Elite sport is gradually returning to our screens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's Bundesliga, the UFC and the NRL were among the first top-level events to forge a route back last month after pausing due to the global crisis.

A clutch of Europe's other top football leagues, cricket, motorsport and the United States' major competitions all have designs on behind-closed-doors resumptions in the near future, too, which could create a significant backlog of crucial fixtures.

One positive is that sports fans might now be treated to a number of colossal match-ups back-to-back on the same day at some point over the coming months.

That prospect gives us the opportunity to reflect on five similar occasions with the greatest sporting days since the turn of the century - including one exactly a year ago.

 

JULY 23, 2000

The US had a day to remember as two of their most prominent stars bolstered their still burgeoning reputations with big victories on foreign soil.

The paths of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have subsequently diverged a little, however.

Woods became the youngest player to complete golf's career grand slam with a record-breaking victory at The Open in 2000, while Armstrong wrapped up a second straight Tour de France title.

The American duo stood at the top of the world, yet history will recall Armstrong's achievements rather differently now he has been stripped of each of his seven successive yellow jerseys for doping.

Woods at least maintained his high standards and held all four major titles after the 2001 Masters, winning again at Augusta as recently as last year.

FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Two more sporting greats shared the same special page in the calendar early in 2004.

It was a long day for anyone who took in both Roger Federer's performance in Melbourne's Australian Open final and Tom Brady's Super Bowl display in Houston, but they were duly rewarded.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer had won just one major before facing down Marat Safin in Australia, also becoming the ATP Tour's top-ranked player for the first time. He stayed at number one for a record-shattering 237 weeks.

Brady similarly then doubled his tally of Super Bowl rings by delivering a second triumph in three years for the Patriots, in what was a classic encounter against the Carolina Panthers.

Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, before Adam Vinatieri's field goal secured a 32-29 win with four seconds remaining.

AUGUST 4-5, 2012

One would struggle to find a greater array of star-studded athletes of various sports than those who congregated in London across the penultimate weekend of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On the Saturday evening, at the Aquatics Centre, swimming prepared to say goodbye to its greatest name. Michael Phelps and the United States won the 4x100m medley, clinching his 18th gold medal in what appeared set to be his final race.

Indeed, Phelps confirmed his retirement following the Games, only to return in predictably dominant fashion in 2016.

Across the city that same night, Team GB athletes were capping a stunning run of medals that would see the day dubbed "Super Saturday". There were six home golds in all, including big wins for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession.

The drama only continued the next day, too, as Andy Murray finally sealed a Wimbledon win over Federer in the tennis event, while Usain Bolt lit up London Stadium in the 100m.

JUNE 1, 2019

It is 12 months to the day since another epic sporting stretch, one that concluded in stunning fashion with one of boxing's great modern upsets.

Rugby union and football each had their respective turns in the spotlight earlier, with Saracens following up their European Champions Cup success - a third in four years - by retaining the Premiership title with victory over Exeter Chiefs.

In Madrid, two more English teams were in action as Liverpool edged past Tottenham in the Champions League final.

But as Sarries and the Reds celebrated, focus turned towards Madison Square Garden where Anthony Joshua was expected to make light work of Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller following a failed drugs test.

The heavyweight title match did not go to script, however, as Ruiz floored Joshua four times and forced a stoppage to claim his belts, albeit only until the rematch where the Briton saved face.

JULY 14, 2019

These crazy spectacles have largely seen sport spread throughout the day, but three sets of eyes were required to keep up with the action on an epic afternoon last July.

With England hosting and then reaching the Cricket World Cup final, the scene-stealing decider fell on the same day as the Wimbledon men's final and the British Grand Prix, ensuring the United Kingdom was the focus of the sporting world.

The cricket started off several hours before either the tennis or the F1 but still managed to outlast its rival events, with Ben Stokes determined to put on a show as England won via a dramatic Super Over at the end of a nine-hour saga against New Zealand.

