U.S. Open 2020: Put DJ's name on the trophy? Rahm's major breakthrough? - The experts' picks

By Sports Desk September 16, 2020

The 2020 U.S. Open tees off at Winged Foot on Thursday, but who will have their hands on the trophy come Sunday?

It has been 14 years since this notoriously tricky course last hosted the tournament, when Geoff Ogilvy was the surprise winner.

A score of five over got the job done for the Australian and the suggestion this year is that another over-par tally could clinch it.

With likely contender Brooks Koepka absent, we have taken a look at who should be in the mix...


PUT DUSTIN'S NAME ON THE TROPHY – Russell Greaves

I'm not going to win any awards for bravery with this choice, but world number one Dustin Johnson is impossible to ignore right now. He claimed his first FedExCup triumph this month following two wins in the Playoffs and is long overdue a second major success. The one to his name came at this event in 2016 and his game is in an even better place now than it was then, with his putter running red hot. This guy just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, and victory will be his.

RAHM HAS FORM TO TAKE MAIDEN MAJOR – Chris Myson

"I know I can do it," said Jon Rahm at his pre-tournament media conference and it is not difficult to see why he is rated as second favourite to triumph. While he is yet to claim major glory, the Spaniard recorded his best performance with a tie for third in this event last year. Thirteenth at the US PGA displayed further major form, while wins at the Memorial Tournament and BMW Championship since the PGA Tour's return came on difficult courses that should serve him well at Winged Foot, an infamously challenging venue. Rahm's time may have come.

IT'S RYDER CUP STAR FLEETWOOD'S TIME TO SHINE – Dominic Farrell

Eyebrows were raised when Tommy Fleetwood opted to play at the Portugal Masters rather than heading to the United States for his final preparations for the second major of the year. But as the Englishman birdied three of the last four holes for a final round 64 and an eventual share of third, it suddenly looked an inspired decision. Fleetwood loves the U.S. Open and, after a quiet year – even by the standards of 2020 – there were encouraging signs a game suited to the tournament's famously tough set-up is in good order. The Ryder Cup star came fourth at Erin Hills in 2017 and second at Shinnecock Hills a year later, underlining his pedigree.

SCHAUFFELE'S TIME HAS COME – John Skilbeck

This comes not from the heart but the head: Xander Schauffele is due a major. Two seconds and a third in the last seven majors point to that, and he would relish a dogfight at Winged Foot. As Schauffele said after racking up another top-10 finish at the US PGA: "I'm definitely a grinder type. I don't mind making good bogeys and stuff like that. The harder it is, the better it is for me." The winning score when the 2006 US Open came to Winged Foot was Geoff Ogilvy's five over par, yet Davis Love III took the 1997 US PGA on the same course with an 11-under total, so it is tricky to judge how low the winner must go this time. Schauffele's joint-second place at the Tour Championship confirmed his game is in an excellent place.

SIMPSON A STRONG BET FOR SECOND TITLE – Nicholas McGee

A winner of this tournament at Olympic Club in 2012, Webb Simpson enjoyed a stellar 2020 that has featured six top-10s including two wins and just a pair of missed cuts. The world number six also has a game that should see him rise to the stern challenge Winged Foot's narrow fairways and heavy rough are sure to provide. Simpson was 18th in driving accuracy during the 2020 season, hitting 67.31 per cent of fairways. His form has flown under the radar compared to that of Dustin Johnson, but don't be surprised if Simpson is a two-time champion come Sunday.

RORY'S THE DADDY – Peter Hanson

It's fair to say Rory McIlroy's form has not yet hit the same heights he reached prior to golf's hiatus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But there were encouraging signs with a tie for 12th at the BMW Championship, a tournament which preceded McIlroy becoming a father for the first time to Poppy Kennedy McIlroy. The Northern Irishman then proceeded to claim a first top-10 finish since golf's lockdown was lifted with a tie for seventh at the Tour Championship. A relaxed, if perhaps a little sleep-deprived, McIlroy is a danger for the rest of the field. It's not a particularly brave choice, but major number five is achievable for McIlroy this weekend.

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  • Coronavirus: UK government pauses plans for fans' October return to sporting events in England Coronavirus: UK government pauses plans for fans' October return to sporting events in England

    The United Kingdom government has paused plans for the return of fans to live sporting events in England from October 1 due to the rise in coronavirus cases.

