Monday, February 28, 2011

Kaymer becomes World Number One

Martin Kaymer will become the Number One golfer on the planet today, completing a meteoric rise to the summit of the professional game. The 26 year old from Düsseldorf will replace Lee Westwood at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking after reaching the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, where he will face England’s Luke Donald, who beat American Matt Kuchar 6&5 in the day’s other semi-final. Kaymer’s one up victory over American Bubba Watson, the man he also beat in a play-off to win the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last year, was sufficient to propel him to the Number One spot – almost 25 years to the month since his highly-decorated countryman, Bernhard Langer, became the first person, and only other German, to head the newly-created Ranking in April 1986. Kaymer’s elevation caps a remarkable week for European golf, with Europeans now occupying at least the top three places in the Ranking – and the top four if Donald were to prevail in today’s final – for the first time in 19 years. While Kaymer and Westwood will switch places, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell will move to a career-high third place unless Donald wins, in which case he would occupy third and the Ulsterman would take fourth. The last time that Europe enjoyed such riches was on March 15, 1992, when the formidable quartet of Ian Woosnam, Sir Nick Faldo, José Maria Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros filled the leading four positions. As he prepared to face his Ryder Cup team-mate Donald in the 18-hole final at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Dove Mountain, an ecstatic Kaymer said: “I definitely need some time to think about it and let it sink in – the good thing is next week I don’t have a tournament, so maybe then I’ll be able to appreciate what I’ve done. But what I can say for sure is that it’s an incredibly proud moment. Not only for me, but also for my family, for the people who have helped me, and obviously for Germany and also The European Tour. To be only the second German after Bernhard Langer, who was my role model when I was growing up, is a very special feeling. “Like I say, it probably won’t hit me until Monday, but when the new World Ranking is published I’m definitely going to take a picture with my name at the top. It doesn’t feel real to me at the moment, but maybe when I see it in writing then I’ll start to believe I’m the best golfer in the world. Not many people can say they’re the best player in the world at their sport, so I feel very honoured and privileged. It’ll feel extra special if I manage to beat Luke in the final, because then I will really feel that I deserve it.” While two-time Major Champion Langer was the first to ascent to the summit – staying there for a further two weeks – Kaymer is only the 14th player, and the sixth European, to fill that coveted position in the quarter of a century since the World Ranking was devised. Since turning professional in 2005 and winning on his debut on the European Challenge Tour the following year, Kaymer has gone from strength to strength in a remarkably short space of time, winning nine times on The European Tour International Schedule with his most recent victory coming by eight shots at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – an event he has won three times.
That debut Challenge Tour win in August 2006 hoisted Kaymer from 1249th in the world to 480th. Since then, his progress has been little short of stupendous. He ended 2006 in 164th place then made rapid strides to 76th (2007), 25th (2008), 13th(2009) and third at the end of 2010, the season in which he made his Major breakthrough and played in his first Ryder Cup. Now Kaymer, who won last year’s Race to Dubai and will climb to the top of the current Rankings if he defeats Donald in today’s final, has graduated from European to World Number One with an almost effortless grace. In the process, Kaymer, at 26 years and nine weeks, becomes the second youngest player behind Tiger Woods (21 years and 24 weeks) to reach World Number One. He follows in the illustrious footsteps of Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Sir Nick Faldo and Westwood as the only Europeans to reach golf’s pinnacle.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

