare for his fused back 

At least he fancies his chances this week far more than at this event last year, when he was fresh off his unforgettable win at the Masters. 

‘I’d been at the White House, I’d been everywhere and I’d been too busy celebrating,’ he confided. ‘I might not have played much competitively going into this week but I’m better prepared than I was back then.’

The final question was a stock one, producing a stock answer, but no less welcome for that. Woods had stood for the 20-minute press conference and looked uncomfortable as he shuffled from foot to foot as chronic back sufferers do. But he smiled broadly when asked: ‘How do you rate your chances, can you win this week?’

Tiger restricted himself to a time-honoured couple of words. ‘Of course,’ he said, and left the stage.

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Chelsea boss Lampard gushes over Werner as he is set to face Liverpool who wanted to sign him

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chelsea boss lampard gushes over werner as he is set to face liverpool who wanted to sign him

Timo Werner was a transfer coup. Liverpool wanted him and Chelsea got him, and, as the teams prepared to meet on Sunday, Frank Lampard made it clear he could not be happier with the explosive start made by the man they call ‘Turbo’.

‘He’s incredibly talented,’ gushed Lampard. ‘He’s robust, so I’ve no doubt he can handle the Premier League and the size of the opposition, and he’s very low maintenance. He comes in, he trains, he works hard, he lives right and he wants to come here and be a success.’

Chelsea’s head coach recalled conversations with Werner ahead of his £54million move from RB Leipzig, and how he liked to delve into social media accounts of his transfer targets to check details about their personality.

Chelsea and Liverpool are set to renew rivalries on Sunday after their last very heated clash

Chelsea and Liverpool are set to renew rivalries on Sunday after their last very heated clash

Frank Lampard has a new weapon for Liverpool on Sunday in the form of Timo Werner

Frank Lampard has a new weapon for Liverpool on Sunday in the form of Timo Werner

When Werner spoke this week, he supported this image of sensible young professional, explaining how he was gripped by Lampard’s ‘outlook’ and inside info from Antonio Rudiger, his international team-mate now helping him navigate the complexities of London’s Congestion Charge.

‘Important help, otherwise I’d be getting a bill every day,’ noted Werner, before discussing his nickname, running 100m in 11.1 seconds in his mid-teens and surmising that he’s probably ‘a bit faster’ at 24.

Kai Havertz was talking, too, revealing how it was always his ‘dream’ to play for Chelsea and promising not to be weighed-down by a record £89m fee to sign him from Bayer Leverkusen.

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Werner is hungry to score his first Premier League goal on Sunday against Liverpool

As Liverpool confirmed the signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and made a move for Diogo Jota of Wolves, the Londoners were rolling out the firepower like a Soviet-style parade through Red Square.

Was it a symbolic if unusually subtle two-fingered salute from those at the Bridge? Or pure coincidence?

The relationship between the clubs has been prickly at times, even if both managers were at pains to stress no bitterness lingered from an angry touchline exchange at Anfield two months ago. ‘There’s nothing in it for me,’ said Lampard. ‘The competitive nature of the 90 minutes can always slightly boil over.

Chelsea snapped up Werner for £54m despite interest in the striker from Jurgen Klopp's side

Chelsea snapped up Werner for £54m despite interest in the striker from Jurgen Klopp’s side

‘What he’s done at Liverpool has been incredible. The respect I have for Jurgen Klopp will never change.’

Klopp, too, was keen to end any notion of a simmering personal feud. ‘I have no problems, none at all with Frank Lampard,’ he said.

‘He’s probably a nice guy, I don’t know because I don’t know him privately and he doesn’t know me.’

The Liverpool manager blamed the media for stoking his comments about the post- pandemic transfer activity of those clubs ‘owned by countries and oligarchs’.

Lampard’s response at the time was to feign amusement and reel off a list of Liverpool signings. Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah were ‘incredible players’, he said, and they came at ‘very high prices’.

All of which might have been interpreted differently had it not been for July, when Chelsea’s head coach launched an X-rated tirade at Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders because he was ‘smiling’ and ‘smirking’ and, in his view, breaking the ‘code’ of the touchline.

