Masters champion desperate to be a Great Scott

Twelve months ago Scott ended a run of near-misses at the ‘Big Four’ championships by becoming the first Australian to land the coveted Masters Green Jacket and the 33-year-old is hungry for more top-notch titles.


“This week is another opportunity for me to kind of keep moving my career in the right direction,” the world number two told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the Masters.

“I need to keep going, do it consistently for years to build up a resume like Tiger, Ernie and Phil, match the longevity of their careers. Their consistently high level of play is what I’m aiming for.”

Scott, rated by bookmakers Ladbrokes as the 12-1 joint favourite at Augusta National this week alongside Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, said the early part of his 2014 schedule was all about preparing for a stout defence of the Green Jacket.

“Everything I’ve done this year has been planned carefully so that I can peak this week,” he explained.

“My ball striking is up where I want it to be following some good work I’ve done on the practice range and at home and my competitiveness also came through in the three weeks I played on the Florida swing.

“Getting in contention at Bay Hill showed me I was right on the mark,” added Scott in reference to his third-place finish at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.


The globetrotting Australian has won 23 times around the world and said it was always important to perform well as a defending champion.

“At any tournament you want to put in a good defence but especially so here,” said Scott, a golf brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz who are a global sponsor of the Masters.

“For me this week is about balancing expectation and enjoying the experience of being Masters champion and hopefully my form is good enough to put me in a similar position to last year.”

Scott said he took added confidence from the fact that his country’s golfing stock was high at the moment.

Jason Day started it all off by winning the WGC-Match Play Championship in Arizona in February before fellow Australians John Senden (Tampa Bay Championship), Steven Bowditch (Texas Open) and Matt Jones (Houston Open) followed up with more victories.

“It’s a tight-knit group of Australian guys on tour,” said Scott. “I’ve known Sendo for a long time and I’ve known Bowdo and Matt since high school days – we’re all round about the same age.

“It all kind of works in cycles. There was a group of us who came through in the mid-2000s with Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Geoff Ogilvy and Rod Pampling when a lot of the guys were winning.

“We then went into a bit of a lull and now we have another crop of guys who have reached a certain level in their careers and have elevated their games.

“The Australian talent is really deep on the PGA Tour, we are doing really well and it’s important that we all keep it going.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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China keen to fast-track FTA talks

The Abbott government is getting all the right signs from China that they’re keen to fast-track talks on a free trade deal with Australia.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been personally assured by Premier Li Keqiang that China is determined to conclude negotiations on a deal as soon as possible.

That’s good news for Mr Abbott, who arrives in China having clinched agreements with South Korea and Japan and wants to redouble efforts to get Beijing across the line.

China remains the missing piece in his so-called trade trifecta and he wants to fulfil an election promise by delivering the three deals by year’s end.

He’ll use his visit to China to promote Australia’s trade and investment potential, and will take his message directly to economic leaders on Wednesday in an address to the Boao Forum.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was vital Australia secured a free trade deal with its largest trading partner.

“We will be pushing very hard to do that as fast as possible,” he said in Shanghai.

“I must say, the Chinese leadership have made it very clear that they want to accelerate negotiations with Australia too.”

Mr Frydenberg has arrived in Shanghai ahead of the prime minister to promote the inaugural “Australia Week in China” trade expo, which is being run across four major Chinese cities.

The government wants to show China it means business and has sent its largest ever trade delegation, stacked with corporate heavyweights, to drive its message home.

All the state premiers and visiting delegates will converge on Shanghai on Friday for a keynote speech by the prime minister.

But while trade dominated bilateral talks between Premier Li and Mr Abbott, there were some notable subjects left off the agenda.

It’s understood Mr Abbott did not raise human rights concerns with China, or North Korea’s recent provocative missile tests.

Mr Abbott branded North Korea an “outlaw state” during a symbolic visit to the demilitarised zone, but isn’t likely to raise the issue with China who is Pyongyang’s major ally and economic provider.

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Masters chairman set to vote for women at Royal and Ancient

Recognised as the spiritual home of golf and guardian of the rules of the game since 1754, St Andrews has come under increasing fire for excluding women members.


But things could finally change in September when the club’s 2,500 members will decide whether to open its doors to everyone after operating as a men-only institution for 260 years.

The vote comes just two years after Augusta National, the home of the Masters, finally ended its all-male policy by admitting former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore as members.

And now Payne, who oversaw the decision to let women join Augusta National, gave a clear indication on Wednesday of how he would vote when the secret ballot takes place later this year.

“Well, I’m proud to be a member of the R&A and I bet you can guess how I’m going to vote,” he told a news conference on the eve of the 78th Masters.

“Other than that, I would respect their process, their requirement to conduct a vote, and so the process will culminate in a decision.

“And as I’ve said, I know where one vote is going to be cast.”

Augusta National’s membership policy had been an issue for years, triggering protests from the National Council of Women’s Organizations and even criticism from President Barack Obama.

