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Woods wins Masters to claim first major in 11 years

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods completed one of sport’s greatest comebacks to end an 11-year major title drought at the Masters on Sunday by claiming a fifth Green Jacket.

A gritty two-under 70 clinched a one-shot victory over Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele and earned the 43-year-old a 15th major title that many thought would never come and instantly sparked talk of Woods making a run at Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors.

Not since the 2008 U.S. Open had Woods hoisted a major trophy and the last of his four Augusta titles came in 2005.

But after a beaming Woods slipped on his fifth Green Jacket, he will be aware that Sunday’s win has brought him tantalizingly close to another Nicklaus record – that of six Augusta titles.

The victory also marked the first time Woods had reached the winner’s circle at major without leading after 54 holes and broke Gary Player’s record (13 years) for the longest gap between Masters wins.

It also gave him 81 PGA Tour titles, one away from the career record held by Sam Snead.

Woods’s girlfriend Erica Herman, mother Kultida and two children Sam and Charlie watched while a massive gallery roared as he marched up to the 18th green to put the finishing touches on a milestone victory.

When his final tap in bogey putt disappeared into the cup, Woods delivered one of his trademark fist pumps and then raised both arms in the air while screaming in absolute delight as the crowd chanted, “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger”.

He then quickly spotted his family and raced over to hug his children before making his way to the scorers room while being congratulated by his fellow golfers who lined the way.

“I was just trying to plod my way along the golf course all day,” said Woods. “When I tapped the putt in, I don’t know what I did but I know I screamed.

FULL CIRCLE

“To have my kids there – it’s come full circle. My dad was here in 97 (when he won his first Masters) and now I’m the dad with two kids there.”

Along with coping with a number of injuries over the past decade, Woods also had to deal with the damage done from a very public and scandalous divorce and an embarrassing DUI arrest.

Woods’s return to the top garnered praise from world leaders and sporting greats alike, with United States president Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama both offering congratulations via social media.

“Congratulations to @TigerWoods,” tweeted Trump, who earlier this year played golf with Woods. “A truly Great Champion!”

Nicklaus, 23-times tennis grand slam winner Serena Williams, Super Bowl champion Tom Brady also applauded the victory on Twitter while swimmer Michael Phelps, the winner of a record 23 Olympic gold medals, was at Augusta National to cheer Woods on.

Golf – Masters – Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia, U.S. – April 14, 2019 – Tiger Woods of the U.S. celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the 2019 Masters. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Written off as too old and too beaten up from four back surgeries and multiple knee operations, Woods underwent a back fusion procedure in 2017 and slowly returned to form.

He ended last season by winning the Tour Championship and showed signs of a breakthrough at the majors by being a title contender at last year’s British Open, where he led in the final round, and PGA Championship, where he finished runner-up.

All those moments built to Sunday, when Woods was once again his old familiar dominating self.

“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago,” said Woods. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.

“Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life.

“To have the opportunity to come back like this it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had for sure because of it.”

All eyes were on overnight leader Francesco Molinari, who led by two shots, Woods and the weather when play began on Sunday as the race for the Green Jacket turned into a final sprint with the forecast predicting rain and thunderstorms.

In a desperate attempt to get the season’s first major across the finish line before the storm hit, officials pushed up start times and sent golfers off in threesomes from both the first and 10th tees.

Paired together in the final round of last year’s British Open, won by the Italian at Carnoustie, Molinari and Woods found themselves in the last group again battling for a major title.

Slideshow (23 Images)

At Carnoustie it was Woods who stumbled on the back nine while leading. But on Sunday it was Molinari who slipped up, with the 36-year-old from Turin finding the water at the 12th and 15th. The two double bogeys ended his Green Jacket bid.

Molinari was far from the only contender to meet their demise at the 12th. Augusta National’s signature hole at the heart of Amen Corner had the leaderboard spinning with Koepka, Tony Finau and Ian Poulter all ending up in the murky waters of Rae’s Creek.

“Sometimes it is your day, sometimes it isn’t, but I’m really happy of the way I felt out there today,” said Molinari. “I’ve done a couple of things that I wish I had done differently now but I’ll learn from my mistakes.”

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EV

Tesla investigates video of parked Model S exploding in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc said it has sent a team to investigate a video on Chinese social media which showed a parked Tesla Model S car exploding, the latest in a string of fire incidents involving Tesla’s cars.

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen on a wheel rim during the media day for the Shanghai auto show in Shanghai, China April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The video, time stamped Sunday evening and widely shared on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, shows the parked EV emit smoke and burst into flames seconds later. A video purportedly of the aftermath showed a line of three cars completely destroyed.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the origins of the videos, which Weibo users said were taken in Shanghai.

The cause of the explosion could not be immediately ascertained from the videos.

“We immediately sent a team onsite and we’re supporting local authorities to establish the facts. From what we know now, no one was harmed,” Tesla said in a statement on Monday.

It declined comment further when contacted by Reuters.

There have been at least 14 instances of Tesla cars catching fire since 2013, with the majority occurring after a crash.