India joins forces with Golf

The European Tour makes its fourth visit to India this week, adding further impetus to the fastest growing sport in the world’s second most populous country. Cricket may be deeply ingrained in the sporting culture of the subcontinent but golf is in the ascendency and The European Tour has a key role to play in the development of the sport across the country.The Avantha Masters, jointly sanctioned by The European Tour, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) and the Asian Tour, represents the pinnacle, and the explosion of interest is being felt all the way through society, as illustrated by Tomasz Gudzowaty’s brilliant portrayal of “Urban Golf in India”, a photographic story of boys from the slums of Mumbai who have fashioned makeshift clubs from iron rods and devised their own variation of the game. Not long ago the only sport played on the streets was cricket but golf is finding its feet.Golf is growing at a phenomenal rate, spurred on by the development of the PGTI, the arrival of The European Tour and now golf’s inclusion in the Olympics. Cricket still dominates the back pages, but golf is next in line as the media soaks up the global success of home grown players such as Jeev Milhka Singh, Shiv Kapur and SSP Chowrasia. These and many more are seizing the opportunities afforded them through the association with The European Tour and taking golf to a new level.The rapid progression is highlighted on the ground with 230 courses across the country, an increase of 20-25% over the last decade, and 50 new courses in development. There are an estimated half a million active golfers, a number that is growing fast. And while there are only two recognised public courses, private courses are increasingly being opened for public play and golf’s inclusion in the Olympics has sparked moves for the provision of a public driving range in every city. Kapur is one of the standard bearers for Indian golf, at the forefront of the game’s development in his home country and carrying it onto the international stage.“Seven or eight years ago when I was thinking about turning professional I was still in college and my parents didn’t think it was a good career move because the local tour in India was so small,” he said. “When you have to stand on your own two feet it’s not that easy. But now the local tour has grown and now you get tournaments like this week’s Avantha Masters. “The kids get really excited about coming out and seeing us play for such big money. It is a great boost for golf and the juniors who strive to be where we are. Golf has grown a lot and it is the fastest growing sport in the country. In the next five years there are more than 50 or 60 new golf courses due to open so golf is growing at a fast pace.” Much of that is down to the work of Guatam Thapar, President of the PGTI since its launch in 2006 and Chairman and CEO of Avantha, this week’s tournament sponsors. In the first three years of his stewardship, prize money on the PGTI increased by more than 250% and this growth was recognised with the induction of the PGTI to the International Federation of PGA Tours in July 2009.“Gauthum Thapar is probably the most important man in Indian golf at the moment,” said Singh. “He is supports the Indian Tour, he owns Avantha and he is very rich man. There are a few billionaires in India who really support the game and that is great for us because they want to see golf grow in India.”The arrival of The European Tour and success of home players is helping raise golf’s profile in a country passionate about sport. Arjun Atwal was the first Indian to win on The European Tour, taking the Malaysian Open title in 2003, and he has been followed by Singh and Chowrasia. Indeed, Chowrasia’s victory in the first European Tour co-sanctioned event in India in 2008 highlighted what can be achieved with the heart-warming story of the son of the local greenkeeper taking the title.“Having the Tour in India has been good for the local players to rub shoulders with the best players,” continued Kapur. “It is a great opportunity for them. The 20 or so local players get to play in a European Tour field and play for €1.8million. SSP (Chowrasia) is a great example – he won the first co-sanctioned event here in India and he got a three year exemption on The European Tour. For the India players and some of the Asian Tour players it is a great stepping stone to build on. All of us growing up, we dreamt of playing on The European Tour one day. Having The European Tour in India is such a great boost for golf in our country and in Asia.” The future is bright for the sport and golf’s inclusion in the Olympics will only give further fuel to the game’s development. Singh, whose father Milkha Singh – “the Flying Sikh” – was a renowned sprinter, is relishing the impact this will have. “You can’t overstate the impact that the Olympic decision will have on golf,” he said. “Countries all over the world will sit up and take notice of that and there will be a lot more money coming into golf. Golf in the Olympics will have a huge impact in India. “We need to build more public driving ranges and more public courses so that the common man can give it a go. There are plans to do that – since golf was reinstated as an Olympic sport I am sure that our Sports Minister and the Government are keen to do that.“The European Tour has come into India at the right time – it is a growing market so there are benefits for both parties. The Tour can do a lot commercially in a market like that and our players can benefit from the experience of playing on a Tour that has the best players in the world playing regularly.” Further developments have also been made with the first Challenge Tour event co-sanctioned with the PGTI taking place last month, hosted by Singh. And in a perfect illustration of how well home players are progressing, Gaganjeet Bhullar became the first Indian to win on the Challenge Tour after triumphing by one shot at the season-opening Gujarat Kensville Challenge in what was the first men’s golf event to be played in Western India. There is a collective will to build the game throughout India with The European Tour playing a key role and this week’s Avantha Masters, with its 20% increase in prize money from 2010, is another solid foundation block in that building process.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Title tilt for Cleverly