    On Monday, the COVID-19 alert level in the UK was raised to a four, meaning transmission of the virus is "high or exponentially rising", with prime minister Boris Johnson set to outline fresh measures to halt the increase in cases.

    Plans to bring supporters back into stadia were placed under review earlier this month and pilot events were restricted to 1,000 people in attendance.

    However, government minister Michael Gove confirmed to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that pilot schemes were now on hold, as are plans for fans to return in staged phases, representing a major blow to a struggling sports sector.

    "We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn't going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans," Gove said.

    "We're looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.

    "The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it's in the nature of major sporting events that there's a lot of mingling."

    Sport has been taking place mainly behind closed doors in the UK since it returned following a full lockdown in March.

    Approximately 300 spectators were granted access to the World Snooker Championship final at the Crucible in Sheffield, while a friendly between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea in August saw 2,500 fans allowed into the Amex Stadium.

    But Gove said the decision has been taken in part due to the criticism the government received for allowing full attendances to sporting events in March, when COVID-19 was posing a growing threat.

    The decision to allow the Champions League last-16 match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid to go ahead brought scrutiny with Liverpool council probing the impact it had on the spread of the disease, while there is pressure to look into whether the Cheltenham Festival should have been permitted to proceed at full capacity.

    "People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead," added Gove.

    "What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we're looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time."

    The latest development comes at a time where the sports industry continues to count the cost of the global pandemic.

    Over 100 leaders from sports bodies have requested emergency funding in a letter to the prime minister.

    Sport England has handed out £200million for emergency cases, but with clubs continuing to lose money many have said that does not go far enough.

    Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told the BBC earlier this month that teams were looking at losing £700m if fans are not allowed back into grounds during the 2020-21 campaign, saying it was "absolutely critical" they were brought back.

  • Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes

    Robert Lewandowski famously scored five goals in just nine minutes for Bayern Munich against Wolfsburg five years ago today.

    The Poland international achieved the astonishing feat on September 22, 2015 in a match that ultimately finished 5-1 to Bayern.

    A half-time substitute, Lewandowski's heroics ensured Bayern came from behind to thrash Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.

    Here, we look at the story behind one of the finest moments of Lewandowski's career.

    WHAT HAPPENED

    Then a 27-year-old, Lewandowski was introduced at half-time and fired in a four-minute hat-trick before adding two more in a breathless spell from Bayern.

    Bayern had started the game on the front foot, but Wolfsburg stunned the home fans on 26 minutes as Daniel Caligiuri fired in emphatically following Julian Draxler's pass.

    Pep Guardiola's side struggled to break through a resilient away defence and they almost found themselves two down when Josuha Guilavogui hit the post from inside his own half, with Manuel Neuer stranded.

    But the half-time arrival of Lewandowski turned the game on its head as he became the first substitute to score five times in a Bundesliga match, leaving Wolfsburg shellshocked.

    THE FIVE GOALS

    With things not looking good, Guardiola threw on Lewandowski and the change paid dividends almost immediately, with his first arriving on 51 minutes. 

    Thomas Muller was denied by goalkeeper Diego Benaglio after a fine team move involving Mario Gotze and Arturo Vidal, but Lewandowski was on hand to poke the ball home on the rebound.

    The Poland striker put Bayern in front just a minute later, lashing the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

    He then sealed a stunning four-minute hat-trick - the fastest in Bundesliga history - as he prodded in after initially hitting the post after being set up by Muller.

    Wolfsburg were completely rattled and Lewandowski helped himself to a fourth in the 57th minute as he turned in Douglas Costa's cross with a crisp strike.

    But the former Borussia Dortmund man saved his best for last in the 60th minute - a sensational acrobatic volley which flew past Benaglio and left Guardiola speechless on the sidelines.

    IT COULD HAVE BEEN SEVEN

    A combination of Benaglio and Ricardo Rodriguez on the goal-line only just stopped Lewandowski from scoring again in the closing stages.

    There was another chance too - former Bayern defender Dante blocked another Lewandowski effort inside the area as the champions cruised to victory.

    The win put Bayern three points clear at the top of the table and they went on to win the title by a margin of 10 to nearest challengers Dortmund.