Novak Djokovic was battling Stokes for attention as he was taken all the way by that man Federer at the All England Club before finally prevailing 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) in the tournament's longest singles final.

The respective classics made the British GP, completed earlier in the day, something of an afterthought - but not for Lewis Hamilton, who claimed a record sixth victory.

Rory McIlroy was in flying form before the coronavirus pandemic brought the PGA and European Tours to a halt.

Since missing the cut at his home Open Championship at Royal Portrush, McIlroy recorded an astonishing 12 top-10 finishes in 14 starts, including victories at the Tour Championship and HSBC Champions.

That form saw McIlroy once again ascend to the summit of the world rankings and the four-time major winner will have been as frustrated as anyone to see the season suspended due to the global health crisis.

McIlroy turned 31 on Monday and now seems as good a time as any to reflect on his career achievements, and some goals to work towards in the future.

RECORD-BREAKING MAJOR WINS

Major season started in heart-breaking fashion for McIlroy in 2011 as an infamous final-round meltdown at the Masters saw him squander a four-shot lead to finish in a tie for 15th. In a show of his strength of character, McIlroy bounced back in remarkable fashion two months later to win a first major at the U.S. Open at Congressional. His eight-shot triumph was the biggest margin of victory in the tournament's history, while his 16 under was a record for strokes under par (a feat then matched by Brooks Koepka in 2017). A little over a year later, McIlroy was setting more benchmarks at the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. An eight-shot victory bested Jack Nicklaus' previous mark of seven.

DOUBLING UP IN GLORIOUS 2014

The following six majors proved frustrating for McIlroy. However, a first Claret Jug arrived in style with a wire-to-wire victory at the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool – a two-shot triumph a little skewed by so many of the chasing pack making the most of placid Sunday conditions. A month later, McIlroy showed impressed nerve as a partisan crowd roared on the charges of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler to win a second PGA Championship by one shot at Valhalla. In doing so, McIlroy became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2008 to win three straight starts on the PGA Tour.

PRIZES GALORE ON PGA AND EUROPEAN TOUR

McIlroy has enjoyed plenty of success besides majors, of course. He has 27 professional career victories to his name, including at the Players Championship, three World Golf Championships events and five in FedEx Cup playoff tournaments. He has won the European Tour's prestigious Race to Dubai three times (2012, 2014 and 2015) and also become FedEx Cup champion on the PGA Tour twice (2016 and 2019). Also, on three occasions McIlroy has been named PGA Tour Player of the Year (2012, 2014 and 2019), and European Tour Golfer of the Year (2012, 2014 and 2015).

And here are some objectives for McIlroy to focus on…

FINALLY WIN THE MASTERS

While McIlroy's agonising 80 on that fateful Sunday at the 2011 Masters was tough to watch at the time, it seemed a mere blip in what would be a successful quest to win a green jacket. And yet, eight subsequent visits to Augusta National have failed to yield a win (albeit there were five top-10 finishes between 2014 and 2018). McIlroy has made no secret of his desire to win the Masters and a player with his outrageous talent must surely get one eventually, right? It is the missing piece in a career Grand Slam and winning the Masters will remain McIlroy's main goal.

AVENGE PORTRUSH DISAPPOINTMENT

The 148th Open was a particularly important one for McIlroy, given it was hosted at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland, for the first time in 68 years. All eyes were on the local hero who started as pre-tournament favourite, but a nightmare opening round (including a quadruple-bogey eight on the first hole, a double-bogey five on the 16th, and a triple-bogey seven on the 18th) saw him sign for an eight-over 79. A second-day fightback saw him recover to two over, yet he still missed the cut by a solitary stroke. An emotional McIlroy admitted "it is going to hurt for a little bit", but – even saving for the postponement of the 2020 Open due to the coronavirus pandemic – McIlroy will have plenty of opportunities to win more Claret Jugs, plus the success of the 2019 tournament at Portrush means he will likely have another shot at glory on home soil in the future.