Welsh star Nathan Cleverly will face WBO World Light-Heavyweight champion Jurgen Braehmer in a mouth-watering world title clash. The fight was confirmed today at a London press conference by promoter Frank Warren, and will go ahead on April 2 in London at Wembley Arena. Cleverly, 23, is the current WBO interim champion after wins in his last two fights against Karo Murat and Nadjib Mohammedi. However Braehmer represents a significant step up in class for the unbeaten mathematics graduate, who has put together a 21-fight winning streak. Braehmer, 32, has a 36-2 (29) record and, like Cleverly, is a former European champion. "I'm delighted that I've been able to secure home advantage for Nathan," said Warren. "It wasn't cheap to get Braehmer over here, but it will be worth it because I really believe in Nathan and he has a big future ahead of him. "It looked like the fight was going to go to purse bids, but we made a substantial offer the night before and it was enough to persuade Braehmer to say yes. "Nathan has worked incredibly hard for this opportunity, and waited patiently to get his shot. "He's getting this fight at exactly the right time, and it could be a massive moment in his career. "This is a huge fight. Braehmer is a proven champion and belongs at elite level, while Cleverly is young and hungry and could be the next big thing in the UK. "Don't forget that light-heavyweight is a very sexy division right now. " You've got Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Tavoris Cloud and Jean Pascal out there, and Nathan has the chance to make a name for himself both here and in the States. Cleverly added: "I always thought that I would get my shot at Braehmer. "There was talk that he might be stripped or would vacate the title, but I never wanted that to happen. "He's the champion and the only way I would consider myself a true champion is if I took the belt from him, rather than picking up the vacant title. "I'm going to take the fight to Braehmer, walk through him and give him some serious punishment. "I feel that this fight has come at the perfect time for me and I want to make a big statement. "You only have to take a look at Braehmer's record to realise just how dangerous he will be. He's a genuine champion and a genuine talent, but I think I have enough in my armoury to beat him. "Before my last fight I was only sparring amateurs, but this time around I've got some big professional cruiserweights in and I've been knocking them out. "I'm going to significantly better against Braehmer than I was against Mohammedi, and I'm predicting a spectacular performance."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Murray signs with Warren

Manchester ace John Murray has signed a promotional agreement with top promoter Frank Warren. The European and two-time British Lightweight Champion from Levenshulme joins Warren's talent packed stable alongside the best young fighters in Britain. Murray, 26, has amassed the longest current undefeated record in Britain with 30 wins and his last six fights have all ended by stoppage. Hall of Fame promoter Warren has guided and developed British boxing biggest stars including Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton, Nigel Benn, Amir Khan, Frank Bruno and Naseem Hamed, and now Murray wants to join those illustrious names. "John is a tremendous talent and I'm thrilled that he's joined my organisation," said Warren, now into his 30th year in the sport. "I've always thought highly of him and what he needs now is the right promotion and guidance to turn him into a star and that's what I aim to do," "He can fight and I believe that with his no-nonsense, all-action, style, he can be the man to get Manchester's boxing scene going again." A jubilant Murray said, "I'm excited to be signing with Frank who is the best promoter in Britain and one of the best in the world at developing talent," "This is the next chapter of my career which will be the most exciting and I'm looking forward to being on the big stage," "Frank can make the big fights happen; he got Kostya Tszyu for Hatton, Jeff Lacy for Calzaghe, Marco Antonio Barrera for Khan, all of which were in Manchester, and more recently Michael Katsidis for Kevin Mitchell." "My ambition has always been to headline arenas. I've watched Ricky Hatton fill the M.E.N Arena in his hey day making Manchester the boxing capital of Britain in the last decade," "I want to get Manchester rocking again, I've got the exciting style that the fans love and I want to be part of the Frank Warren success story just like Naz, Ricky and Joe," Murray's trainer Joe Gallagher, who also carries an unbeaten record with his fighters currently standing at 41-0, said, "I'm really pleased that John has gone with Frank who I know is going to do a fantastic job on him," "It's also a proud day for me as I've had John since he was a 14-year-old and brought him through the amateurs and professional, winning the English, British and European titles, and now he's signed up with one of the world's best promoters," "Frank's promoted the best fighters and puts on the best shows and John is in the best hands he could be in."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Khan against McCloskey in Manchester