Chelsea have been very busy this summer with Kai Havertz becoming their record signing

Chelsea have been very busy this summer with Kai Havertz becoming their record signing

Lampard warned Liverpool about getting ‘too arrogant’ and Klopp responded with a patronising dressing down, about how ‘he has to learn’ not to take touchline disagreements into the public arena.

The flashpoint rekindled the spirit of a compelling rivalry, which emerged between the clubs in 2004-05 when Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez first locked in combat and Lampard was the goal threat at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield.

The teams met 24 times in five years, often for high stakes and with Mourinho stirring trouble and trying to lure Steven Gerrard to Stamford Bridge.

Klopp and Lampard have both made comments about the other team's high-priced signings

Klopp and Lampard have both made comments about the other team’s high-priced signings

‘As a player I felt the adrenalin for a game at this level,’ said Lampard. ‘A team like Liverpool would always put more on the game. Chelsea were competing to win the leagues and Liverpool not so much. In the Champions League, we drew each other a lot and those games were ultra- competitive and difficult for us.

‘In the last few years, Liverpool have been fighting at the top and last year they win it. We are trying to improve, trying to close the gap. Both squads, coaches and fan-bases are very driven to win. That’s what the Premier League is all about.’

Chelsea are in combat mode. They will resist the urge to say it but they will have sights on the top of the Premier League after their recruitment drive. Lampard will be keen to land an early blow on the champions and he will look to ‘Turbo’ to lead the charge.

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Andy Robertson insists Liverpool will relish the ‘fun’ of proving their doubters wrong

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andy robertson insists liverpool will relish the fun of proving their doubters wrong

Andy Robertson insists Liverpool will relish the ‘fun’ of proving doubters wrong to retain the Premier League title.

The Merseyside club landed their first top flight title in 30 years last season but some have suggested they will struggle to repeat the feat this campaign. 

The Reds made an emphatic statement of their intent to retain their crown on Friday after confirming the signing of Thiago from Bayern Munich as well as agreeing a fee with Wolves for Diogo Jota.

Andy Robertson insists Liverpool will relish the 'fun' of proving doubters wrong once again

Andy Robertson insists Liverpool will relish the ‘fun’ of proving doubters wrong once again

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The Merseyside made a statement of intent by securing signing of Thiago from Bayern Munich

The Scottish full-back — an integral part of the club’s recent success — says new arrivals are always welcome but he believes they already have a squad capable of fighting for all trophies available this season. 

‘If the club buys players it will be to improve the squad. That is always welcomed’, Robertson told the Guardian.

‘And if they don’t we have a squad that can compete on all fronts. That is what we believe. We have a squad with young lads who are getting better every day. Our squad can compete for the four trophies we are going for.’

Despite Liverpool’s exceptional last campaign, Manchester City are the popular choice of many to regain their Premier League crown once again this season.

But Robertson insisted Liverpool are at their best when they are proving doubters wrong. They secured the title a year after missing out on it by one point, while also winning the Champions League a year after losing the 2018 final. 

Scot says his side are best when they are questioned after winning the Premier League a year after missing out by one point while also winning Champions League year after losing the final

Scot says his side are best when they are questioned after winning the Premier League a year after missing out by one point while also winning Champions League year after losing the final

‘Every season we’ve been questioned. When we lost the Champions League final everyone thought: “Will they be back or was it a one-off season?” The next season we won the Champions League and just fell short in the Premier League. Even then people said: “If they didn’t beat Man City this season, they’re never going to beat them,” because of how well we’d done. The following season we went and proved it.

‘We’ve got doubters again, of course we do. We’ve got people that are backing different teams and that’s part of the fun of it. We’re not going to change the way we think or the way we go about our business. It’s worked quite successfully the last three seasons so why would we change our ways?’

Brazilian star Thiago is bound to add quality to an already high-performing midfield, while the imminent £41million signing of the talented Jota will add strength in depth to their ruthless front line.

Liverpool began their title defence with a narrow 4-3 victory against Leeds last week, while they travel to face a new-look Chelsea side on Sunday.