    After the match, Bayern defender Philipp Lahm said Lewandowski could, and perhaps should, have added to his total after the initial five-goal heroics.

    Lahm said: "At half-time a player came in who did a little something. It was incredible. Just madness. And he had two more chances, so he should have gone home with seven goals."

    WHAT HE SAID

    Immediately following the match, Lewandowski admitted it was an "incredible" feeling to score five goals in just nine second-half minutes and did not realise at the time how quickly his goals had come.

    "I am very satisfied, that was incredible," he said. "I just wanted to shoot, I didn't really think what will happen afterwards.

    "Having been one down, we knew that we must improve and score twice at least. But five goals, that's incredible.

    "I don't know how fast it was, but it was fast. But when you're on the pitch, you're just focused on football. I looked at the scoreboard, it was the 60th minute and I only thought: 'Ooh.'

    "Guardiola didn't need to say anything, I know what I have to do on the pitch."

    Lewandowski was asked to compare the game to Dortmund's 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, in which he scored four.

    "It was a very important game - that was a very big event in my life," he said. "Now five goals, that is a great night for me."

    Reflecting on his performance the morning after, Lewandowski thanked fans on Instagram and apologised for not making himself available for requested media appearances due to Bayern's busy schedule.

    Lewandowski described it as "an amazing evening for me", alongside a picture of himself with the signed match ball.

    He insisted he was most glad to have helped the team and acknowledged messages of congratulations he had received from all over the world. 

    WHAT THEY SAID

    Speaking to reporters after the match, team-mate Jerome Boateng called Lewandowski one of the world's best strikers and was grateful he only had to compete with him in training.

    Guardiola, meanwhile, who had been visibly baffled on the touchline, was left in disbelief, saying: "I've never experienced such a situation, either as coach or as a player.

    "Five goals in nine minutes. I am very happy for Robert. You play poorly for 45 minutes and then grab five goals in nine minutes. I cannot explain it."

    Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking was less thrilled but fared no better in attempting to explain Lewandowski's showing. 

    He said: "What can I say? A world-class striker shot five times on goal and could have scored seven. That is how it happened.

    "But with our quality this should not happen. We had a good first half and Bayern could not up the pace of the game and then came these nine minutes. It's inexplicable."

    Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold could only rue the defensive collapse from his side, adding: "We can't explain that, five goals in nine minutes. There is no reason to talk about it, it's just s***."

    Lewandowski's agent Cezary Kucharski was thrilled with the impact the feat had on his client's market value, but all but ruled out a move to one of the Manchester clubs amid a flurry of increased transfer talk after the match.

    "Games like the one against Wolfsburg immensely help a player increase his value," he said. "I have a plan for the rest of Robert's career in my head.

    "Could that plan take him to Manchester? It's always raining over there. Munich is much more beautiful and a better place to live."

    Kucharski suggested a move to Spain would be more appealing, but as we know he ultimately remained at Bayern, signing a lucrative new contract in December 2017.

    That deal was extended with fresh terms in August 2019, tying him to the club until 2023.

    THE BEST OPTA STATS

    Since the start of the 2015-16 season - when Lewandowski's five-goal performance took place - there is only one player who has scored more goals than him in Europe's top-five leagues: Lionel Messi.

    - Messi has netted 158 times, compared to a magnificent 146 for Lewandowski over that period.

    - The Poland striker's total puts him above other greats like Cristiano Ronaldo (139), Luis Suarez (131), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (124) and Harry Kane (120).

    How does Lewandowski's feat compare to other similar achievements?

    - In Serie A, since 1986 there has only been one example of a player scoring five goals in a game, which was when Miroslav Klose did so for Lazio against Bologna in May 2013. That took him 40 minutes.

    - Five players have done that during the Premier League era in England: Andy Cole, Alan Shearer, Jermain Defoe, Dimitar Berbatov and Sergio Aguero. Manchester City striker Aguero was the fastest, scoring his five in 20 minutes.

    - No LaLiga player has scored five since 1960. Laszlo Kubala has the Spanish top-flight's record for the fastest five-goal streak at 19 minutes, as part of seven he scored in a 1952 match for Barcelona against Sporting Gijon.

