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Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sports-Packed Sunday On The Way

It’s not football season, uneventful pre-season friendlies notwithstanding, but tomorrow could nonetheless be a great day of sport.

Now, as a Galwegian, you might think that I’m about to blog about the fortunes of my county’s footballers. I should, I know, and I hope we beat Mayo, and follow the example of our hurlers who were impressive in the second half of tonight’s win over Cork. However, I won’t.

I may not even watch tomorrow’s match. My interests tomorrow lie in the fate of two very different sportsmen. Though both are American, there’s little else to unite Tom Watson and Lance Armstrong. While Kansas native Watson is amiable, likeable and easy to root for, Armstrong is divisive, brash, arrogant and a controversial figure. Depending on the outcome of their prospective events tomorrow, this pair could vie with each other for the sports story of the year.

Hard as it would have been to believe just three days ago, Tom Watson goes into tomorrow’s final round of the Open Championship at Turnberry with the outright lead. He’s looking for his sixth Championship, a mere 26 years after his last. Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters triumph was great, but a Watson win tomorrow would eclipse even that.

Watson has already lifted the Claret Jug at Turnberry, though the last time was in 1977. On that day, Watson was involved in an epic duel with Nicklaus. He had shot 65 on the Saturday and did so again on the Sunday to take the title by just one shot. Good? This was one of golf’s and arguably Watson’s finest ever hour. Tomorrow could beat both.

Another...storied competitor in his sport is Armstrong. I wanted to say legend there but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. My feelings on him are clear. Armstrong, a cancer survivor who has been called a cancer to his sport, has had as many drugs accusations levied at him as Michael Jackson and he needs a good result in tomorrow’s mountain top finish in Verbiers. 8 days ago I tweeted that Armstrong’s 2009 Tour was over when his teammate Alberto Contador blitzed him and the other competitors near the end of the mountain-top finish in Andorra-Arcalis. I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. Armstrong looked strong in yesterday’s climb up the Col du Platzerwasal but whether that was a fleeting show of force or a sign of things to come, only time will tell.

Armstrong is one of those men who won’t go away...hence his current comeback. He’s also, despite his many, many, many faults, one of the fiercest competitors in sport. He can end tomorrow in yellow. He can win an eighth Tour de France. Will he? Probably not. But you can bet that he won’t give up battling until he crosses the line atop Mont Ventoux next Saturday.

Tomorrow afternoon, I and several other sports fans will sit at our television screens to watch both of these events. It will be a brilliant day of sport, with drama and intrigue. Watson and Armstrong will be at the centre of events in Turnberry and Verbiers. I know which one I will be rooting for.


PS Congratulations to Nicholas Roche on his fine performance today. Second place was a great achievement and a good performance in the mountains could cement a place on the Grand Tours for him in years to come. Was great to see an Irishman doing well in Le Tour for the first time since the days of his dad and Seán Kelly.


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