WIN OLYMPICS GOLD

McIlroy was pretty brutal about golf's return to the Olympics four years ago in Brazil. Speaking prior to the 2016 Open, McIlroy - who like several of his contemporaries opted not to play in Rio due to the threat of the Zika virus - said he would watch "the stuff that matters" at the Games. McIlroy later said he was "glad to be proven somewhat wrong" about the success of golf at the Olympics and a year ago declared his intention to represent Ireland at Tokyo 2020. Of course, the coronavirus has also pushed those Games back to 2021, but going for gold is surely a renewed aim for McIlroy.

Monday marks the 34th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' 18th and final major championship victory.

A stunning Masters triumph on April 13, 1986 saw the Golden Bear, who was 46 at the time, add a sixth success at Augusta to his five US PGA Championship titles, four U.S. Open wins and three Open Championship crowns.

Tiger Woods - last year's memorable Masters champion - has since closed to within three of Nicklaus' benchmark, but the latter remains golf's most prolific major champion.

We take a look at how Nicklaus amassed a tally that has still yet to be surpassed.

 

1962 U.S. Open

Nicklaus finished second in the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills as an amateur. When he played the tournament as a professional for the first time two years later, after nine major appearances outside the paid ranks, the then-22-year-old secured glory.

Arnold Palmer – an established superstar in the prime of his career – had edged out the youngster at Cherry Hills, but Nicklaus held his nerve at Oakmont to prevail in an 18-hole play-off after the pair had finished regulation play level on one under.

Palmer was the big crowd favourite in the play-off, but Nicklaus stormed into an early lead before seeing off a trademark charge from his rival to become the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.

1963 Masters

Having seen off Palmer to earn his maiden major, Nicklaus shaded another all-time great on his way to the first of six Masters triumphs.

A month shy of his 51st birthday, Sam Snead moved into the final-day lead with back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15, but two late bogeys followed for the veteran and Nicklaus – who had surged into contention with a second-round 66 after opening with a 74 - took advantage.

Gains at the 13th and 16th lifted Nicklaus to a winning score of two under, two clear of Snead and Julius Boros and one ahead of Tony Lema, who birdied the last to claim sole second.

1963 US PGA Championship

Still only 23, Nicklaus prevailed in stifling heat at Dallas Athletic Club to grab his second major of 1963 and become only the third player to win the Masters and US PGA in the same year.

Three behind Bruce Crampton with 18 holes to play, the Ohio native defied temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius on the final day to shoot 68 and win by two from Dave Ragan.

1965 Masters

Nicklaus' first three major successes all came via narrow margins, but that certainly was not the case at Augusta in 1965 as he recorded a record-breaking triumph.

Tied for the lead at halfway with Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus surged clear with a course-record-equalling 64 and ultimately finished an astonishing nine strokes clear at 17 under, having totally overpowered the course.

His 72-hole total of 271 and winning margin both stood as records until 1997, when Tiger Woods claimed a 12-shot victory with a score of 270.

1966 Masters

Twelve months later, Nicklaus became the first man to successfully retain the Masters, a feat since accomplished by Nick Faldo and Woods. However, his success came in a week of personal heartbreak.

Shortly before beginning his opening round, Nicklaus learned that close childhood friend Bob Barton had been among four people killed in a plane crash en route to Augusta.

"This tragedy has made me much more determined in what I hope to do this week," said the Golden Bear, who duly beat Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer in an 18-hole Monday play-off after the trio had all finished on 288.

1966 Open Championship

Only five men have completed a career Grand Slam of modern-day major wins. Nicklaus was only 26 when he became the fourth, following in the footsteps of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Player.

A one-shot victory at Muirfield – at the expense of Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas – enabled Nicklaus to lift the Claret Jug for the first time. He did so despite shooting 75 in round three, with a two-under aggregate ultimately enough to earn glory on a course that featured plenty of punishing rough.

1967 U.S. Open

Another record fell to Nicklaus at Baltusrol in 1967, where his winning score of 275 represented a new U.S. Open best.