Amir "King" Khan returns home. On Saturday, April 16, at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England, WBA Super Lightweight World Champion Amir "King" Khan will defends his title in England for the first time since December of 2009 when he faces unbeaten EBU champion Paul "Dudey" McCloskey of Northern Ireland. "I'm thrilled to be coming home to England to defend my title on April 16 and I promise my fans that I will give them a performance they won't forget," said Khan. "McCloskey is a tough contender, so I expect him to be in his best form. I'm in my prime now and I want to make a statement in this fight and show that I am the best super lightweight in the world." "Fighting for a world championship is a dream come true for me and I'm not about to let it go to waste," said McCloskey. "Khan is a very good fighter and I respect him, but he is beatable and I plan to do just that. I've sacrificed a lot to get here and this is my time." "This is the fight that the British boxing fans want to see because both fighters are champions and both are going to give their all," said Asif Vali of Khan Promotions. "There will definitely be fireworks on April 16." "There's nothing like an Amir Khan fight in England and I know the atmosphere is going to be electric on April 16," said Oscar de la Hoya, President of Golden Boy Promotions. "Amir showed great skill and heart in his fight with Maidana in December and he wants to keep that momentum going, but Paul McCloskey is a tough, undefeated challenger who has been waiting for his moment under the bright lights. This one has all the makings of a great fight." "I am very pleased and excited to be involved in this promotion and I am sure it will be a big success," said Ricky Hatton, President of Hatton Promotions. Khan vs. McCloskey, a 12-round WBA Super Lightweight World Championship bout, is presented by Khan Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions in association with Hatton Promotions. The reigning superstar of British boxing, Bolton's Amir "King" Khan (24-1, 17 KO's) represented England in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he captured a Silver Medal at the age of 17. He has carried that momentum into his professional career which has seen him rise to the top of the super lightweight class. Winner of six fights in a row, Khan won the WBA Super Lightweight World Title in July of 2009 with a 12-round win over Andriy Kotelnik and has successfully defended his belt with knockout wins over Dmitriy Salita and Paulie "Magic Man" Malignaggi. His most exciting defense came in his most recent fight on December 11, 2010 during which Khan scored a dramatic 12-round unanimous decision victory over Marcos Maidana. The fight saw Khan score a first round knockdown and dominate the early-rounds of the fight, but then Maidana made the fight a close one by closing the gap in the late rounds. Khan displayed an incredible amount of heart and fortitude in surviving a vicious tenth round onslaught by Maidana that would have sent most fighters to the canvas. Khan survived the round and came out swinging in the eleventh and twelfth round, sealing the unanimous decision victory in an instant classic. The fight was so acclaimed that it was named the Boxing Writers Association of America's 2010 Fight of the Year. Now, the 24-year-old returns to fight in England for the first time in over a year to face a hungry challenger looking to unseat him from his throne. A proud native of Derry, Northern Ireland, 31-year-old Paul McCloskey (22-0, 12 KO's) has been waiting for this moment since the first time he laced up the gloves. A three-time Irish amateur champion, the talented southpaw turned professional in 2005 and has since proven himself to be one of his country's top exports. The current European Union Super Lightweight Champion has two defenses under his belt and owns wins over Toncho Tonchev, Cesar Bazan, Colin Lynes, Dean Harrison and Giuseppe Lauri. A world championship bout against Khan is the most important of his career and he is determined to the title back with him to Northern Ireland.

