Koepka the man to catch at Bethpage; Leinster and Munster takes centre stage
Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team
Graeme McDowell hits out of the bunker on the fourth hole during the first round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Photo: Seth Wenip/AP Photo
Brooks Koepka’s relentless pursuit of Major championships shows no signs of letting up in New York as the American opened his defence of the US PGA Championship with a course record 63 at Bethpage Black to take a one shot lead at seven under par. Koepka has captured three of the last seven Majors he has played in and is now well primed to make that four in eight despite not making birdie on either of the Par 5s yesterday. For Rory McIlroy it was a different story as a round which included 35 putts saw him fail to find a birdie until the very last hole as he signed for a 72 and two over par, nine adrift of the leader. Since his Masters heroics last month it was a first appearance for Tiger Woods and it proved to be a rather up-and-down experience as started with a double bogey, moved out to three over, got it back to one under but, in the end, also signed for a 72. As Philip Reid writes from Bethpage Black, it was a relief just to see Woods on the course after some rumours of health issues had been swirling around the media centre on Wednesday. For Graeme McDowell the chances of adding a second Major title to his trophy cabinet look very slim on a long, wet course which demands huge length off the tee but the Portrush man showed yesterday that there is more than one way to skin a cat as he plotted his way to a very impressive round of 70. Today, McIlroy gets underway at 1.13pm Irish time with Pádraig Harrington (who only managed a 75 yesterday) also among the early starters and you can follow it all on The Irish Times liveblog from 1pm.
On to rugby and the breaking news this morning is that Israel Folau has had his Rugby Australia contract terminated on the back of his controversial social media posts. In the last half an hour, RA chief executive Raelene Castle has said “Rugby Australia did not choose to be in the situation, but Rugby Australia’s position remains that Israel, through his actions, left us with no choice but to pursue the course of action resulting in today’s outcome. This has been an extremely challenging period for rugby. This issue has created an unwanted distraction in an important year for the sport and for the Wallabies team.” Moving on, London Irish yesterday said that they have no concerns over the signing of Paddy Jackson who joins the English team after a stint in Perpignan following the termination of his contract with Ulster in the wake of last year’s high-profile rape trial in which he and three others were acquitted. “We’ve got strict codes of conduct and obviously he’ll have to adhere to the same code of conduct that we do off the field and on the field,” London Irish boss Brian Facer said yesterday. This weekend the semi-finals of the Pro14 take centre stage with Ulster first up this evening against Glasgow in Scotstoun. It promises to be a difficult task for the Irish province but the return of Jacob Stockdale is sure to be a major boost for Dan McFarland’s side. Tomorrow Leinster and Ulster will meet at the RDS for what will be a typically intense battle and this morning Matt Williams writes that it is an opportunity for both sides to restore some pride after their respective European disappointments. “At full-time on Saturday, one team will have a soothing balm, smoothed over a healing scar, and the other will have to deal with the reopening of a deep wound, after the scab has just been painfully ripped off,” he writes.