The Masters: Johnson starts title defence with Westwood, Spieth last out

By Sports Desk April 06, 2021

Reigning Masters champion Dustin Johnson has been grouped with two-time runner-up Lee Westwood to begin his title defence on Thursday.

Johnson returns to Augusta just five months on from a dominant triumph, his second major triumph after the 2016 U.S. Open.

The world number one, who has finished in the top 10 in his past five Masters appearances, set a scoring record with his sensational 20-under 268 for the week back in November.

As Johnson aims to become the first man since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to win consecutive green jackets, he will start alongside Englishman Westwood and, as is tradition, U.S. Amateur Championship winner Tyler Strafaci.

The groupings and tee times were confirmed on Tuesday, with Johnson's trio going out at 10:30 EDT.

Jordan Spieth, who ended a 1,351-day wait for a PGA Tour victory at the Texas Open last week, will be in the final group to tee off at 14:00 EDT, along with US PGA Championship victor Collin Morikawa and Cameron Smith.

Rory McIlroy's latest bid to become the sixth golfer to claim a career Grand Slam sees him start straight after Johnson at 10:42 EDT.

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 at Augusta in six of his past seven appearances but is famously still waiting for a first victory, while his major drought stands at 22 events.

An intriguing group has the Northern Irishman playing alongside Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele.

Brooks Koepka will play with Bubba Watson and Viktor Hovland, while Bryson DeChambeau joins Adam Scott and Max Homa.

Justin Thomas has Tony Finau and Louis Oosthuizen for company, Sergio Garcia starts alongside Webb Simpson and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, and Patrick Reed will measure himself against Paul Casey and Daniel Berger.

Phil Mickelson, the man with the most major titles (five) in the field as Woods is absent, will appear alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Scottie Scheffler.

Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Elder will get the tournament under way, with twosome Michael Thompson and Hudson Swafford the first competitors involved.

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    Romelu Lukaku sent his support to Christian Eriksen after setting Belgium on their way to a 3-0 victory Russia in their Euro 2020 opener on Saturday.

    Lukaku's Inter team-mate Eriksen is awake in hospital and undergoing tests after collapsing during Denmark's encounter with Finland in Copenhagen earlier in a traumatic second day of the tournament.

    Red Devils record goalscorer Lukaku said "Chris, I love you" into a television camera following his opening goal in the Group B match at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

    Thomas Meunier scored Belgium's second in the first half and the impressive Lukaku added a late third as the top-ranked side in the world moved level on points with Finland, 1-0 winners over Denmark in a game that resumed following encouraging news on Eriksen.

     

  • Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse

    Finland marked their first appearance at a major tournament with a 1-0 win over Denmark but their opening Euro 2020 Group B match was overshadowed by the collapse of Christian Eriksen. 

    The match at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen was suspended shortly before half-time after Inter midfielder Eriksen collapsed to the ground with no one around him.

    Team-mates and referee Anthony Taylor called for immediate help from medical staff, with the players forming a protective barrier around Eriksen while efforts were made to resuscitate him.

    The 29-year-old was carried from the pitch, but positive news followed with the Danish Football Union stating Eriksen was "awake" and set for "further examinations" after being taken to hospital. 

    Both sets of players decided to resume the game after more than 100 minutes away from the pitch, with Joel Pohjanpalo sealing an historic triumph for Finland shortly before the hour mark against an understandably deflated Denmark side, who missed a late penalty through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Denmark started on the front foot, with Jonas Wind, Hojbjerg and Eriksen forcing Lukas Hradecky into saves inside the opening 20 minutes. 

    Thomas Delaney and Martin Braithwaite then fired off target as Denmark continued to push forward in search of an opener. 

    The game was suspended for almost two hours following Eriksen's collapse, the players ultimately returning to finish the remaining few minutes of the first half before a short half-time interval. 

    Despite Denmark's dominance, it was Finland who opened the scoring with their first attempt on goal, Pohjanpalo heading through the weak hands of Kasper Schmeichel in the 59th minute. 

    Kasper Hjulmand's side had a golden opportunity to draw level 16 minutes from full-time when Paulus Arajuuri brought down Yussuf Poulsen in the penalty area, but Hojbjerg's tame spot-kick was kept out by Hradecky.

    What does it mean? Finland's famous win will soon be forgotten 

    Ordinarily, Finland beating a side 44 places above them in the world rankings in their first ever European Championship match would be a head-turning result. 

    As it is, the win – achieved thanks to Finland's solitary effort on goal – will largely be forgotten following the distressing scenes involving Eriksen. 