Westwood receives special Accolade

Lee Westwood, only the second English golfer after Sir Nick Faldo to scale the summit of the professional game as World Number One, has been awarded Honorary Life Membership of The European Tour. The 37 year old from Worksop, who deposed Tiger Woods at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking on October 31 last year, was presented with a silver Honorary Life Membership card and money clip by George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, during the build up to this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club. Westwood turned professional in 1993 and has been a loyal and committed supporter of The European Tour since his debut season in 1994, when he finished 43rd in the Order of Merit. Now in his 18th year on his home Tour and making his 388th start in Dubai this week, Westwood remains one of Europe’s most consistently brilliant and popular performers wherever he tees up. He has won 20 times on The European Tour, the last victory being his superb success in the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, which secured The 2009 Race to Dubai title to add to his Order of Merit win in 2000. As well as those two triumphs in the season-long competitions, Westwood has been runner-up once and third on four occasions. He is third in the all-time Career Money List behind Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie with tournament winnings of €23,911,692, and is only the 13th player to reach the pinnacle of World Number One in the 25 years of the Official World Golf Ranking. Since making his Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama in 1997, Westwood has become a talisman for Europe in the biennial contest against the United States, winning 19 points during the seven matches in which he has played. Westwood said: “I have always loved The European Tour, from the moment I first teed up in Madeira to this day, standing here in Dubai receiving this award. I have had a few ups and downs in that time but I have always loved The Tour and the people surrounding it. It has played a huge part in my life and I will cherish this honour for the rest of my life.” O’Grady commented: “It is a great privilege to honour Lee in this very special way with the highest award we as a Tour can give him. He is a devoted family man but also devoted to the Tour on which he cut his teeth in professional golf. He has shown unswerving loyalty to The European Tour for the best part of 20 years and is fully deserving of being recognised with Honorary Life Membership. “For the past 15 weeks Lee has sat on top of the world, in a golfing sense, and the fact that only 12 other players have claimed the position of Number One over a 25 year period speaks volumes for the enormity of his achievement. He has done this through the quality of his golf and sheer force of personality and is undoubtedly one of our greatest champions.”

Friday, February 04, 2011

Kaymer succeeds in January

Martin Kaymer has won The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month award for January following his dominant defence of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which saw him climb to a career-high World Number Two. The German, who receives an engraved alms dish in recognition of his achievement, set a new tournament record low total of 264 (24 under par) with rounds of 67-65-66-66, finishing eight shots clear of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy to capture his fourth title in his last eight European Tour appearances. It was also his third victory in the six-year history of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, following wins in 2008 and 2010. The latest success saw Kaymer become the quickest player to earn €10million in European Tour Official Career Earnings, doing so in just 100 events, and moved him to second place behind Lee Westwood of England on the Official World Golf Ranking. It marked the first occasion that two Europeans have been Number One and Two in the world since 1993, when Sir Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer occupied the same positions. Kaymer said: “I’ve won the Golfer of the Month award four times now and it is always a nice trophy to win. I’m collecting them! It’s good to have an extra trophy in my living room. I played very well in Abu Dhabi. I know Tiger has won by 15shots before but to win a golf tournament by eight shots is pretty good going.” Broadcaster Di Stewart, a member of the judging panel, said: “It was another difficult decision for the judging panel with so many strong contenders for January’s award. After much debate, Martin Kaymer came out on top for yet another stunning performance. Martin said his win was the best golf he’s ever played and to beat the field by eight shots, after a winter break, can only be described as remarkable.“He is certainly an Abu Dhabi specialist having won the title three times in four years, but this victory was perhaps the most impressive of them all as he showed his quality against a world-class field. He was cool, calm and collected. Alles wunderbar for the German! Martin’s victory last year in Abu Dhabi spurred an amazing season which included a Major, a Ryder Cup appearance and The Race to Dubai –who knows what 2011 holds for him?” It was another notable month of performances on The European Tour for the judges to consider in arriving at their decision. The panel commended Louis Oosthuizen, the winner of the South African Open on home soil; his compatriot Charl Schwartzel, who won the Joburg Open and had top ten finishes in the Africa Open and Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship; and Paul Casey, who claimed his first European Tour title in 20 months in the Volvo Golf Champions. Kaymer, who also won the Golfer of the Month award last August following his victory in the US PGA Championship, will join the subsequent monthly winners in 2011, all of whom will be considered for The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year – an honour the German shared in 2010 with Graeme McDowell.