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Liverpool have agreed a deal to sign Wolves forward Diogo Jota as back-up for their front three

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IAN HERBERT: Spurs and Liverpool’s furloughing of staff was an unmitigated PR disaster

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ian herbert spurs and liverpools furloughing of staff was an unmitigated pr disaster

Premier League clubs’ decision to take public money to furlough their staff never was a good look, whatever nonsense being propagated by some in the depths of the first lockdown. 

The frenzied whirl of the transfer merry-go-round these past few days has only gone to prove the point.

The Tottenham MP David Lammy encapsulated it all in a couple of tweets. 

Gareth Bale was all smiles as he arrived at Tottenham's training ground ahead of his move

Gareth Bale was all smiles as he arrived at Tottenham’s training ground ahead of his move

Liverpool unveiled £20m new boy Thiago Alcantara after sealing deal with Bayern Munich

Liverpool unveiled £20m new boy Thiago Alcantara after sealing deal with Bayern Munich

He declared a few days ago that Universal Credit applications are up 120 per cent in the district of North London and declared himself ‘terrified’ by the effect on unemployment created by the end of the furlough scheme. 

On Friday, he tweeted a photo-shopped image of the Tottenham Hotspur stadium with golf bunkers imposed to encapsulate ‘the #GarethBale status for my constituents.’

The club reversed a furlough decision amid wholesale public indignation, then secured a £175m taxpayer-backed loan through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). Now they are paying out £200,000-a-week, give or take, on the player’s wages.

To be fair, Tottenham acted with more propriety than most, in the final reckoning. They eventually reimbursed their staff the 20 per cent of the salaries which were cut. The only officials at the club to have taken a reduction have been the directors.

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Liverpool moved decisively to seal the capture of midfielder Thiago on Friday afternoon

Liverpool moved decisively to seal the capture of midfielder Thiago on Friday afternoon

Bale is expected to be on £200,000-a-week when he completes his return to Spurs

Bale is expected to be on £200,000-a-week when he completes his return to Spurs

And where the ensuing transfer business is concerned, it may ultimately prove to be one-in, one-out: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for Kyle Walker Peters and Matt Doherty for Serge Aurier, should he leave for one of the clubs expressing firm interest: Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. 

Sergio Reguilon’s arrival may see Ryan Sessegnon leave on loan and Danny Rose will also be off the books. The transfer pay-out for Reguilon is, in fact, absolutely minimal in the first year. 

Bale, meanwhile, will be on no more than parity, and probably marginally less, than Tottenham’s £200,000-a-week top earner Harry Kane. This is less outlay than Manchester United would have had to pay for Bale, because of the extremely tight relationship his agent Jonathan Barnett and his Stellar group have with Daniel Levy.

With some justification, Spurs might point to other clubs, whose moves are more incongruous than their own. Arsenal laid off 55 staff and then secured Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future on £250,000-a-week. 

Newcastle United furloughed their staff at tax-payers’ expense – to ‘safeguard the club’s future’, they claimed at the time – yet that existential crisis has not prevented them shelling out £20m for Callum Wilson and the best part of £15m for Jamal Lewis.

Another club forced into a furlough U-turn were Liverpool, who faced a tide of protest from their own fans among others. Yet they have been able to conclude the £20m acquisition of Thiago Alcantara.

Daniel Levy and Spurs were forced to go back on decision to furlough staff during lockdown

Daniel Levy and Spurs were forced to go back on decision to furlough staff during lockdown

Liverpool (pictured, owner John W Henry) also faced a tide of protest from their own fans

Liverpool (pictured, owner John W Henry) also faced a tide of protest from their own fans

They can point to the fact that they did not move for Timo Werner, who cost Chelsea £47.6m. But the new acquisition and wages, with Wolves’ £41m Diogo Jota in tow – put the choreography of last Spring in perspective.

Their own decision not to move for Werner is mirrored by Manchester United stepping back from any move to bring in Jack Grealish from Aston Villa. 

They have indicated they do not have the funds for a £70m acquisition, bearing out Ed Woodward’s declaration in April that ‘nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of the challenge’ because of the pandemic.

Clubs will argue until they are blue in the face that there is no correlation between the cash required to pay staff and to buy and fund players but the optics are terrible. From start to finish, furloughing was an unmitigated PR disaster.

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