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Monthly Archives: January 2019

Political unrest costs Bangkok new league staging rights

Her sacking by the Constitutional Court for nepotism followed six months of anti-government protests and the ongoing turmoil has prompted the IPTL organisers to shift the Nov 28-30 event to the Philippines.

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“We had to divert from the original franchise owner in Bangkok as the political unrest forced us to look for an alternative city to ensure the safety of all stakeholders,” league founder Mahesh Bhupathi said in a statement.

“Bringing world class tennis to new audience’s has always been one of the objectives of the IPTL and we are happy to announce Manila as the first host city of our tour across Asia,” said the Indian doubles specialist.

“Manila quickly emerged as the perfect location to stage the event for the coming years as we have world class indoor venues available which can hold more than 20,000 spectators each and secondly, the city that has not seen professional tennis for the past 20 years.”

Picked by Bangkok in the March draft, Britain’s Andy Murray, Frenchman Jo Wilfried-Tsonga and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will now represent team Manila.

Singapore, Dubai and Mumbai are home to the other three franchises of the competition styled on cricket’s Indian Premier League.

The teams will compete in men’s and women’s singles, men’s and mixed doubles and a men’s legends singles with one set per match, and no advantage scoring.

Men’s world number one Rafa Nadal, number two Novak Djokovic and top woman player Serena Williams are among the marquee players who have committed to the league.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty,; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Aussie Matthews takes lead in Giro

Australia’s Michael Matthews is the Giro d’Italia’s new leader, having taken the pink jersey from his Orica-GreenEDGE team-mate Svein Tuft after German sprinter Marcel Kittel won Saturday’s second stage.

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“The plan was to win (Friday’s) team time trial, to give Svein the jersey for his birthday, and then for me to get a place in the sprint and take the jersey,” said Matthews.

“To wear the pink jersey in my first Giro d’Italia is a dream come true.”

The 23-year-old was no match for Kittel in the sprint finish in a wet Belfast, at the end of Saturday’s 219km stage, finishing eighth.

“I think Kittel is definitely the fastest guy in the bunch here. He showed that today. I need to try to be around him in these first stages and conserve energy for stages five and six, which are my goals for this Giro. I’m focused on them.”

He is focused on staying in pink, too, with GreenEDGE riders occupying the first six places and Matthews enjoying an eight-second lead over the rest of the field: “With the gap we have over the other teams we should be able to keep the jersey for maybe a week.”

Kittel confirmed his status as cycling’s in-form sprinter, even if Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel, his main rivals, are both missing.

It was his first Giro win after his four stage victories in last year’s Tour de France and means that he has now won stages in all three Grand Tours – France, Italy and Spain.

At the end of a stage that took the riders north from Belfast to the Bushmills Distillery, returning by the coast and passing Giant’s Causeway, it was a relatively straightforward win for Kittel, whose Giant-Shimano team shepherded him over roads made treacherous by rain.

On the run-in to Belfast the peloton swept up a four-man break that had been clear for most of the stage, with Maarten Tjallingii of the Netherlands the last survivor.

But when Kittel appeared at the front in the final 500 metres, having safely negotiated a ninety-degree bend, it was as good as over for the others.

He sprinted in over a length clear of second-place Nacer Bouhanni of France.

“I know the riders who I have to take care of and keep an eye on,” said Kittel.

“Bouhanni and (Elia) Viviani will definitely challenge us here. It’s a problem if you become arrogant and think you will beat them.”

Sunday’s third stage, a 187km cross-border leg from Armagh to Dublin, should also suit Kittel on what will be his 26th birthday.

The three-week event then heads home to Italy.

Pellegrini has improved Manchester City, says Silva

Pellegrini’s side host West Ham United on Sunday and only a major shock would prevent City adding the Premier League title to the League Cup they won in March.

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Free-scoring City have hit 100 league goals this season but Silva believes the manager’s influence transcends results and performances.

“He’s made it a happy place,” Silva told www.mcfc.co.uk. “He’s brought a joy and happiness; also to our style of play. We are attack-minded and we score lots of goals.