Augusta’s invitation-only membership has been steeped in secrecy since the club opened in 1933. It was not until 1990 that Augusta National invited its first black member and until 2012, women were only allowed to play the course if invited by a male member.

“As I’ve said before, we readily and joyously welcomed our lady members when that happened a couple years ago,” Payne said.

“It remains a very good decision on our part. We are so delighted, and I know I speak for everyone, that they are members.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Gene Cherry)

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Woods missing but not forgotten at the Masters

The four-time Masters winner, stuck on 14 majors for the last six years in his quest to surpass the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus, is sidelined after undergoing surgery for a pinched nerve in his back.


“We miss Tiger, as does the entire golf world,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said in his State of the Masters news conference on Wednesday. “He is always a threat to make a run and do well and win here at Augusta National.”

Woods, number two on the all-time majors list, had played in every Masters since his first appearance as U.S. Amateur champion as a 19-year-old in 1995.

Reigning champion Adam Scott of Australia said Woods would be sorely missed at the 78th edition of the stately event conceived by the legendary Bobby Jones.

“It’s a big loss for the tournament any time a world number one is not going to play. It’s a huge loss,” said Scott, who became the first Australian to win the Masters after a thrilling sudden-death playoff duel against Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.

“But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it. It’s not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway.”

Woods’s long-time rival Phil Mickelson said it would feel strange not having Tiger to gun for.

“It’s a weird feeling not having him here, isn’t it?” said three-time Masters winner Mickelson, who last year notched his fifth major title by winning the British Open.

“He’s been such a mainstay in professional golf and in the majors. It’s awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon.

“As much as I want to win and I know how great he is and tough to beat, it also makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win,” added the big lefthander.

Rory McIlroy, the 24-year-old Northern Irishman rated a co-favourite with Scott for this year’s green jacket, said the absence of Woods would be felt right from the start.

“Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more buzz, more of an atmosphere,” said two-time major winner McIlroy, considered by some the heir apparent to Woods as the dominant player of his generation.

“You know where he is on the course just by the crowd and the gallery that follows him.

“I think people will miss him at the start of the week but by the end of the week, when it comes down to who is going to win the golf tournament, there’s going to be a worthy winner and it will produce a lot of excitement.”

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was disappointed not to have Woods in the field for the tournament that kicks off the major championship season.

“It’s a shame for the tournament,” said England’s Rose. “I know that people are very excited to watch him play golf. Win, lose or draw, he’s a very big draw for the game.

“People are eager to see how he’s going to chase down Jack Nicklaus in every major championship. There’s a countdown to that. Yeah, he’ll definitely be missed this week. Obviously from a TV and a fan perspective, absolutely.”

Masters chief Payne was confident the tournament would not suffer.

“This is the Masters,” said Payne. “This is what we hope is the best golf tournament in the world, one of the greatest sporting events, and I think we will have a very impressive audience and have another great champion to crown this year.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Scottish boss defends under-fire Johnson

Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson has denied claims Scott Johnson was rewarded for failure following the national side’s miserable 2014 Six Nations campaign.


Australian coach Johnson was in charge of Scotland as they came within a last-ditch drop-goal of suffering a tournament whitewash but is now set to become the SRU’s director of rugby with New Zealand’s Vern Cotter, currently in charge of French club Clermont, taking over as national coach.

Scotland enjoyed a tense Six Nations win over fellow strugglers Italy which was precious little consolation for a series of heavy defeats including a 20-0 loss to England at Murrayfield – the first time Scotland had been ‘nilled’ by their oldest foes since 1978 – and a 51-3 thrashing by Wales in a match where full-back Stuart Hogg was sent off.

But Dodson, speaking on Johnson’s new role, said: “We need clarity on this issue. We appointed Scott to be director of rugby first. Then we got Vern Cotter as head coach. We knew we would have to wait for Vern as he wanted to finish the job he started at Clermont.

“We asked Scott to stand in during the interim. He had no ambition to do that but we asked him. He was happy to do it on one proviso, and that was to bring on Scottish players in larger numbers.

“In the period he’s been in charge, he has capped 17 new players, so we have a squad that is richer and deeper than ever.

“But as for the backlash about Scott being promoted, I’d say that he was never ‘promoted’ – he already had the job.

“We always knew there would be a problem with the 14-month period but Scott did what we asked him to do and he delivered what we asked him to deliver.”

Johnson won just five of his 16 games in charge but Dodson said it was Calcutta Cup defeat by England that led to a torrent of criticism.

In light of those damning statistics, Dodson – who insists he never made any attempt to lure Cotter from France early – is praying the New Zealander proves worth the wait.

“The performance against England was what caused us problems. We did not compete against them in a Calcutta Cup match here at Murrayfield. It can’t get much worse.

“That was unacceptable to us but it was also unacceptable to the coaching team and the players.”

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