The automaker has said its EVs are about 10 times less likely to experience a fire than petrol-powered cars, based on its fleet of over 500,000 vehicles which have driven more than 10 billion miles. It did not specify whether the statistic referred to normal use or involving accidents.

REPUTATION

The latest incident comes as Tesla tries to push sales in China, where its prices were impacted by tit-for-tat tariffs imposed during Sino-U.S. trade tensions last year.

The automaker currently imports all the cars it sells in China, but is building a factory in Shanghai that will initially make its Model 3 and help reduce the impact of a trade war.

In March, Tesla was also on the receiving end of a labeling mix-up at Shanghai customs that led to a temporary suspension of clearance for a batch of Model 3 cars.

Analysts said the latest fire incident would likely increase attention on the safety of EVs but was unlikely to have a significant impact on Tesla’s sales or reputation in China while the cause was being investigated.

“Tesla had fire incidents before, but they didn’t have a big impact on its reputation in China,” said analyst Alan Kang at LMC Automotive.

“Since its consumer base is not particularly conservative, and China is pushing the electric vehicle market, if this incident is just accidental, it will not have a big impact on Tesla,” he said.

“Tesla self-ignites” was one of the most popular hashtags on Weibo on Monday, racking up over 20 million clicks. Some users urged the automaker to quickly find the cause, whereas others speculated over the impact to the value of Tesla cars currently on the road. Still more found humour in the situation.

“One lesson I learnt from the Shanghai self-exploding Tesla: Don’t park your car next to a Tesla,” said one commentator.

In a separate, unrelated incident, Tesla’s rival in China, Nio, said in a social media post that an ES8 electric sport utility vehicle caught fire on Monday in a Nio service center in the central city of Xian while under repair.

“Nio has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire,” Nio said, adding no one was harmed due to the incident.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Yilei Sun; Editing by Christopher Cushing an Himani Sarkar

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U.S. prepares to end Iran oil waivers; Asian buyers to be hardest hit

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WASHINGTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States is expected to announce on Monday that buyers of Iranian oil need to end imports soon or face sanctions, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, triggering a 3 percent jump in crude prices to their highest for 2019 so far.

FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

Officials in Asia opposed the expected move, pointing to tight market conditions and high fuel prices that were harming industry.

The source confirmed a report by the Washington Post that the administration will terminate the sanctions waivers it granted to some importers of Iranian oil late last year.

Benchmark Brent crude oil futures rose by as much as 3.2 percent to $74.31 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 1, in early trading on Monday in reaction to expectations of tightening supply. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures climbed as much as 3 percent to $65.87 a barrel, its highest since Oct. 30.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to end the waivers to exert “maximum economic pressure” on Iran by cutting off its oil exports and reducing its main revenue source to zero.

In November, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on exports of Iranian oil after President Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers.

Washington, however, granted waivers to Iran’s eight main buyers – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece – that allowed them limited purchases for six months.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce “that, as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate,” the Post’s columnist Josh Rogin said in his report, citing two State Department officials that he did not name.

On April 17, Frank Fannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, repeated the administration’s position that “our goal is to get to zero Iranian exports as quickly as possible.”

Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said “a severe loss in (Iranian) volumes will put pressure on the supply side, given the political uncertainty currently blighting other oil exporters, such as Venezuela and Libya.”

Oil markets have tightened this year because of supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

As a result, Brent prices have risen by more than a third since January, and WTI by more than 40 percent.

Analysts said they expected the Trump administration to push OPEC and its de-facto leader Saudi Arabia to stop withholding supply to calm market fears of oil shortages.

“If there is a time for the U.S. to be able to take a hard line it is now, with the Saudis having over 2 million barrels (per day) of spare capacity,” said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo.

Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone last week, and the White House said he used the call to discuss ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.”

ASIA HIT HARDEST

An end to the exemptions would hit Asian buyers hardest. Iran’s biggest oil customers are China and India, who have both been lobbying for extensions to sanction waivers.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Monday that it opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran and that China’s bilateral cooperation with Iran was in accordance with the law.

He did not say whether China would heed the U.S. call to cut Iran oil imports to zero.

Dong Xiucheng, director of energy policy research at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, said “Chinese companies may reduce imports from Iran to show some level of compliances” but added “it is impossible for China to cut off Iranian oil completely, simply because it does not conform to China’s long-term diplomatic policy.”

In India, refiners have started a search for alternative supplies.

The government, however, declined to comment officially.

“We are engaged with the U.S. administration on this matter and once the U.S. side makes a comment on this matter, then we will come up with a comment,” said a source at India’s foreign affairs ministry who declined to be named.

“I expect India to fall in line with the sanctions,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of Indian energy consultancy Trifecta.

South Korea, a close U.S. ally, is a major buyer of Iranian condensate, an ultra-light form of crude oil that its refining industry relies on to produce petrochemicals.

Government officials there declined to comment, but Kim Jae-kyung of the Korean Energy Economics Institute said the end of the sanction waivers “will be a problem if South Korea can’t bring in cheap Iranian condensate (for) South Korean petrochemical makers.”