“He’s made us competitive in every competition. We’ve gone further in them this season. He’s given us that extra push and taken us one step further.

“His calmness has been obvious. He’s added that to the whole club. And it really helps us at difficult moments. It’s nice to have that calm attitude around you when things get tough.”

After playing a starring role in City’s first Premier League title win in 2012 Silva endured a subdued season last year but the 28-year-old has been back to his dazzling best in this campaign and he credits Pellegrini’s attacking style as the catalyst.

“Having Manuel here has helped me personally, too. It’s been really good for me. My style of play is more suited to an attacking style. He’s helped me develop as a player. You always want to improve as an individual.

“It’s been a good year for me. I’ve felt good in myself though I’ve suffered with this ankle problem. I’m still feeling it and I’ve been playing through the pain. If I get through these next couple of games, I can get some rest and be fit and ready for the World Cup.”

City are expected to comfortably overcome a mid-table West Ham with little to play for but Silva was quick to reiterate City’s message in the title run-in: ‘fight to the end’.

After watching title rivals Liverpool surrender a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 against Crystal Palace on Monday Silva said the team must be wary of West Ham and cannot take anything for granted.

“Everyone is saying we have it won but we still think it will be very difficult,” he said. “The games now are like finals. We cannot be complacent. It was a warning to us about what can happen.

“We know if we get the win, we win the league so there is pressure but you have to enjoy these moments. They don’t come along all that often.”

(Reporting by Tom Hayward; editing by Justin Palmer)

This is only the beginning for Liverpool – Rodgers

They must now beat Newcastle United on Sunday and pray title favourite Manchester City lose at home to West Ham United.

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Far from regretting how the title charge has rather fizzled out over the final stages, a satisfied Rodgers vowed his team would return stronger.

“This is only the beginning for us,” the northern Irishman told the Liverpool Echo newspaper.

“This season isn’t a one-off. I think there is an easy gauge on that. You only have to look at our progress.

“This will be arguably the best run at a title the club has had for 24 years. Steven Gerrard is 33 years of age and this is the closest he has got to winning it. This is his first real sample of a title run-in and he will be even better next season.

“Think of the experiences these players will have had. Just think what Raheem Sterling is going to be like, what Jon Flanagan is going to be like, Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Philippe Coutinho…

“These are all young players. We are going to improve. Of course, I would expect the other teams to spend and improve but we will get better as well.”

Back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009, some fans fear Liverpool’s relatively thin squad might be stretched next season but Rodgers was unperturbed.

“History shows you it can be difficult juggling the different competitions but being back in the Champions League is something we will relish.

“We have shown the significance of our development this season and we will be able to reinforce with quality in the summer. That will push us on again.

“The supporters have been allowed to dream this year and they will be able to continue doing that because we are going to get better.”

His sunny optimism notwithstanding, Rodgers conceded feeling shattered after Liverpool squandered a three-goal advantage in Monday’s draw at Selhurst Park.

“I probably felt the lowest I’ve ever felt in all my time working in football,” the 41-year-old said.

“It was awful. You saw the emotion of the supporters after and it was pretty much the same in the dressing room.

“At 3-0, we were so comfortable but we lost our concentration and in the modern game momentum can change fast.”

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by John O’Brien)

No.1 ranking outside chance for Scott

Adam Scott hasn’t ruled out the chase for world No.

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1 after a solid third round at the US PGA Tour Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

Scott posted a three-under 69 in morning conditions to move up to three-under for the tournament, currently tied 35th as the leaders head out into tougher, windier afternoon play.

The world No.2 needs only a top-16 finish to usurp Tiger Woods on the rankings list and would then only need Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson to not win the tournament.

“The goal tomorrow has got to be to, depending upon conditions, to try and get to double digits (under par).

“It’s possible, I’ll be off fairly early and try and sneak up there as high as I possibly can. You never know what’s going to happen out here.

“This golf course plays tougher over the weekend, especially late.

“The wind’s up, there’s some critical shots coming in that you have to hit really good shots or you’re in danger of dropping.