    The reports coming out of Denmark on Eriksen's condition while his team-mates played out the game were encouraging and their attention will now surely turn to his recovery rather than dwelling on an opening-day defeat. 

    Hradecky thwarts dominant Denmark

    Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Hradecky made six saves to deny Denmark, the most important of which was to keep out Hojbjerg's penalty. That save meant he became only the third goalkeeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championship after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (for Poland against Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (for Denmark against Spain).

    Hojbjerg's spot-kick woe

    Hojbjerg made more successful passes (78) than any player on the pitch and his 11 possession gains was only bettered by Daniel Wass (12), but the Tottenham midfielder was unable to net from the spot and secure what would have been an emotional point for his side.

    Key Opta Facts:

    - Finland have only lost one of their last eight competitive matches, picking up five victories and four clean sheets in the process (D2).
    - Denmark have missed three of their last four penalties in major competitions (World Cup + Euros), having scored the previous five between 1984 and 1998.
    - They have also failed to win eight of their nine opening matches at the European Championships (D3 L5).
    - Pohjanpalo scored Finland's first ever goal at the European Championships with what was their first shot in the competition.
    - He scored his 10th goal for Finland in what was his 43rd cap for his country – becoming one of only two players in their Euro 2020 squad to have netted 10+ goals for the national side (also Teemu Pukki, 30).
    - Hradecky is only the third keeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championships after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (Poland v Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (Denmark v Spain).

    What's next?

    Denmark face Group B heavyweights Belgium in Copenhagen on Thursday, while Finland take on Russia in St. Petersburg a day earlier.

  • Brazil v Venezuela: COVID chaos as La Vinotinto face up to tall task Brazil v Venezuela: COVID chaos as La Vinotinto face up to tall task

    Coronavirus again cast a shadow over the 2021 Copa America as Venezuela's preparations for their opening match versus Brazil were thrown into chaos.

    The tournament has been moved from Colombia and Argentina to Brazil amid political unrest in the former nation and a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the latter.

    Brazil has also suffered horribly during the pandemic, although calls to postpone the tournament have been resisted despite some players from the host nation voicing their opposition.

    Now Venezuela's attempts to snap a run of eight winless Copa America encounters with the Selecao – who have won six in that streak - look set to be compromised after news that 12 of their travelling party have tested positive for coronavirus.

    "The health department was notified by CONMEBOL that 12 members of the Venezuelan national team’s delegation, including players and coaching staff, tested positive for COVID-19," the secretary of state for Brasilia said in a statement, with the match set to take place at Estadio Nacional in the Brazilian capital.

     "They are all asymptomatic, isolated in single rooms and are being monitored."

    The lack of any public statement on the matter from either CONMEBOL or the Venezuelan Football Federation (FVF), means it is unclear how many of the 12 are players.

    The Athletic reported at least five players, including captain Tomas Rincon had tested positive, with local reports in Venezuela suggesting a flight for 14 replacement players had been chartered.

    Teams named provisional squads of up to 60 for the tournament to mitigate against the potential effects of COVID-19 outbreaks.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Brazil – Roberto Firmino

    Firmino might have endured a mixed season as Liverpool ceded their Premier League crown, but Brazil boss Tite will be hopeful the forward rises to the occasion as he did on the way to glory in 2019. Firmino's five goal involvements (two goals, three assists) were more than any other player in the competition.

    Venezuela – Yangel Herrera

    In Rincon's expected absence, plenty of onus will fall upon Herrera's performance in Venezuela's engine room – assuming, of course, that he is available himself. Contracted to Manchester City, Herrera is one of the Premier League champions' loan army, having spent each of the past three seasons with New York City, Huesca and Granada respectively.

    In LaLiga last term, he averaged 2.3 tackles and 10.2 duels won per 90 minutes for Granada – the latter statistic placing him second in the division among midfielders to have played 20 or more games.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Brazil have gone 20 Copa America’s games without losing when the tournament takes place on home soil (W12 D8). Their previous defeat was a 3-1 loss to Peru in 1975.
    - Indeed the Selecao have lifted the title on the previous five occasions they have hosted, with an overall record of W26 D12 L2 – the other reverse coming versus Paraguay back in 1949.
    - Venezuela's quarter-final exit against Argentina in the 2019 Copa America ended a three-match unbeaten run in the competition (W1 D2).
    - This will be Venezuela's 20th Copa América appearance, the fewest of any CONMEBOL nation.

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