Defending champion Paul Casey moved into a share of the lead at the halfway mark of the Valspar Championship on Friday.

Casey jumped 28 spots to take the lead at six under, alongside American Austin Cook.

Englishman Casey used an eagle on the par-five fifth hole and four birdies to card a round of five-under 66. Cook powered his way to first place behind five birdies.

But it is a congested leaderboard, with world number one Dustin Johnson just two strokes off the pace.

Johnson finished the day with one of the more colourful scorecards. He opened his day with a double bogey and bogey on his front nine, but closed out his round with five birdies and a bogey on the back to finish with a two-under 69.

Johnson sits in a three-way tie for sixth at four under with Curtis Luck and round-one leader Joel Dahmen. Between this trio and first place sits Luke Donald, Im Sung-jae and Scott Stallings in a tie for third.

Donald has been battling injury and has only made three PGA Tour starts this season. He even took a share of the lead at one point with a long birdie putt.

There is a sizable tie for ninth place at three under that has Jon Rahm in contention.

Rahm made a birdie-bogey-birdie start before levelling out. He was mistake-free for most of the day with three more birdies until a bogey on the par-four 18th hole capped off his round.

A number of golfers were close to not making the cut. Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson are just some of the names to inch by in a tie for 49th place at one over.

Some notable names to not make the cut were Gary Woodland – who missed the weekend for the first time in his last 23 starts to snap a tour-best streak – Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel and Jason Day.

Indian Wells Masters champion Dominic Thiem crashed out of the Miami Open with a second-round loss to Hubert Hurkacz on Friday.

Coming off the biggest title win of his career, the third-seeded Thiem was beaten 6-4 6-4 by Hurkacz.

Thiem went up a break in each set, but was pegged back before losing in one hour, 17 minutes at the ATP 1000 event.

The Austrian stunned Roger Federer in the final at Indian Wells, however, he was unable to back it up in Miami.

Hurkacz, the talented Pole who has two wins over Kei Nishikori this year, claimed decisive breaks in the 10th games of both sets.

The world number 54 will next face Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is enjoying a breakout year.

The American League, in contrast to the National, is incredibly top heavy again in 2019.

The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are all capable of winning 100 games and the bottom teams in all three divisions are capable of losing 100 or more.

But the playoffs should be absolutely fantastic, so you will have to take the good with the bad.

Here are our predictions for how the AL will shake out in 2019.

 

Central - Cleveland Indians

Yes, Cleveland underachieved last year and, yes, Francisco Lindor is starting the season hurt, Jose Ramirez was bad down the stretch and you cannot name a single one of their outfielders, but the Indians are still really, really good.

Their rotation had four starters who struck out 200 or more batters last year and they have every chance to do it again, while Lindor and Ramirez are still really good too. The bullpen is also likely to improve from last year's disaster.

Cleveland should walk this division.

 

East - New York Yankees

The Yankees are already dealing with a lot of injuries as Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Greg Bird are hurt, but the rotation is still good, the lineup is very good and the bullpen is transcendent.

The Indians won 10 games less than they should have a year ago because of their bullpen while the Red Sox are in a similar spot this year.

It got them through the postseason in 2018, but that was with massive help from Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale. Those men will not be in the pen during the regular season and it will cost them wins and the division.

 

West - Houston Astros

The Astros lost three starters from a year ago, but can you name the Astros' top two starters from 2017? Probably not. Can you name their bottom three? Without a doubt, no. But this year they still have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top and an accumulation of guys at the bottom.

Verlander and Cole will win more than enough to carry the team to the deadline and Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock will be more than passable to solidify the rotation.

Reinforcements will also come in the form of Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas. The pitching will be more than fine, the bullpen is very good and the lineup got better with the addition of Michael Brantley. If Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer are simply slightly more healthy than they were a year ago, this team will definitely win 100 games and maybe even 105.

 

Wildcards - Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners

The Red Sox are an obvious pick here; the Seattle Mariners not so much.

Here is the thinking: the Oakland Athletics are going to regress this year. They have one starting pitcher and, while everyone thinks they will succeed with bullpenning like they did last year, remember Sean Manaea was a staple in the rotation until August and Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson ate up some innings while combining to win 15 games.

None of those guys are in the rotation this season and that will really hurt Oakland. The only other team that we think could slip in would be the Tampa Bay Rays, but they went through a lot of turnover.

Seattle have solid pitching again and a lineup that works. While it may feel like recency bias as the Mariners just beat the A's twice in Japan, it is not. We really like this team and think they will dominate the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, using that to get back to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.