“So the guys have their work cut out for them this afternoon. If I can put a good round on it tomorrow and post something good, I think I can have a high finish.”

Scott claimed he wouldn’t pay close attention to the top-16 mark as he plied his trade Sunday and would rather just focus on playing the best he can.

“There are other guys who could threaten it (number one), so I’m not going to study leaderboards just to do some maths on rankings,” he said.

“I’m just going to play and see what happens.”

Scott also enjoyed some extra attention from the fans after the revelation he was secretly married last month.

“A few people were yelling out. It was good fun. I’m glad everyone thinks it’s fun. It’s been great for me,” he said.

“I’m only a couple weeks in (to marriage), but I think it’s good for me. I think it really suits me. I feel very comfortable with it and I don’t know that it really should change me too much. But it’s exciting, looking to the future.”

Matt Jones, John Senden and Geoff Ogilvy are heading out for their third rounds at five under par, just outside the top 10 and seven shots off the lead held by Martin Kaymer.

Steven Bowditch completed a round of 71 to be tied 45th while Stuart Appleby struggled to a 77 to almost certainly face a third round cut.

Gatlin ready to battle Gay in 100m

Former Olympic 100-metres champion Justin Gatlin on Saturday said he would give Tyson Gay a run for his money when the fellow US sprinter re-enters competition after a one-year doping ban.

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Last week Gay, the triple 2007 world champion, said he would run again this year after his suspension for testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid in two random out-of-competition tests expires on June 23.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency reduced the ban from two years to one following Gay’s cooperation in doping investigations.

Gatlin, 32, himself made a successful comeback in 2010 after a four-year ban following drug tests that showed higher than normal levels of testosterone in his body.

Asked what he felt about the reduced suspension, Gatlin said details of Gay’s case were yet to be made public. “I kind of reserve my comments until everything has unfolded.”

“But until then, I’ll just try to stay focused on my race and if he comes back I’d be ready to compete against him,” said the American who was due to compete on Sunday in Tokyo’s Seiko Golden Grand Prix, the third leg of the World Challenge, a 15-leg second-tier International Association of Athletics Federations series.

Gatlin, the 2004 Athens Olympic gold medallist, has returned to form after his suspension, grabbing the 100-metre bronze at the 2012 London Olympics when he set his personal best time of 9.79 seconds

He also finished second behind world record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica at the world championships in Moscow last year.

Asked what kind of advice he may give Gay about his comeback, Gatlin said: “I’ll just tell him ‘watch out’ because we are here and really want to run.

“He knows what it takes to be a true competitor. We’re not gonna let up… We are not really worried about what’s going on off the track. We’re focused on what’s going on on the track and we are ready to win.”

Gatlin said he had always improved himself as he aged. He beat Bolt at the Golden Gala meet in Rome in June last year and clocked 9.85 at the worlds.

“My goal of the year is to beat the previous Justin,” he said, when asked if he could improve his personal record, adding he wanted to be faster in 2014 than “the 2013 Justin”.

“I’m not worried about other athletes, how they train, what times they run.”

His concern is how to “better myself”, he said. “I think I’ll be just fine going into every competition if I go out with a mindset to beat myself.”

McIlroy baffled by his contrasting nines at the Players

Making his fifth appearance in the PGA Tour event widely regarded as the unofficial fifth major, the Northern Irishman has covered the opening nine holes in an aggregate of nine over par for the first three rounds at the TPC Sawgrass layout.

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Yet in stark contrast, the former world number one has surged to a collective 12 under over the homeward stretch on a par-72 layout where a premium is always placed on the first shot and trouble lurks at every corner.

“If I had just kept it around even par for the front nine, I’d be up near the leaders,” McIlroy told reporters after firing a three-under 69 in increasingly breezy conditions on Saturday.

“I’m really happy with how I’ve been able to come back the last couple of days, but it’s also a little frustrating that I’ve had to come back because I feel like I’m playing good enough to not have these little stretches of bad holes.

