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Spieth leads charge of young guns into FedExCup playoffs

“I haven’t been to New York City since I was probably 10 years old, so I don’t remember it much,” the American told reporters on Tuesday.

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“Just being in the area is really special, seeing the Statue of Liberty (from) the golf course and the course in general, there’s not a blade of grass out of place.

“I’m just extremely kind of honoured to be here. Starting the year, I had no idea that this would be a potential opportunity for me, and I’m happy to be in the top‑10 starting the FedExCup playoffs and control my own destiny from here.”

The Texan leads a group of young guns into the playoff series which pays the overall winner a $10 million prize.

Spieth, who last month at age 19 became the youngest winner of a PGA Tour event in 82 years, lost a chance to notch a second tour win in a Wyndham Championship playoff on Sunday against another up-and-comer, 23-year-old compatriot Patrick Reed.

“It’s pretty wild,” Spieth said about a season that started with him playing on sponsors’ invites and blossomed into seven top-10s from 19 starts and $2.6 million in earnings.

Spieth’s giant step in 2013 has put him into the company of FedEx points leader Tiger Woods and this year’s majors winners Phil Mickelson (British Open), Justin Rose (U.S. Open) and Adam Scott (Masters) among the leading contenders.

Four years ago, when The Barclays was last played at Liberty National, Spieth was winning the U.S. Junior Amateur about 40 miles away at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“At the beginning of (each) year, I’ve had a goal to achieve, to reach that new, higher level,” said Spieth, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic.

“So far each year, I’ve been on track, and this year, maybe skipped a few steps. I don’t really think of my age as my age. When you’re out here, everyone’s your peer. New goals come up each day that I’m trying to reach out and accomplish.”

LATEST GOAL

His latest goal will be to win the first step in the four-event FedExCup series at Liberty National, a reclaimed landfill that affords spectacular views of Lady Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline.

Spieth said he and other young players – including 2013 winners Russell Henley (Sony Open), Derek Ernst (Wells Fargo), Harris English (St. Jude Classic) and Reed – were well prepared.

“The game’s getting younger. There’s just more better, younger players. You have to step up your game just to compete against kids your own age,” he said.

“You see teenagers now consistently making cuts on the PGA Tour when they get starts, and that I think just has to do with the fact that the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) now is playing golf courses set up like PGA Tour events.

“The other players are getting better and better, and same at the college level, that’s just a step up.”

Spieth, who left U.S. national college champions Texas to try his hand on the tour, said he greatly admires what Woods has accomplished but is not cowed by the numbers.

The confident American stands 78 career wins behind 37-year-old Woods, who has won five times on the PGA Tour this year.

“It is extremely hard to fathom 78 times, but I’m going to strive for it,” Spieth said.

When asked what he thought about a possible eventual Tiger target of 100 career PGA wins, Spieth said: “He’s separating himself as No. 1 in the world right now again, just like he was when I was growing up, and that’s something that me personally and everybody else…is striving to close the gap, and surpass.

“Everyone wants to be the best player in the world. If that means you’ve got to win 101 times, that means you’re going to try.”

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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Tokyo gets 2020 Games with help from prime minister

The Japanese capital won what one insider had called a “least-ugly” contest by most effectively covering its blemishes.

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Rival Madrid has been laid low by the economy and Istanbul has been beset by anti-government protests.

Tokyo won by a landslide, 60 votes to Istanbul’s 36, after Madrid was eliminated in a first round of voting.

Abe, who left early from a Group of 20 summit in Russia to make his pitch at the meeting in Buenos Aires, promised the roughly 100 members of the International Olympic Committee that concerns about the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant 140 miles (230 km) from Tokyo were unfounded.

Fixing IOC members with a level gaze, he said: “It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo. There are no health-related problems until now, and nor will there be in the future – I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way.”

The plant’s operator has said hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean each day, and radiation levels have spiked.

Abe’s government said this week it would spend almost half a billion dollars to try to fix the water crisis. He told the IOC on Saturday, “Let me assure you the situation is under control.”

‘SAFE PAIR OF HANDS’

Tokyo won the right to stage the sporting extravaganza for the second time, having hosted in 1964 when the Games first went to Asia. On that occasion, Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, led the bid to bring the Games to Japan.

Tokyo in its pitch highlighted its solid finances and strong track record of delivering on promises. Olympic President Jacques Rogge described its as “a safe pair of hands.”

The next summer Olympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the preparations for that Games have been plagued by delays and complications.

Moreover, the Tokyo bid capitalizes on the potential of the Asian continent, with its increasingly consumer-focused economies.

Winning the Games was an enormous prize after two years of intense lobbying and tens of millions of dollars spent, and Abe was thrilled.

“I would like to thank everyone in the Olympic movement and we will host wonderful Olympic Games,” a beaming Abe told Reuters seconds after the result.

