Marvellous sporting Masters

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As we bid goodbye to cricket legend Richie Benaud, a new star rise with 22 year-old Jordan Spieth winning the U.S. Masters gold tournament. Lachlan Barker reports, also throwing in some footy, surfing and cycling.

A sad note for sport to start this week, following the death of Australian cricket great Richie Benaud. Richie was a test cricketer for Australia, playing 63 tests, taking 248 wickets and scoring 2,201 runs. He became captain in 1958, a position he held till his retirement in 1964. Upon retirement he became the leader of Channel Nine’s commentary team, for which he is almost certainly better known in the modern era.

Although I never listen to Nine’s commentary these days, much preferring the ABC, I did listen to him a lot when I was younger and I can say that Richie was one of the very small number on Nine I found tolerable, partly because he actually did some media training with the BBC. Richie was drily humorous, exacting in his word choice, and immensely knowledgeable on all aspects of cricket, so he is a very sad loss to the game.

Thanks Richie, it's been marvellous.

With sport itself for the week, we can start with the Women’s Aussie Rules. The first round of the Premier Division played this weekend, with the Darebin Falcons defeating the Creekers of Diamond Creek, 79-40, while the Melbourne University Mugars went down to the Eastern Devils – so called because they hail from the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne – 74-39.

The final game of the six-team premier league saw the St Kilda Sharks give the VU St Albans Spurs an unholy drubbing, by nearly a century of points, 119-14. The Sharks fired in 17 goals with 11 behinds, to the Spurs three goals only.

Clearly, the Spurs will be doing a lot of running at training this week, a coach’s traditional punishment for a bad performance, but the league is off and running for another year, so overall that’s great for women’s sport in Australia.

With surfing, the World Tour event was held at the famous Bells Beach in Victoria and was won by, for the third time in a row, Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore, who defeated Australia’s Stephanie “Happy” Gilmore in the final. A good win for Moore and the photo gives us another reminder of the size and power of the waves these women take on. The men’s event was won by Mick Fanning who defeated Brazilian surfer Adriano de Souza in the final.

With the netball, it was the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic over the Southern Steel, 63-57, while the Queensland Firebirds got home against the Melbourne Vixens, 55-48. The Adelaide Thunderbirds were too much for the NSW Swifts, 56-49, while the West Coast Fever defeated the Tactix, 66-51. The last game of the round sees the Central Pulse up against the Northern Mystics.

Elsewhere in male sport, the U.S. Masters at Augusta was completed with young American Jordan Spieth a worthy winner. Spieth was in coruscating, red-hot form from the tee off and set records all over the place on the way to victory. At the end of the second round, he was 14-under, a record two round score for the Masters, following his two rounds of 66 and 68.

He then went about his business for the next two days, carding a couple of 70s, to finish 18-under, winning by four strokes from American Phil Mickelson and Englishman Justin Rose.

Spieth, at 22,  becomes the second youngest man to win at Augusta. Tiger Woods was the youngest, winning aged 20. Woods was in this tournament of 2015 but is now playing like a mere mortal and finished this Masters at 5-under, on the 17th tier of finishers, however the signs are there for Woods to slowly reclaim his former form.

So it’s well done Spieth, a victory and the donning of the famous green jacket, the trophy for winning the Masters, and he did it scattering records all the way.

On the road, cycling came to our screen with the Paris-Roubaix race, pronounced "paree roobay". The best part of all was that the race was covered by SBS and not Channel Nine. Nine covered the Tour Down Under in January this year and it was soul destroying experience. Nine’s constant ad breaks made it impossible to enjoy the colour and magic of the Australian race as it moved through the beautiful South Australian country side.

So cycling was back where it should be, on SBS, and once more the insightful commentary of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett was able to flow for long periods and evoke the atmosphere of this classic race.

The Paris-Roubaix is a special event as it takes place over the cobbles of Flanders. It is a one day event covering 253 kilometres, and including 57 kilometres of cobblestones — 27 cobble sections in all. For this reason, the tactics of the race are stop-start in nature.

The cobbles are basically a "just get through it" thing, so bone crushing are they that you just hang on to the vibrating handle bars, clench every muscle you have and hope you bike doesn’t develop a fault until you move onto the next smooth section. So, overtaking or breakaways tend to only happen when the surface planes out to level, so the riders have to plan for it and do their maneuvering when the next chance comes.

The race finishes in the stadium of Roubaix, with a single full lap following entry. This year, however, spectators got a bonus extra round of excitement. Normally the race shakes everything out, and a single rider enters the stadium and does a placid victory lap unchallenged.

However, this year, after the long hard haul from Paris, a group of cyclists came into the stadium together, so the whole race came down a velodrome-style sprint.

There were seven cyclists in the group and the race was won on the line by German John Degenkolb of Team Giant-Alpacin. He took the victory from Zdenek Stybar of Etixx-Quick Step, with Greg Van Avermaet of BMC third.

Apart from the cobbles, there was also a quite scary incident along the way when the riders came to a level crossing, coinciding with the arrival of the Train a’ Grande Vitesse (TGV) train.

This is a high speed train that crosses France and, as the riders, heads full of concentration on each other, the road and cobbles, came up to the level crossing, the boom came down and nearly destroyed the race then and there.

Several riders rounded the barrier, and crossed the tracks -  which is strictly illegal for obvious safety reasons — though there were none disqualified. Those behind, who had a moment to think, pulled up at the gate marshal’s orders and waited for the train to pass.

Once the train was gone, the riders raced onward. Special credit goes to Switzerland’s Martin Elmiger of team IAM Cycling, who was caught in the train delay, but then fired onwards and picked up position to feature in the bunched sprint finish at the end, with Elmiger placed fifth.

And I’ll just add that, although I am famous for being the world’s worst sporting tipster, last night I finally got one right. The race ran from 10pm through to 1am on Sunday (Australian Eastern Standard Time) and at 10.52pm, I texted through to a friend who was also watching that I tipped Degenkolb to win.

I made two mistakes in the column last week, for which I apologise, and “YES” please comment in if you spot an error — we would like to know sooner rather than later. However, my Degenkolb tip indicates that I do have my moments it seems.

And finally, we say loudly and clearly: “Farewell Richie, great effort that!”

Lachlan Barker blogs at You can follow him on Twitter @cyclonecharlie8.

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