Amateur Marty Fleckman was the shock 54-hole leader but he faced daunting task on the final day with Nicklaus, Palmer and Billy Casper only one shot back.

The rank outsider slumped out of contention with a closing 80 and Casper (72) also faded as Nicklaus again got the better of Palmer, shooting 65 to his playing partner's 69 for a four-shot victory.

1970 Open Championship

Nicklaus' second Open win – after a barren spell spanning three years - is remembered more for the painful experience of runner-up Sanders.

Second to Nicklaus in the same event four years earlier, Sanders needed only to par the relatively simple 18th at St Andrews to claim his first major.

However, he famously backed away from a three-footer for the win, having seemingly been distracted by something on the line of his putt, and then saw his ball slip agonisingly past the hole.

The Open's first 18-hole play-off followed and Sanders was given renewed hope when he cut Nicklaus' lead from four to one with a solitary hole to play before playing the last superbly. The American provided a clinical finish, though, draining an eight-foot birdie putt before throwing his putter into the air in jubilation.

1971 US PGA Championship

Victory in the 1971 US PGA ensured Nicklaus became the first player to win each major twice.

He went wire-to-wire at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida, finishing two clear of Casper at seven under despite a one-over 73 in the final round.

1972 Masters

The following April, Nicklaus again led after every round of a major as he triumphed in the Masters for the fourth time.

He failed to break par in each of the final two rounds, but scores of 73 and 74 were more than enough for a three-shot success at two under, with no other player ending the week in red figures.

1972 U.S. Open

Legendary sportswriter and author Dan Jenkins provided the most fitting description of Nicklaus' final-round performance at Pebble Beach, which saw him defy brutal conditions to make it two wins from as many major championships in 1972.

After Nicklaus had prevailed by three strokes with a two-over aggregate, Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated: "On the last day, Sunday, when a ripping wind produced the ultimate horrors, only Nicklaus could summon the patience and the game to cope with the place. It seemed he had saved his best golf for the final round, when the course and the elements almost eliminated golfing skills in more normal men. And while that closing 74 of his for the funny old total of 290 will not look so dazzling in the record books one day, it should be stated here and now that under the circumstances it was as brilliant as any man ever shot."

Jack's hopes of winning all four majors in the calendar year were duly dashed in The Open at Muirfield, where he was the runner-up to Lee Trevino.

1973 US PGA Championship

History was made at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio as Nicklaus - playing in his home state - surpassed Walter Hagen's record of 11 professional major victories with his 12th title.

A second successive 68 on Saturday lifted him to the top of the leaderboard and he finished four clear of Crampton, who had also been a runner-up to Nicklaus in the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open.

As the game's dominant player chalked up yet another victory, another golfing great, Snead, produced a remarkable performance at the age of 61, shooting even-par 71s in every round to tie for ninth. Incredibly, he had finished fourth the previous year and would go on to share third in 1974. 

1975 Masters

Nicklaus was five ahead after 36 holes at Augusta in 1975, but entered the final round trailing Tom Weiskopf by one after shooting 73 on Saturday.

A thrilling finale ensued on Sunday, with Nicklaus just about holding off Weiskopf and a charging Johnny Miller to secure his fifth green jacket. A closing 68 was just enough to seal victory on 12 under, with Weiskopf and Miller, who shot 66, both missing makeable putts on the 18th to force a play-off.

1975 US PGA Championship

Poor old Crampton had to settle for a fourth second-placed finish in a major behind Nicklaus as the latter claimed another US PGA crown in Ohio.

At Firestone Country Club in Akron, Nicklaus opened up a four-shot lead through the third round and a closing 71 kept him two clear of Crampton at four under. Weiskopf, one under for 72 holes, was the only other player to break par.

1978 Open Championship

Nicklaus' consistency in The Open was truly astonishing. From 1966 to 1980, he reeled off 15 top-six finishes in a row at golf's oldest major, with six of his seven runner-up placings achieved during this period.

