World number one Rory McIlroy tops the field ahead of Players Championship

No golfer has won the Players Championship back-to-back, however Rory McIlroy has a strong chance of becoming the first man to achieve that feat this weekend.

The defending champion rolls into Sawgrass with a scintillating seven-consecutive top-five finishes – only Tiger Woods has had longer streaks over the past 20 years.

During last year’s Players victory, the Northern Irishman struck 80 per cent of his greens on the way to a one-shot win over America’s Jim Furyk.

It was a triumph that kick-started a dominant four-win season, culminating in being named PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Now ranked number one in the world, McIlroy continues to set himself apart from the field with ruthless consistency and accurate shot selection.

His start to the 2019 season is vastly similar to 2020’s. Last year, he was T4, T5, T4, 2 and T6 in his first five starts.

So far this year, he has recorded T3, T5, 5 and T5 finishes.

It’s remarkably consistent form and, as a result, unrealistic expectations start to hang over his prospects each weekend. As world number one and a four-time major winner, fans expect McIlroy to be hovering around the sharp end of the leaderboard at each tournament.

It’s high-pressure stakes that the player is used to, and besides his inhuman-like qualities on the course, he is only a human at the end of the day. All he can do is his best.

At the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend, there were shades of disappointment when he finished fifth, four shots behind winner Tyrrell Hatton.

Sitting two strokes off the lead entering the final round, McIlroy was unable to get his clubs firing and struck a disappointing four-over 76.

It was the fourth Sunday in a row that he was unable to convert one of those

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Saudi Professional League: Will Abderrazak Hamdallah go from renegade to Al Nassr title saviour?

Desperate times are under way for champions Al Nassr as they seek to cling on in the Saudi Professional League’s title race.

A chaotic 3-2 defeat last Saturday at Al Faisaly, in which disciplined Moroccan hit man Abderrazak Hamdallah was absent and compatriot Nordin Amrabat benched, was allied with a sixth-successive win for leaders Al Hilal. This scenario has opened up an eight-point chasm, with the holders requiring a positive result in match-week 22’s visit of slowing Al Raed ahead of March 20’s pivotal Riyadh derby.

Elsewhere this round, third-bottom Al Fateh and bottom-placed Al Adalah meet in a fixture where defeat will spell doom. Here are three key clashes to keep an eye on:

AL NASSR V AL RAED (WEDNESDAY, 21:45)

Hamdallah taking centre stage at Nassr is nothing new.

Last week’s flare-up, however, garnered plentiful unwanted attention. Hamdallah took exemption to a fine for a late training return, with his intransigence seeing him omitted from the side that slumped to ruinous defeat – their first since November 24 in the top flight.

Chairman Safwan Al Suwaiket’s mediation between player and coach, Rui Vitoria, led to an apology – and how Nassr need everyone on the same page. Hilal have set a relentless pace that they must, belatedly, catch up to ahead of next week’s critical meeting.

Al Nassr’s defeat to Al Faisaly (EPA).

Al Aalami (The International) are bolstered by Raed’s recent stumbles. Besnik Hasi’s men have dropped 10 points from the last 15 available and now sit sixth.

They do need to source a replacement for suspended Brazilian defensive midfielder Petros. But if Hamdallah, 2019’s global top scorer with 57 goals, is back to his ruthless best, they should have far too much firepower regardless.

Prediction: Al Nassr 2-0 Al Raed

DAMAC V AL HILAL (WEDNESDAY, 17:10)

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PSG’s Mbappe sick, doubtful for Dortmund crunch match

FILE – Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring a goal during the French Cup semi-final football match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at the Groupama Stadium in Decines-Charpieu, centraleastern France, on March 4, 2020. (Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP)

Paris Saint-Germain are sweating on the fitness of star striker Kylian Mbappe who has picked up a throat infection ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 return-leg against Dortmund.

The French World Cup star missed team training Monday and Tuesday and was reported to have a sore throat, with his club needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit from their first leg defeat in Germany two weeks ago.

Mbappe has scored six goals in his last three PSG matches.

At Monday’s training session Argentine forward Angel Di Maria was observed passing the ball around with Neymar. Spanish forward Pablo Sarabia is also a likely inclusion should Mbappe miss the game.

PSG lost 2-1 to an Erling Haaland-inspired Dortmund before a crowd of 80,000 in Germany last month, with the return-leg to be played in an empty Parc des Prices stadium due to the coronavirus.

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