Japan is another close U.S. ally in Asia that is also a traditionally significant buyer of Iranian oil.

The government also declined to comment ahead of an official U.S. announcement, but Takayuki Nogami, chief economist at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), said the end of the sanction waivers “is not a good policy for Trump.”

Nogami said he expected oil prices to rise further because of the U.S. sanctions and OPEC-led supply cuts.

Prior to the re-imposition of sanctions, Iran was the fourth-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at almost 3 million barrels per day (bpd), but April exports have shrunk to well below 1 million bpd, according to ship tracking and analyst data in Refinitiv.

(GRAPHIC: Iran crude oil & condensate shipping departures – tmsnrt.rs/2IBQF06)

Reporting by Susan Cornwell in WASHINGTON and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayahi in TOKYO, and Jane Chung in SEOUL, Meng Meng in SHANGHAI, Nidhi Verma in NEW DELHI, Koustav Samanta and Chen Aizhu in SINGAPORE; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue

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Ukraine enters uncharted new era after comedian wins presidency

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KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine entered uncharted political waters on Monday after near final results showed a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies had dramatically up-ended the status quo and won the country’s presidential election by a landslide.

The emphatic victory of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko who tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag by casting himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.

With 95 percent of votes counted, Zelenskiy had won 73 percent of the vote with Poroshenko winning just under 25 percent, the central election commission said.

Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, is now poised to take over the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Declaring victory at his campaign headquarters to emotional supporters on Sunday night, Zelenskiy promised he would not let the Ukrainian people down.

“I’m not yet officially the president, but as a citizen of Ukraine, I can say to all countries in the post-Soviet Union look at us. Anything is possible!”

Zelenskiy, whose victory fits a pattern of anti-establishment figures unseating incumbents in Europe and further afield, has promised to end the war in the eastern Donbass region and to root out corruption amid widespread dismay over rising prices and sliding living standards.

But he has been coy about exactly how he plans to achieve all that and investors want reassurances that he will accelerate reforms needed to attract foreign investment and keep the country in an International Monetary Fund program.

“Since there is complete uncertainty about the economic policy of the person who will become president, we simply don’t know what is going to happen and that worries the financial community,” said Serhiy Fursa, an investment banker at Dragon Capital in Kiev.

WEST WATCHING CLOSELY

The United States, the European Union and Russia will be closely watching Zelenskiy’s foreign policy pronouncements to see if and how he might try to end the war against pro-Russian separatists that has killed some 13,000 people.

U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Zelenskiy and pledged to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity, while European Council President Donald Tusk congratulated the Ukrainian people on what he called a show of democratic maturity.

Zelenskiy said on Sunday he planned to continue European-backed talks with Russia on a so far largely unimplemented peace deal and would try to free Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia, which is holding 24 Ukrainian sailors among others.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who only last week signed a decree limiting exports of some Russian coal, crude oil and oil products to Ukraine, said Moscow and Kiev now had a chance to improve what he called their destroyed economic relationship, but said he was not harboring any illusions that it would necessarily happen.

Writing on social media, Medvedev asked what was needed to achieve better relations between the two countries. “Honesty. And pragmatism and a responsible approach,” he said.

Zelenskiy has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, but has sounded less emphatic than Poroshenko about possible plans for the country of 42 million people to one day join the European Union and NATO.

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Poroshenko, who conceded defeat but said he planned to stay in politics, said on social media he thought Zelenskiy’s win would spark celebrations in the Kremlin, which has yet to comment on the comedian’s victory.

Critics accuse Zelenskiy of having an unhealthily close working relationship with a powerful oligarch called Ihor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel broadcasts his comedy shows.

Zelenskiy has rejected those accusations and promised not to be unduly influenced by Kolomoisky.

One of the most important and early tests of that promise will be the fate of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, which was nationalized in 2016.

The government wrested PrivatBank from Kolomoisky as part of a banking system clean-up backed by the IMF, which supports Ukraine with a multi-billion dollar loan program.

But its fate hangs in the balance after a Kiev court ruled days before the election that the change of PrivatBank’s ownership was illegal.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly denied he would seek to hand PrivatBank back to Kolomoisky if elected or help the businessman win compensation for the ownership change.

The IMF will be watching closely too to see if Zelenskiy will allow gas prices to rise to market levels, an IMF demand but a politically sensitive issue and one Zelenskiy has been vague about.

Zelenskiy’s unorthodox campaign traded on the character he plays in the TV show, a scrupulously honest schoolteacher who becomes president by accident after an expletive-ridden rant about corruption goes viral.

Slideshow (29 Images)

He has promised to fight corruption, a message that has resonated with Ukrainians fed up with the status quo in a country that is one of Europe’s poorest nearly three decades after breaking away from the Soviet Union.

(Election graphic – tmsnrt.rs/2EEQ22R)

Additional Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Andrei Makhovsky and Polina Ivanova in Kiev and by Steve Holland in Washington and Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Michael Perry and Kirsten Donovan

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