His final victory came at the same place as his previous triumph, St Andrews, as he completed a third career Grand Slam.

A year on from the magical 'Duel in the Sun', where he was edged out by Tom Watson at Turnberry following a captivating battle, Nicklaus entered the final round of the 1978 Open one adrift of the defending champion.

However, Watson swiftly slumped out of contention and Nicklaus was able to taste victory once more, a 69 taking him to seven under and a two-shot triumph.

1980 U.S. Open

Nicklaus was viewed by some as a spent force by the time the 1980 U.S. Open rolled round, having gone almost two years without a PGA Tour win - comfortably the longest barren streak of his career at that point.

Aged 40, he showed there was still plenty left in the tank at Baltusrol.

Both Nicklaus and Weiskopf began the tournament with record-equalling rounds of 63. Weiskopf soon fell away, but Nicklaus prevailed with a tournament scoring record of 272.

The rejuvenated champion had been joined at the top of the leaderboard by Japan's Isao Aoki in round three, but he was not to be denied a 16th major crown.

1980 PGA Championship

Two months later, Nicklaus extended his record with a 17th title and fifth US PGA win. What is more, he did so in dominant fashion.

No other player could break par at Oak Hill, but Nicklaus was on another level as he carded scores of 70, 69, 66 and 69 to end the week seven clear at six under.

His margin of victory remained a record at the PGA until Rory McIlroy triumphed by eight shots in 2012.

1986 Masters

The most famous and unlikely triumph of the set came 34 years ago when Nicklaus thrilled Augusta with a sensational Sunday charge.

Four behind overnight leader Greg Norman heading into the final round, the 46-year-old surged to victory in barely believable style, playing the final 10 holes in seven under to shoot 65.

Nicklaus' memorable birdie at the last triggered an unforgettable putter-raising celebration and ensured he finished one ahead of Norman and Tom Kite at nine under. Seve Ballesteros, who had looked a clear favourite little more than an hour earlier, was a shot further back in fourth.

Reigning Open champion Shane Lowry was "sad and disappointed" by the R&A's decision to cancel this year's competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 149th edition of the major was scheduled to start at Royal St George's on July 16 but on Monday became the latest sporting event to be called off amid the spread of COVID-19.

There have been over 47,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom and nearly 5,000 people have died after contracting the virus.

Lowry will have to wait until 2021 to defend the Claret Jug at the course in Sandwich but feels the right decision has been made.

"Obviously, like everybody else, I'm very sad and disappointed that the R&A have had to cancel this year's Open Championship," he said in a video posted on his official Twitter account.

"At the end of the day people's health and safety come way before any golf tournament and I'm sure the R&A have thought long and hard about this and have made the decision based on everybody's health and safety.

"You can trust me when I say the Claret Jug is going to be in safe hands for another year and I look forward to seeing you all in Royal St George's in 2021."

It was reported last week that a revised calendar that would see three majors and the Ryder Cup played in the space of four months was close to being agreed.

The 2020 Open Championship has been cancelled because of the cornavirus pandemic.

The 149th edition of the major was due to start at Royal St George's on July 16.

However, the course in Sandwich will have to wait until 2021 to host the event due to a virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people in the United Kingdom.

St Andrews will be the venue for the 150th Open in 2022.

"I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said.

"Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in The Open. We care deeply about this historic Championship and have made this decision with a heavy heart.

"We appreciate that this will be disappointing for a great many people around the world but we have to act responsibly during this pandemic and it is the right thing to do.

"There are many different considerations that go into organising a major sporting event of this scale. We rely on the support of the emergency services, local authorities and a range of other organisations to stage the Championship and it would be unreasonable to place any additional demands on them when they have far more urgent priorities to deal with.

"In recent weeks we have been working closely with those organisations as well as Royal St George's, St Andrews Links Trust and the other golf bodies to resolve the remaining external factors and have done so as soon as we possibly could. We are grateful to all of them for their assistance and co-operation throughout this process.

"Most of all I would like to thank our fans around the world and all of our partners for their support and understanding.