“Maybe tomorrow I can put it all together, start strongly and finish strongly like I have the last few days.”

McIlroy, who made the cut right on the number after opening scores of 70 and 74, made a stumbling start on Saturday with a bogey at the first, a double at the fourth and another dropped shot at the sixth.

However, he then kicked into overdrive, sinking an 18-footer to birdie the seventh and draining a monster putt from 38 feet from just off the fringe to reach the turn in two-over 38.

McIlroy picked up further shots at the 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and the last to come home in a sizzling five-under 31 to post a three-under total of 213, nine strokes off the overnight lead.

“I’d hit five greens in six holes, and I was four over par,” bemoaned the 25-year-old from Holywood. “I hadn’t really done much wrong.

“I had three really big lip-outs on the front nine, but it was nice to see a putt go in on seven, then I holed one from off the green, which was a bonus. I was in a decent frame of mind going into the back nine.”

Asked whether he would change his strategy for the front nine during Sunday’s final round, McIlroy replied: “Not really, just maybe put a premium on hitting it in the middles of greens and not taking too many chances.

“I took a couple of chances today on a couple of the shorter holes, and it didn’t really pay off. So yeah, maybe just play a little more conservative on the front nine tomorrow.”

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Larry Fine)

Tapner closing on second Badminton win

Australian Paul Tapner is within sight of winning the Badminton Horse Trials for a second time after dominating an intense day of punishing cross-country action.

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The Swindon-based rider, who triumphed on Inonothing four years ago, leads with Kilronan heading into Sunday’s showjumping finale and the chase of a prize of STG80,000 ($A146,000).

But Italian designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s course proved the real conqueror after none of the 78 combinations jumped clear inside an optimum time of 11 minutes 21 seconds.

Soft going and a major four-star jumping track took an inevitable toll – world No.1 William Fox-Pitt and No.2 Andrew Nicholson were among those who crashed out – but Tapner moved into pole position, taking a score of 56.4 penalties forward to Sunday’s showjumping finale.

He has a showjumping fence in hand over second-placed New Zealander Tim Price, on Ringwood Sky Boy, with Frenchman Pascal Leroy third aboard Minos De Petra.

Yorkshireman Oliver Townend, who won Badminton in 2009, is the leading British rider with Armada in fourth place, but Tapner can afford to have a fence down on Sunday and still win.

“It was hard work out there,” Tapner said. “It was a battlefield.

“It didn’t go exactly according to plan. I knew I had to conserve energy until I got through through the Huntsman’s Close challenge. When I knew the horse was starting to get tired, I just took the pedal off.

“It was about getting the job done, getting clear and getting home.

“I knew the course was going to be influential. It was not easy for anyone out there.”

A total of 35 combinations will now contest the showjumping phase, but the title is very much Tapner’s to lose.

Aussie Hend still in hunt at Seoul golf

FP – Australian golfer Scott Hend was still in contention on Saturday, three shots off the lead, going into the final round of the Maekyung Open in South Korea.

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Local player Park Sang-Hyun fired a four-under-par 68 while rival Park Jun-Won shot 70 to share the third-round lead at the $US1 million ($A1.08 million) tournament at the par-72 Namseoul country club.

The pair sit 10-under on 206 in the OneAsia tournament, two strokes ahead of Hwang Jung-Gon (208) who had a 66.

Hend shot an even-par third round of 72 to be one stroke behind in outright fourth.

South Koreans typically dominate the tournament but several foreign contenders – led by Hend – shone on Saturday.

The Australian battled a migraine throughout his round.

“I don’t know where it came from,” he said in comments released by the organisers. “It really was a bad migraine throughout the round. I really struggled out there, so I am very pleased with my score.”

South Korean Lee Kyoung-Hoon, the overnight leader by two, is four-under after falling to a 78 on the 6350-metre course on the outskirts of Seoul.

Twice a runner up on OneAsia, Park Sang-Hyun is keen to add to the two titles he has already won on the Korean domestic tour since turning professional 10 years ago.

“I’m feeling confident,” he said. “I just need to keep my mind and body together for one more round, but it won’t be easy.”