Bid leader Tsunekazu Takeda was in tears as he said, “It is a great honour that Tokyo has been chosen.

For Istanbul, it was its fifth unsuccessful bid in the last six votes to host a summer Olympics.

The city had pitched itself as a new region for the Games, the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and as a vehicle to help foster peace in the Middle East. But the conflict in neighbouring Syria and recent anti-government demonstrations in Turkey overshadowed the bid.

Istanbul bid sports director Alp Berker was searching for a reason for rejection as he told Reuters, “I don’t know. … there are too many variables, maybe it’s the timing, maybe it’s something else.”

When asked if the Syrian crisis had damaged their chances, he said: “We tried to tell them it was not the case, because it’s a global issue. Really, I don’t know what the members are thinking when they’re pushing the button.”

IOC vice-president and presidential candidate Thomas Bach described the decision as new versus old.

“I think it is an election between a traditional candidature and new grounds, and today it was the traditional candidature that won,” he told Reuters.

BOOST FOR ABE

Madrid, which had pitched a safe, affordable, “sensible” bid, was eliminated in a secret vote pitting it against Istanbul after the two cities tied behind Tokyo. Madrid’s attempt to host 2020 was its third consecutive try.

Tokyo is planning to incorporate existing venues and has estimated a non-Games budget of about $4.4 billion, compared with $3.4 billion for the actual event.

It already has a war-chest of some $4.5 billion in the bank.

The victory is expected to boost Abe’s popularity, and could potentially spur his signature pro-growth policies for the world’s third-biggest economy. A successful Tokyo bid should boost confidence as well as spur construction and tourism.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, Karolos Grohmann and Rex Gowar; Editing by Mitch Phillips, Peter Henderson and Peter Cooney)

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No doubting Thomas’s desire as Bjorn secures Shanghai spot

A place in the top 50 is what every professional golfer craves because it buys a ticket to all four majors and every World Golf Championship event bar next month’s HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

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“From a confidence point of view I feel like if I get in the top 50 I go into big championships knowing I can compete,” Bjorn told reporters after beating Briton Craig Lee in a playoff at Crans-sur-Sierre.

“My world ranking over time has shown I can compete with the best. I feel like I have a lot of golf left in me…and now I have to explain to my wife that I want to play more,” he added after sinking a 12-foot birdie putt at the first extra hole.

“It is nice to be back in the top 50. It gives you the opportunity to play the rest of the year and get in the HSBC Champions (as a tournament winner). Every time you miss out on the big championships it knocks your confidence.”

Bjorn said Sunday’s victory made up for his near-miss at the BMW International Open in June when a double-bogey at the 14th meant he finished one stroke behind winner Ernie Els.

“It hurt losing to Ernie in Munich because I played really well,” said the former Ryder Cup player. “I really wanted to get over the line here.

“I’m 42 and you start thinking, when is it going to be the last one? It will come to an end one day.”

Bjorn, who also won the European Masters in 2011, said his desire to pick up trophies was as strong as ever.

“The guys who always win are the ones who are not scared of losing,” he said. “If you play it safe you win nothing.

“I love the atmosphere of winning. People say I’m not the happiest guy on the golf course but that is the way I have to be.

“If I am any other way then I am not focused. I have to focus from the first tee to the 18th.”

Lee, 36, who produced a stunning 11-birdie 61 in Saturday’s third round, was unable to capture his first tour victory but was not too downhearted at his playoff defeat.

“I would certainly have taken second place before the week started,” said the unheralded Scot, “especially after the first round when I was level par and bordering on the cut line.

“Over the last three years my game has got gradually better and better. The team behind me are all working hard to get the fine points tuned in so I think we are on the right lines.”

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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Women’s quarters show fitness key to longevity

The second-seeded Belarussian withstood a stern challenge from Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic to post a 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory and ensure a last eight meeting with unseeded Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova on Wednesday.

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Quarter-finalists Hantuchova, Serena Williams, China’s Li Na and Italians Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta are all 30-plus, and the 24-year old Azarenka said their lengthy careers were a reward for their high levels of fitness.

“Everybody’s taking much more care of their bodies to be able to play longer,” said Azarenka. “So much more fitness has been introduced, nutrition, all those components that women and men are paying so much more attention to.

“It’s a great thing if we have longer careers.”

Azarenka was unconcerned by having to play on consecutive days after rain forced her fourth round match, originally set for Monday, to be postponed.

Rather, she was focused on advancing to a second consecutive U.S. Open final against reigning champion Williams thanks to improved serving and her renowned fighting spirit.

“I have never aced so much in my life,” said Azarenka, who has recorded nine aces through four rounds. “I’m not a big server, but I think it’s getting better.

“Daniela is playing incredible tennis right now, so it’s going to be another tough battle of taking your chances, playing your game and being in control.