"At a difficult time like this we have to recognise that sport must stand aside to let people focus on keeping themselves and their families healthy and safe. We are committed to supporting our community in the weeks and months ahead and will do everything in our power to help golf come through this crisis."

The Masters and US PGA Championship were postponed last month but there is said to be hope those events, along with the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, can be contested later in the year.

Shane Lowry, winner at Royal Portrush last year, will hold on to the Claret Jug as a result of the cancellation.

In a post on Twitter, Lowry wrote: "Obviously I'm disappointed that I won't get to defend the Open Championship this year but I feel the R&A have made the right decisions based on people's health and safety. See you all in Royal St George's in 2021."

 

 

Organisers of this year's Open say their focus is on the event "proceeding as planned" despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Golf has been impacted by the spread of the virus, with the Masters and US PGA Championship, scheduled for April and May, having been postponed and the PGA and European Tours put on hold.

This year's Open is due to take place from July 16-19 this year at Royal St George's and it is hoped the competition will take place as planned.

However, organisers the R&A are keeping their options open, having decided to cancel two international amateur events scheduled for next month.

A statement released on Thursday said: "We are undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of our plans to stage The 149th Open at Royal St George's and the AIG Women's British Open at Royal Troon, which are four and five months away respectively. This includes examining a range of scenarios for staging the championships, with our focus on proceeding as planned, as well as considering other contingency options available to us."

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said: "Our absolute priority is to ensure the safety of players, fans, officials, staff and all involved in our championships and that will be at the forefront of our thinking as we monitor developments.

"We have some time before we start building the infrastructure at both venues and so we are keeping the scheduled dates in place for The Open and AIG Women's British Open at this point. We recognise that this is a rapidly changing situation and we will keep everyone informed of any changes to our plans. These are difficult times but we are bearing in mind our responsibility for what's right for golf and most importantly for society."

Last year's event was won by Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush - his first triumph at one of golf's four majors.

Rory McIlroy is determined to carry his regular tour form into the majors in 2020 - and he knows a fast start is the missing component that has held him back.

The 30-year-old Northern Irishman remains stuck on four major victories, having not won one of golf's four biggest tournaments since his 2014 US PGA Championship success.

He enjoyed a stellar 2019 though, carrying off four titles including the Tour Championship in August, when he pocketed prize money of $15million as the FedEx Cup winner.

That triumph at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta flushed McIlroy with confidence, and it was little surprise he carried off the WGC-HSBC Champions trophy in Shanghai in November.

The regrets from his year are obvious, with McIlroy not seriously contending at the business end of any of the majors, despite grinding out top-10 finishes at the US PGA and the U.S. Open.

At the Open Championship, held at Royal Portrush, McIlroy had a nightmarish opening 79 and a sparkling 65 on the Friday could not stop him missing the cut in front of his home supporters.

"The majors weren't what I wanted, but I played a lot of good golf and I think I played some good golf within the major championships as well," McIlroy told Sky Sports News. "I shot a few good scores. I just need to start a little faster, that's the big thing for me.

"If there's a key to me starting to contend more regularly and win majors again, I just need to start a little better."

It sounds obvious and is, and the more McIlroy puts himself immediately in the frame to win at regular tour events, the more starting at least solidly should become second nature.

He is moving in a positive direction, with the world number two putting pressure on Brooks Koepka at the top of the rankings.

It was fending off playing partner Koepka's challenge on the final day of the Tour Championship that put a spring in McIlroy's step and has convinced him he can land more of the big pots.

"I'd say the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup meant the most because it was Brooks in the final group and it meant a little more to me just because he is still ranked the number one player in the world," McIlroy said.

"There were a lot of tournaments I had chances in before the Players, even though it was still early in the year, and I felt there were questions about: Can Rory get it done? Can he close? Can he finish?

"That was huge to me. It proved to myself and it proved to other people that I can get it done on a Sunday when it matters at one of the biggest tournaments in the world."

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