 

ALCS pick - Astros vs. Yankees

A rematch of the 2017 ALCS, this series will all come down to who has home-field advantage. If the Yankees get it, they win. If the Astros get it, they do. We will take the Yankees to win the series for this reason and almost this reason alone: James Paxton is the Astros' kryptonite.

Paxton is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in his career versus Houston and he will likely get two starts in an ALCS matchup between the two teams. Houston also cannot hit Luis Severino and, if the youngster comes back healthy after a spring training arm injury, that could be four wins between just those two pitchers.

Four games wins an ALCS, so that is the pick.

 

MVP - Mike Trout, Angels

It feels like there was a lot of hand-wringing last season when Mike Trout did not win the award despite the Angels not making the playoffs. Assuming good health, Trout will have the best numbers of anyone in the AL - both with the eye test and by WAR - and he will earn his third career MVP.

 

Cy Young Winner - Trevor Bauer, Indians

If Bauer had been healthy throughout 2018, he would have won the AL Cy Young. He bested team-mate Corey Kluber in just about every single category and Kluber was a Cy Young finalist.

There is no pitcher in MLB with better stuff than Bauer at the moment. His collection of fastball, curveball, slider and change is as good as gold and, when you see him pitch up close, you have no idea how anyone can touch him.

If he stays healthy, he will win the award this year.

 

Rookie of the Year - Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners

This feels a little dodgy because Kikuchi is 27 years old, but it will be his first season in MLB and he will be in the rotation for Seattle from day one.

He will post good numbers in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and earn a lot of wins in a division with bad teams like Texas and Los Angeles and terrible hitter's parks in Oakland and LA. But do not discount Houston for how bad their park can be to hit in as well. No one likes that batter's eye in center field and it hurts runs scored. 

Kikuchi has very good stuff and is a mature pitcher, which should be enough to win him the award.

 

Manager of the Year - Scott Servais, Mariners

If the Mariners get back to the postseason for the first time since 2001, Servais will win the award. This one is pretty self-explanatory.

The National League is about as balanced as it has been in the last decade.

The Central is stacked, the East got better and the West is far from decided.

But even with the parity in the league we are going to give our predictions for all of this year's winners by division, pennant and awards.

Here are those predictions.

 

Central – Chicago Cubs

Last year, the Cubs were the first team to be a disappointment that won 95 games.

But this year everyone is coming back, Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish will likely be healthier and a lot of players (Ian Happ, Willson Contreras) got bad second years out of their systems.

We are picking them to ride an underrated starting rotation to a division title this year as Milwaukee will likely take a slight step back and the St Louis Cardinals will take some wins away from the Brewers as well. The Cincinnati Reds will do the same thing as they got better too.

 

East – Washington Nationals

No team is better with the subtraction of Bryce Harper. That is ludicrous. However, the Nationals added Patrick Corbin, still have a fantastic rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and their lineup is solid from top to bottom.

A bad season last year was an anomaly. This team is good. They will prove it this year.

 

West – Colorado Rockies

The Rockies will ride their pitching rotation to this year's division title.

Between Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela the Rockies have a powerful, young rotation that could guide them for years to come.

And, they have the best third baseman in all of baseball in Nolan Arenado, added a steadying bat in the middle of the lineup in Daniel Murphy and David Dahl, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond fill out a talented lineup. That is more than enough to win a division they lost in a one-game playoff to the ageing Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

 

Wildcards – Los Angeles Dodgers, St Louis Cardinals

This is as tough of a couple of picks as there could ever be because the argument can legitimately made that the Brewers, Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks and Dodgers could all earn one of the two wildcard spots.

But our thinking here is simple: the Dodgers play in the weakest of the three divisions, and the Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt. The Cards barely missed the playoffs last year, and if they add a pitcher at the deadline that could be the piece to push them over the top.

 

NLCS pick – Cardinals vs. Rockies

The Rockies learned a lot in their playoff run last season and will hit better in the playoffs this time around. St Louis will get a good second year from Jack Flaherty. Those two things will help them get to the NLCS and in that series Colorado will come away with the win to make it back to their first World Series since 2007.

 

MVP – Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

Despite finishing amongst the top MVP candidates in the National League five of the last six years, Goldschmidt has somehow never won the MVP. A big reason for that is no one pays attention to the Diamondbacks – unfortunately – and many believe Chase Field inflates numbers for hitters.