Wednesday’s other quarter-final will be the all-Italian matchup between Vinci and Pennetta.

“It is going to be a really tough match for both of us,” Pennetta said. “I’ve known her since 20 years or more because we live almost in the same place. It was just 35 to 45 kilometres, my house from her house.

“I’m supposed to lose because she is better than me in this moment. I don’t have nothing to lose.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Young American legacy of Williams sisters emerges

Tennis great Chris Evert sees major hardware within reach, while U.

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S. Tennis Association chief of player development Patrick McEnroe and U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez agree that U.S. women’s tennis is once again very much on the rise.

On Friday, 20-year-old Sloane Stephens beat Jamie Hampton in a third-round U.S. Open clash between Fed Cup team mates that put a spotlight on American talent bursting to prominence.

“The ceiling is high. This is a great group, starting with Sloane, who has had the most success,” McEnroe, the former U.S. Davis Cup captain, told Reuters at Flushing Meadows.

Stephens won international attention this year with a quarter-final upset of Serena at the Australia Open and followed that with a run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

Earlier this week, 17-year-old Victoria Duval shocked 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in a first-round upset, while the likes of Madison Keys and Sachia Vickery are also showing promise.

“What I’m really pleased about is not only do we have girls right behind Sloane like Keys and Sachia and Vickie Duval, but we have girls behind them,” said McEnroe.

Evert, who like McEnroe and Fernandez is part of the ESPN broadcast team at the year’s final grand slam, called the group “very promising”.

“It is very encouraging to American tennis,” she told Reuters. “This generation is emerging. In two years time we can see four or five young Americans in the top 20.”

Evert, who won 18 grand slam singles titles, did not stop there, predicting major success around the corner.

“I think Sloane can win a major in a few years. I think Madison Keys could win a major,” she added.

“It’s not like, ‘oh they’re nice players, they can make the top 20’. These young players have weapons. They are winning points, not waiting to lose points from the veterans. They are being aggressive, which I like.”

PACK LEADER

Fernandez, the U.S. Fed Cup captain, also ranked Stephens as the leader of the pack – for now.

“She’s shown how tough she is under pressure, especially at the majors,” Fernandez told Reuters. “She beat Serena and Maria (Sharapova) this year. She’s got the complete package.

“She’s got the speed, got the power. She comes forward well, when she wants to. She still has a lot of room to improve.”

Fernandez cautioned about short-changing 18-year-old Keys.

“Madison Keys seems to have a ton of potential because she’s powerful, has a huge serve, really belts the ball from the ground. She needs to get quicker.”

McEnroe said the sheer number of emerging talents was what gave him such optimism for the future.

“I don’t know if you can create a grand slam champion, but if you get the numbers then you have that group effect and you have a better chance that the extraordinary ones will get to the top,” he said.

All three agreed that the current rise of U.S. women was tied to the impact made by Serena and Venus Williams, who have won a total of 23 grand slam singles titles between them.

“Seeing them dominating and the great lives they are having and the champions that they are, that inspires them to develop their game even more,” said Evert, pointing to the African American girls among the crop like Stephens, Keys, Duval, Taylor Townsend and Sachia Vickery.

“And it’s not just African Americans. The influence is starting to show.”

McEnroe said there was no doubting the influence of the Williams sisters.

“We see a lot more diversity in girls’ tennis than in boys. We need to work on that on the men’s side,” he said. “Absolutely seeing that this generation has been inspired by them.”

The Williams sisters followed a chain of U.S. champions stretching from Evert to naturalised Americans Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles.

But the possible successors to 31-year-old Serena and 33-year-old Venus have only just recently emerged.

NEW CROP

The last American women not named Williams to enjoy success at the four grand slam tournaments respectively were Lindsay Davenport (1998 U.S. Open and 1999 Wimbledon) and Jennifer Capriati (2001 French Open and 2002 Australian Open).

This new crop of talent grew up watching the Williams sisters. Serena won her first slam at the 1999 U.S. Open and Venus followed the next year at Wimbledon.

“They’ve been great role models on many levels,” said Fernandez. “We’re finally getting to see the young ones who looked up to them 10, 15 years ago making a move now.”

Fernandez said the Williams sisters have been mentoring some of the youngsters.

“I’ve had Venus and Serena on a few teams now,” she said. “They offer advice, they ask questions, they practice with the girls.”

Venus Williams, after losing her second-round match, was asked about the up-and-coming U.S. girls.

“I think that is definitely something that makes me happy, to see young people doing positive things with their life,” she said. “I love seeing young girls come through.

“Tennis has done so much for me and my life and my family. What I do on the court has been able to touch a lot of people.

“It makes me motivated to do more, and also makes me happy that a whole new set of people and demographics all over the world are being introduced to this game.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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