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Nicklaus is surprised by Tiger's 'cold' comeback Nadal into Indian Wells semi Kiwis ready for first ever RáS

GOLF: Golfing great Jack Nicklaus says he's surprised that Tiger Woods will break his five-month exile by going into the US Masters without playing any warm-up events.

"I fully expected Tiger to come back to play the Masters," said Nicklaus. "(But) I am surprised he is not playing some place before that, but then Tiger is Tiger and he'll come back ready to play.

"Tiger's a phenomenal athlete but if I went to Augusta cold, I would not have been at my best," said Nicklaus.

"Being sharp is being tournament-tested on a recent basis. That would be the only negative for Tiger in that he would not be tournament-tested."

Nicklaus this week hosted a clinic on the Dar Es Salam course with 1985 European Ryder Cup-winning captain Tony Jacklin.

Their presence brought the range to a standstill, with many competitors, including Irish players Damien McGrane, Darren Clarke and Gareth Maybin, breaking from their practice to pick up tips from the pair.

Jacklin echoed Nicklaus's remarks about Woods: "I'm surprised he's not getting his feet wet somewhere else. I am going to be as fascinated to see what happens.

"The Masters will have the biggest TV audience it's ever had and I will be watching with anticipation."

Nicklaus, meanwhile, said he believed his record of 18 Major triumphs would eventually be broken by Woods.

"I still expect Tiger to go past my record," the 70-year-old said. "His chances of doing that are quite good."

ISC chiefs face Coghlan probe

ATHLETICS: Two of the most powerful men in Irish sport face a serious grilling from their own board early next week after last week's estimated €1m settlement with former Athletics Ireland (AAI) chief executive Mary Coghlan.

Irish Sports Council (ISC) chief executive John Treacy and chairman Ossie Kilkenny will face tough questioning from the ISC's board about the high-profile court case that proved so costly and raised questions about the nature of the ISC's relationship with AAI.

The ISC's next meeting was not due until April 6 but an emergency meeting has been called for next Tuesday.

Coghlan took a case for invalid dismissal against the AAI and the ICS, which was settled last week.

Given the ISC's strict insistence on accountability from all the sporting bodies it supports, it is expected that its own board will now demand explanations from its chiefs.

Elsewhere, Martin Fagan and Alistair Cragg return to serious road-racing action on Sunday, competing in the LA Marathon and New York half-marathon respectively.

Despite disqualification in the World Indoor 400m final, David Gillick has been voted European Athlete of the Month for February for his 45.52 run in Birmingham.

Nadal into Indian Wells semi

TENNIS: Defending champion Rafael Nadal booked his place in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells with a straight-sets win over Tomas Berdych.

Nadal faced seven break points in the match, saving all but two of them, as he registered a 6-4 7-6 win to tee up a last-four clash with big-hitting Ivan Ljubicic.

"It was a very good match," said Nadal. "I played really well, especially the first set."

Victory in the semis against Ljubicic tomorrow would secure Nadal's third appearance in the final in four years.

Croatian Ljubicic faced only one break point in three sets as he completed a trademark big-serving win over Juan Monaco to reach the semis.

After losing the first set 6-4, Ljubicic came back in style, winning 16 of 19 service points in the second set to prevail 6-2 and level the match, before thrashing his Argentinian opponent 6-1 in the deciding set to triumph.

Kiwis ready for first ever RáS

cycling: With the start of this year's FBD Insurance RáS two months away, a strong New Zealand squad have confirmed they will take part in the race from May 23-30 -- and it's their first ever time as a group in the event.

Meanwhile, David McCann continues to keep all challengers at bay in The Tour de Taiwan. Yesterday, Dean Downing, of the Ralpha Contador, won the sprint, but McCann's lead should be enough to get him over the line as the overall winner when the race ends tomorrow.

NBA: Miami 102 Orlando 108 (OT), Denver 93 New Orleans 80