Goldschmidt will not have to worry about that this year as the Cardinals are always in the national spotlight and people will not hold his ballpark against him in St. Louis. He will produce there and people will realise he is not a product of a ballpark and then go check his numbers and see he had a higher batting average and more homers away from Arizona.

All of that and a playoff berth for the Cardinals will give him his first MVP award.

 

Cy Young Winner – Max Scherzer

He had a legitimate argument to win the award last year even when Jacob deGrom had an all-time season. He will anchor the best rotation in the NL and win the award for the third time in the last four years and fourth time in his career.

 

Rookie of the Year – Nick Senzel, Reds

Nick Senzel has several things going for him: one, he is an incredibly talented player, two, the Reds added several good hitters to an already good lineup with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp so he will have more protection when he is called up, and three, Great American Ballpark is a hitter's haven.

The only question is how long it will take for Senzel to get to MLB. If he is on the team from the start of the year, .290 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs is not out of the question. That got Miguel Andujar serious consideration for a win in the AL last year. Senzel will get it if he gets there as well.

 

Manager of the Year – Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks

The perception of the Diamondbacks is they will be bad this year after losing Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Losing a team's two best players is a recipe for regression. So any good success for Arizona will mean they will exceed expectations and that is how a manager wins Manager of the Year.

The Diamondbacks are not bad despite the perception. Zack Greinke is good, as is Robbie Ray and Zack Godley. And the lineup is still pretty solid. If Arizona win 86 or 87 games and competes for a wildcard spot, Lovullo will be in the conversation for Manager of the Year.

Cardiff Blues scored 38 unanswered points in the first half as they cruised to a 41-17 victory over the Scarlets on Friday to boost their Pro14 play-off hopes.

Less than a week after Wales' Grand Slam-clinching triumph over Ireland, and in the shadow of the Principality Stadium, Blues coach John Mulvihill threw Six Nations stars Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe straight back into his starting XV.

And Anscombe – playing at full-back after shining at fly-half for his country – was central to the capital region's success, kicking 16 points, while Aled Summerhill crossed for two of five Blues tries.

The Scarlets held back their own brigade of Grand Slam champions, bringing on Gareth Davies, Ken Owens and Rob Evans at the start of the second half.

Evans scored two tries – his first of the season – as the visitors mounted a response at the Arms Park, but the damage done in the opening period was too much to overcome.

The result sees the fourth-placed Blues stay level on points in Conference A with third-placed Connacht, who triumphed 29-14 over Benetton.

Matt Healy scored two tries as the Irish province got the better of Conference B's second-placed side, while Jack Carty became their all-time record points scorer with a try that secured a bonus point in the 80th minute.

Leinster are already assured of their play-off spot and suffered only their third defeat of the season at Edinburgh, losing 28-11.

A closely fought first half ended 14-11 in the home side's favour but tries from Ross Ford – making his 203rd appearance to become the second-most capped player in the competition's history – and Viliame Mata saw them streak clear after half-time.

Edinburgh now sit just two points off the third play-off spot in Conference B, moving above the Scarlets.

Serena Williams came through her opener unscathed at the Miami Open as she defeated Rebecca Peterson 6-3 1-6 6-1 on Friday.

The 23-time grand slam champion retired from her clash with Garbine Muguruza at Indian Wells last week with illness, but she was fit to take on Peterson at Hard Rock Stadium.

Williams made a shaky start and was worked hard by the Swede, seeing her form desert her entirely in a punishing second set.

But the home favourite recovered her composure to power past Peterson in the third and set up a third-round clash against Qiang Wang.

A series of early errors saw Williams collapse from 40-0 to lose her first service game with a backhand into the net, but a similarly scrappy second game brought the 10th seed level.

The match settled from that point, yet a blazing return at the net handed Williams two break points and the second was seized as she backed Peterson into a corner.

A subsequent hold to love saw the favourite take the opener, although Peterson managed to stay with Williams early in the second and produced one particularly gutsy hold at 1-1.

That gave Peterson the opportunity to go after a break and it arrived immediately, with Williams wearing a bemused grin as the underdog repeatedly defied her and broke again before securing the set.

Williams repeatedly bellowed for the Miami crowd to back her at the start of the third, yet she required a Peterson double-fault to belatedly reclaim the lead.

Back in control, it was plain sailing from there as Williams set up a meeting with Wang.

Northampton Saints produced a stylish first-half display as they defeated rivals Leicester Tigers 29-15 in the Premiership.

The Saints moved up to fifth after giving Leicester a mountain to climb with a fast start, scoring three times before half-time away from home.