Park Jun-Won was two-over with five still to play, but four consecutive birdies propelled him back into contention.

“I am playing well and enjoying myself so my aim is to do the same thing again tomorrow,” he said. “I will try my best, but I have no expectations … just play as well as I can and see what happens.”

Other notables include American David Oh (67), Chinese teenager Li Haotong (70) and New Zealander Gareth Paddison (70) who share 12th place at four-under.

One behind them are Australian Michael Sim (69) and Kiwi Mark Brown (71), with Aussie Stephen Dartnall, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and American Garrett Sapp at two-under.

Global game responds to cries of ‘Fore’ with new gimmicks

In almost every part of the globe the number of players participating in the game has slumped alarmingly in the last 10 years, mainly due to the amount of time required to play a round in the high-speed digital age where attention spans appear limited.

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According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), the sport has lost five million players in the United States in the past decade and 20 percent of the 25 million golfers now active in the country are likely to quit in the next few years.

Golf, though, is responding to its own warning cries of ‘Fore’ by thinking outside of the time-honoured traditions of the game that was invented in Scotland in the late 15th century as it faces arguably its biggest struggle for survival in the 21st.

Among the innovations: soccer balls instead of a dimpled Titleist or Callaway; golf holes with a 15-inch diameter that look more like a bucket than the traditional cup; the ability for players to clock in and out of rounds and thereby pay for as long as they are on the course.

These and other measures pioneered in the U.S. have been implemented around the world in a bid to attract people to golf who may never have considered the sport, or are simply put off by the amount of time required for 18 holes.

“There is a mindset in golf that needs to change and it’s going to take probably several years for that to happen,” PGA of America president Ted Bishop told Reuters.

“For the first time ever it’s not wrong for us to look at our sport and say that there are two types of golf that can be played,” said Bishop who owns a large golf complex in Indiana.

“One is the traditional game that we watch every weekend on television across the world and it’s the same game that many amateur golfers play day-in and day-out.

“But there are a whole host of other people out there that might enjoy playing more relaxed or looser forms of the sport just to see if they enjoy it. And if they do then ultimately the goal is to try to turn those people into customary golfers.”

Bishop, whose PGA of America organisation represents more than 27,000 professionals, has been especially excited by the possibilities raised by ‘foot golf’.

NOVEL CONCEPT

This novel concept involves a soccer ball being kicked from a set of tee markers to a green featuring a 21-inch hole. Par-three holes are between 60 and 90 yards long, par-fours range up to 150 yards and par-fives up to 250 yards.

“There are 50 million soccer players in the U.S. compared to 25 million golfers and soccer is growing at an eight percent rate per year so I view this as a great way to get a segment of the population on to my golf course,” Bishop said.

Some people are still attracted to golf by the prospect of great riches.

World number one Woods, who had a big earnings drop in 2009 after a spat with his Swedish wife Elin Nordegren that ended in divorce, was back on top of the Forbes rich list of the globe’s highest-paid athletes in June 2013 with the American enjoying an estimated annual income of $78.1 million, the magazine said.

But the under-35 age group has been tempted away by an increasing amount of alternative leisure activities, the bulk of which take less than an hour to complete whereas an 18-hole round of golf can often last more than five hours.

While U.S. Golf Association (USGA) president Tom O’Toole believes the figures can be misleading, he readily concedes the game’s health needs urgent attention.

“Those NGF statistics don’t include those who have joined the game over the past decade,” he told Reuters. “We always see fluctuations of people leaving and coming into golf, as with a variety of sports.

“But the decline is in the game to some degree and of course we are concerned about the game’s health. I don’t think the game is particularly welcoming and we need to make it accessible to a more diverse constituency, people from all walks of life.

“We also need to put our thinking caps on and come up with well thought out strategies on how the game can be played faster,” said O’Toole.

“People in this day and age want things to be quick, they don’t have large expenditures of time on one endeavour.”

The USGA, the game’s governing body in the United States and Mexico, made this aspect of golf a priority early last year when it launched a ‘Pace of Play’ campaign that has already generated a high level of awareness from club to pro level.