    - In Ligue 1, there has only been one occasion since 1984, which was Carlos Eduardo's quintet for Nice against Guingamp in October 2014. The French top-flight record for fastest five goals is held by Carlos Bianchi at 31 minutes, scored for Reims against Paris Saint-Germain in 1974.

    - Lewandowski's nine minutes is the fastest in Germany and across the top-five leagues, though Luka Jovic emulated his haul three years later for Eintracht Frankfurt against Dusseldorf in October 2018.

    - Those two feats were the only occasions of a player scoring five or more in the Bundesliga since 1991. The great Gerd Muller did it four times between 1972 and 1976.

  • Giannis' shooting woes as Milwaukee fall short again – Bucks season review in STATS data Giannis' shooting woes as Milwaukee fall short again – Bucks season review in STATS data

    Another season and another missed opportunity for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Prior to the season shutting down in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bucks were the team to beat in the NBA.

    But Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were not the same inside the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World Resort – the Eastern Conference top seeds eliminated by the Miami Heat 4-1 in the semi-finals.

    While superstar Antetokounmpo claimed back-to-back MVP honours, there are more questions than answers in Milwaukee, where the Bucks are still waiting for their first championship since 1971.

    Antetokounmpo is also set to become a free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, and he is eligible for a max contract extension worth around $254million this offseason.

    As the ageing Bucks try to pick up the pieces and provide adequate support for Antetokounmpo in pursuit of NBA glory, we review Milwaukee's season using STATA data.

     

    Bucks fall short… again

    In 2018-19, the Bucks finished with the best regular-season record at 60-22 as Antetokounmpo earned his first MVP award. But Milwaukee went down to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.

    This season, the Bucks owned a league-best 56-17 record, but their form faded dramatically following the restart. Milwaukee became the first team in NBA history to have more losses (4-9) in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire campaign prior to that (52-8).

    Unconvincing against the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round, the Bucks were no match for Jimmy Butler and the red-hot Heat as their wait for a first NBA Finals appearance since 1974 goes on.

    The Bucks are the second team ever to have the outright best record in the NBA two seasons in a row and not reach the Finals in either season, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

     

    Giannis struggles from the line

    For all his remarkable skill, Antetokounmpo's shooting remains an Achilles heel. The "Greek Freak" and his free-throw shooting was a lot worse this season – it was the third largest season-to-season decline in NBA history among players with at least 600 attempts in both campaigns.

    In 2018-19, Antetokounmpo was 72.9 per cent from the line but he was just 63.3 per cent this season, a differential of 9.6 per cent. San Antonio Spurs great Tim Duncan tops the list with a difference of 14.3 per cent from 1999-2000 to 2000-01, ahead of Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal (13.2 per cent from 2002-03 to 2003-04).

    To put things into context, Antetokounmpo missed 231 free throws during the regular season, and the Bucks' 17 losses during the regular season were by a combined 157 points.

    When Giannis is shooting well from the free-throw line, the Bucks are usually winning. Over the past two seasons (regular season and playoffs), Milwaukee have a record of 61-8 (88.4 per cent) when he makes at least 70 per cent of his free throws in a game – including a 9-0 record in the playoffs. So him making more shots from the line could be a key to their future success.

     

    Antetokounmpo's health and fitness

    The 25-year-old, who averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season to become the first player to receive MVP honours in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016, missed Milwaukee's Game 5 loss to the Heat due to an ankle injury.

    Antetokounmpo re-injured his right ankle in Game 4 but sat out the must-win clash as the Bucks departed the playoffs, despite Khris Middleton's best efforts.

    Over his career, Antetokounmpo has played at least 35 minutes in less than half of his playoff games (21 of 43). Lakers superstar LeBron James (224 of 249), on the other hand, has done that in 90 per cent of his playoff games.

    Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 30.4 minutes per game during the regular season. In NBA history, there has only been one team to win the NBA title without having a player average at least 32 minutes per game in the regular season: the 2013-14 Spurs.

    So basically, if the Bucks are going to win a title, they are likely going to need their star player to play more minutes.

    Three-point defending

    As good as the Bucks are, they are obviously not without their flaws.

    Three-point defense was a big issue in the regular season and playoffs in 2019-20. Milwaukee allowed 14 three-pointers per game in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs, both of which were the most in NBA history (minimum 10 games for the playoffs).

    Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks have plenty to figure out heading into 2020-21.

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