Cobus Reinach went over early on before Tom Collins added a double shortly before the break, with Mike Williams' yellow card compounding matters for Leicester late in the half.

Northampton did not need to cross again after the interval to stretch their advantage as Leicester were again punished for their ill-discipline. Dan Biggar kicked four penalties in total and Dan Cole also visited the sin bin.

Returning England star George Ford belatedly got the hosts up and running with a 66th-minute try and then Tom Youngs capitalised to score late as Jamie Gibson saw yellow.

Huddersfield Giants moved off the bottom of the Super League table with a demolition of Hull KR, while leaders St Helens also won big to maintain their 100 per cent start. 

The Giants had triumphed in just one of their opening six matches and were rooted to the foot of the table before Friday's match, but they ran out 42-8 victors at the John Smith's Stadium.

Huddersfield were in control from the moment Kruise Leeming crossed for the opener after 14 minutes, with Oliver Roberts and Darnell McIntosh also going over before the break.

Leeming got his second within two minutes of the restart and the hosts accelerated out of sight as Jermaine McGillvary went through twice in quick succession.

The scoring slowed and Weller Hauraki got a try back for Rovers, but Suaia Matagi stretched the Giants' lead again in the closing stages to cap a much-needed triumph.

St Helens' victory was far less surprising but no less ruthless as third-placed Castleford Tigers were put to the sword on their own patch.

The Saints scored eight tries in a 42-12 rout, leading 18-0 at the break as Lachlan Coote, Regan Grace and Dominique Peyroux went over.

Further tries followed through Zeb Taia, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mark Percival, Peyroux and Jonny Lomax, although Michael Shenton and Jacob Trueman at least got the humbled hosts on the scoresheet.

Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as England made an impressive start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday.

Gareth Southgate's Three Lions qualified for the Nations League Finals in their most recent game late last year, and the four-month break since does not appear to have done them any harm, as Sterling inspired an easy victory.

With Marcus Rashford injured, Southgate handed a first senior start to Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and he made a strong impact, setting up Sterling's opener, before the Manchester City star won a penalty that Harry Kane converted.

The Czech Republic started the second half better, but two goals in six minutes from Sterling ended any slim hopes of a fightback, while Tomas Kalas' own goal rounded off an abysmal outing for the visitors. 

England were dealt the blow of losing Eric Dier to injury in the 17th minute, with Ross Barkley replacing him.

But the hosts took the lead soon after at the end of a sequence of 25 passes, with Kane's incisive ball finding the run of Sancho to square across the face of goal for Sterling to knock home.

Sterling – who went into the match with only four international goals to his name – threatened again just before the break, winning a penalty after a combination of Kalas and Pavel Kaderabek blocked him off, and Kane made no mistake with the spot-kick.

The away side showed some positive intent after the interval, but goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka was helpless to prevent England increasing their lead just past the hour as a pass ricocheted to Sterling in the area and he curled home a left-footed effort after a clever turn.

Sterling completed his treble 22 minutes from time when his long-range strike deflected in off Ondrej Celustka, and Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced him soon after to become England's youngest competitive debutant.

The Chelsea winger played a role in the final goal as his shot was parried by Pavlenka and Kalas put the ball into his own net with a woeful first touch, completing a humiliating match for the Czech Republic.

 

What does it mean? Sterling and Kane to have a field day in Group A

Sterling was deadly in front of goal on and, while Kane was a little quieter than usual, he still managed to add to his goal haul in an England shirt.

Most will consider the Czech Republic to be England's toughest opposition in Group A, but the Three Lions tore them apart, with Sterling leading the surge.

Sancho is the real deal

A couple of wayward early passes suggested nerves on his full England debut, but Sancho eased into proceedings, teeing up Sterling to give England the lead. After that he looked his usual self, catching the eye with his silky footwork and fine movement. He is surely a mainstay in the making.

Alli fails to sparkle

Most of England's more forward-thinking players impressed in one way or another, but Dele Alli looked a little off the pace and was significantly less involved.

What's next?

England travel to Podgorica to face Montenegro on Monday, while the Czech Republic host Brazil in a friendly a day later.

Naomi Osaka survived a second-set wobble to reach the Miami Open third round with a 6-0 6-7 (3-7) 6-1 victory over Yanina Wickmayer.

The top seed exited the competition at this stage last year after knocking out Serena Williams in the first round, but she forced her way into a clash with Hsieh Su-wei this time around.

Osaka asserted her authority on the contest in the early exchanges, putting in a near faultless display in a 22-minute first set.