NEED FOR CREATIVITY

O’Toole, like Bishop, believes golf has to be flexible and creative to attract more people.

“At the USGA we certainly think anything that would cause somebody to stop and undertake an exercise or endeavour that would ultimately draw them to golf is a good thing,” O’Toole said.

“If it’s 15-inch holes or if it’s some other aspect that isn’t exactly in the game that we have been governing since December 1894 in this country, that’s okay.

“What’s at issue here is how we drive people to golf. We think the charm of the game is a single set of rules and if we can get people to embrace the charm that we all love about golf, then we have succeeded,” added O’Toole.

Fifteen-inch holes, which are more than three times the size of a regular cup, have already been used in a few experimental tournaments and exhibitions and this month TaylorMade-Adidas Golf will be exclusively installing super-sized holes at about 100 courses in the U.S. as part of a pilot scheme.

The pressing need to attract more players is being keenly felt elsewhere around the world.

Golf participation in Europe fell for the first time in 20 years in 2011 and declined further in 2012, according to consultants KPMG.

Australia is also wrestling with a drop-off, 1.48 percent a year in club membership since 2000, according to the 2011 golf census.

“We peaked at around 500,000 in the 1990s but since 2000 we’ve had that decline so we’re sitting at around 400,000 now,” Cameron Wade, participation director at Golf Australia, told Reuters.

“There have been some courses close and we’ve had some mergers and we’ll see more of those. Only 20 percent of our participants are female. Back in the 70s that was about 30 percent so there’s obviously been a shift away in that segment.”

The slide in Europe is especially noticeable in Britain and Ireland, which accounts for 29 percent of the continent’s players and 44 percent of the courses. Numbers there have been continuously falling since 2007.

“There’s so much competition for people’s time these days in mature golf markets it will be pretty hard for golf to keep the market share it had of people’s leisure time years ago,” said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient (R&A), the organisation that governs golf outside the U.S. and Mexico.

“Worldwide we’re still growing but the growth will be in new countries and established countries will have to fight to keep their market share,” Dawson told Reuters at the HSBC Golf Business Forum in Abu Dhabi last month.

However, the R&A disputes the notion that making golf easier will somehow make it a more popular game.

“The sport is arguably easier for the average golfer now than it has ever been thanks to the advances in modern equipment,” an R&A spokesman said in an email to Reuters.

“There have been many different innovations tried in golf over the years to make it more attractive but ultimately it’s the challenge of the sport which keeps people coming back. We think making the game quicker, more accessible and more affordable is the priority.”

Golf will return to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games for the first time since 1904 and its inclusion there has boosted state funding for the sport in many countries where it is in its infancy.

TREND BUCKED

Encouragingly, the global trend of dwindling numbers in the sport is being bucked in several parts of Asia with countries like China, Japan, South Korea and India enjoying a surge in participation.

“Golf has traditionally followed the middle-class growth,” Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events, told Reuters.

“You’re seeing a middle-class economic boom in places like India and China and therefore you’re seeing a growth in the sport there.”

Morgan cited the example of Vietnam where there are 25 courses and plans for a further 65 in the coming years.

“This provides a key insight into the confidence, aspiration and appetite that abound in that market for the game of golf,” he said.

According to a February report in the Singapore paper ‘Today’, the situation is not so rosy in the wealthy city-state where the demand for courses is being pegged back.

“Singapore has 14 private golf courses and three public golf courses, taking up 1,500 hectares of land, or about two percent of the Republic’s total land area,” the report read.

“In February the government said some of these courses will have to be phased out and the land be put to other uses.

“Of the nine golf clubs with leases expiring within the next 10 years, two (Keppel Club and Marina Bay Golf Club) will not have their leases renewed,” said the report.

Three other courses will have their leases extended but they must surrender some of the land they now occupy.

(Additional reporting by Matt Smith in Dubai, Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, Patrick Johnston in Singapore, editing by Mike Roddy and Tony Jimenez)