The Japanese conceded only two points on her own serve in the opener, but she faced a sterner test in the second.

Wickmayer fired over six aces on her way to forcing a tie-break, as seven of the 12 games went to deuce.

It was the Belgian who eventually won out, despite dropping the first point of the breaker on her own serve.

But normal service was resumed in the deciding set, Osaka racing into a 3-0 lead before wrapping up the victory with a love service game.

Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu continued her sensational run of form with a 6-3 6-3 defeat of Sofia Kenin at the Miami Open on Friday.

Kenin was the last player to defeat Andreescu in Acapulco, but evidence of the teenager's swift progress was clear as she cast aside the seeded American in the second round.

There were setbacks in the first set as Kenin threatened to again establish a hold over one of the WTA Tour's form players, yet Andreescu's riposte was superb.

A confident second set saw the 18-year-old extend her winning run to nine matches, with Angelique Kerber - beaten in the final at Indian Wells - potentially next up.

Andreescu came through a testing first game but bowed to the pressure when she served again, going long on break point as an accomplished early Kenin showing was rewarded.

The power of Andreescu's return saw an immediate response and the breaks kept coming in an entertaining contest, but the Canadian found her composure when serving out the opener.

There was no let up in Andreescu's play, although the second set threatened to go the same way as both players struggled on serve.

As in the first, though, the in-form star came out on top and took the third of three match points when Kenin double-faulted.

 

Wigan Warriors say they will not stand in Shaun Edwards' way should he renege on an agreement to become the Super League champions' head coach in 2020.

Edwards agreed to take over at the club last year, with his time as Wales' defence coach set to come to an end following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

However, the Wigan legend caused confusion after Wales wrapped up the Six Nations Grand Slam with victory over Ireland at the weekend, claiming his future was up in the air.

Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan has confirmed that no contract was signed at the time of Edwards' announcement and that the move to Wigan was "cemented by a handshake".

Wigan now say they will accept whatever decision Edwards - linked with a return to Wasps - comes to.

"Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club's position is that it has an oral agreement with Shaun Edwards to become head coach from 2020, cemented by a handshake and announced publicly in a press conference by both parties in August 2018," said Lenagan.

"I take full responsibility for including the mention of a signed contract in Wigan's press release at the time of Shaun's appointment. I have done business on many occasions on the basis of an oral agreement over a handshake.

"Shaun and I have known each other for a long time, have great respect for each other and share a passion for all things Wigan – of course the main focus for that being Wigan Warriors and its supporters.

"Following the announcement of his appointment we agreed not to distract Shaun, at his request, in any way throughout the Six Nations.

"With Wales' emphatic victory in Cardiff at the weekend, it is understandable why their coaching team have become so desirable throughout world rugby and Shaun is obviously an integral part of that.

"Rather than debating the merits and legalities of an oral or written agreement, I have had constructive dialogue with Shaun this week to make it clear that, despite our desire for him to take up the Wigan Warriors head coach role as agreed, we would not attempt to hold Shaun to any agreement - disputed or otherwise - if he now preferred to take up a different option.

"During our conversations, Shaun asked for more time to consider his options. I agreed to his request and fully understand his reasons for doing so.

"It is obvious we need to clear up this situation as quickly as possible in a dignified manner for the best interests of Wigan Warriors and Shaun.

"It is proving to be a difficult and emotive situation for us all to navigate, but I am determined to provide our loyal fans with the clarity they deserve once Shaun has come to his decision. We will support whatever decision he reaches."

Jamaica has won the right to host the third Carifta Triathlon, Aquathlon and Mixed Relay Championships set for August 17 and 18 and Jewels Resorts in Runaway Bay, St. Ann.

Paris Saint-Germain may have suffered Champions League elimination at the last-16 stage for the third successive year, but they can console themselves with the self-proclaimed title of Instagram 'champion'.

The Ligue 1 giants were dumped out of Europe's elite competition this month by Manchester United, with Marcus Rashford's controversial late penalty securing the Red Devils a 3-1 win in Paris which saw them progress on away goals.

Despite the shock exit, PSG are still bringing in followers on social media and they dubbed themselves the 'champion' of Instagram after surpassing the 20-million mark on Friday.

"The Parisian club is making dazzling progress and exceeds the milestone of 20 million followers," their statement read.

The announcement came on the same day star man Neymar – who was injured for the defeat to United – was charged with "insulting/molesting acts against a match official" on the same social media platform after Rashford's contentious spot-kick.

To compound matters, PSG are also seven million followers behind United on the photo and video-sharing social networking service.

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