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Golf-Asian Tour’s Karlberg leads CIMB Classic in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Asian Tour member Rikard Karlberg upstaged his illustrious PGA Tour counterparts by firing a bogey-free, seven-under-par 65 to lead the co-sanctioned CIMB Classic after Thursday’s first round.

The Swede is one of 10 Asian Tour players in the 78-man field at the $7 million tournament and becomes the first from the Tour to lead the event in its five-year existence.

Another Asian Tour member, Filipino Angelo Que, was in a tie for second alongside American duo Billy Hurley III and Brian Stuard two shots back after shooting 65s.

Former U.S. PGA Champion Davis Love III, boosted by holing a 20-foot eagle putt at the par five 10th, was on four-under along with past champion Ryan Moore.

World number four Sergio Garcia of Spain is the best ranked player in the field and he fired a three-under 69 to sit in a large group tied for 13th which includes Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa.

Thursday’s action at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club was interrupted by a weather delay but the heavy rain was only a small obstacle for Karlberg, who has had numerous challenges this year.

The Swede has been hampered for over a year with a virus as he battles the demands of playing on two circuits.

“There has been a lot of things going on. Trying to combine both European Tour and Asian Tour, flying back and forward and getting sick because of the virus infection I suffered from the whole year where I get the flu symptoms,” he told reporters.

“That gets you a little bit stressed out and I realised that I can’t really do anything about it. Just try to eat as good as I can, at least that’s what the doctors say.”

Karlberg reached the turn in five-under 31 after chipping in for birdie on the par-3 eighth and then sinking a 10-foot putt to pick up another shot at the par four ninth.

Seven straight pars followed before the Swede, twice a winner on the Asian Tour in 2010, rolled in two more birdies to finish.

“My putting was great after a hot start then it was a little bit so-so. I kept it going and it was nice to finish with those two extra ones at the end,” said Karlberg, who is ranked eighth on the Order of Merit.

A win for any of the Asian Tour players this week will grant them a two-year playing exemption on the PGA Tour.

Former world number one Lee Westwood, who won the European Tour’s Malaysian Open on this course in April, could only manage a level par 72 for a share of 39th with reigning FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel.

Major winners Charl Schwartzel, Jason Dufner, Stewart Cink, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman all endured a difficult day and could only manage 74s, a score matched by the leading two on the Asian Tour Order of Merit list, David Lipsky and Anirban Lahiri. (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Golf-Asian Tour’s Karlberg leads CIMB Classic in Malaysia

Karlberg takes early CIMB Classic lead

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg sunk seven birdies for a seven-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead in the first-round of the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, while Spanish star Sergio Garcia lurked four shots back.

American defending champion Ryan Moore turned in six birdies of his own to lead a pack of golfers just three strokes off Karlberg’s pace on 68.

The Swede, who has struggled this year to overcome a stubborn viral infection and said he “almost stopped enjoying the game”, credited his strong start to a decision to just shake off the negative feelings and relax.

“I just went out there and tried to be as relaxed as possible and just have fun,” he said.

Karlberg had five birdies on the front nine at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club and cemented his lead with two more on the final two holes.

World number four Sergio Garcia, the highest-ranked golfer in the field, was in striking distance after entering the clubhouse with a three-under 69.

Garcia, 34, started brightly, notching four birdies over his opening nine, but could manage no more the rest of the way and suffered a bogey down the homestretch.

But the Spaniard, who has seen a revival in his play this year including a January Qatar Masters win and runner-up showing to world number one Rory McIlroy in the Open Championship, was pleased.

“I felt like I played quite well. Obviously I didn’t hole a lot of putts. I hit some really good putts that I had quite a lot of lip-outs, but other than that, it felt good,” he said.

Patrick Reed, a bright spot for the USA in its latest recent Ryder Cup loss to Europe, was among several entrants who finished the day at two-under after shooting a 70.

England’s Lee Westwood, who won on the same course in the Malaysian Open in April, had an up-and-down day to finish at even par, tied with a group of golfers including this past season’s FedExCup champion Billy Horschel.

Westwood, a former world number one, turned in a card featuring two birdies and an eagle three on the par-five fifth, but also two bogeys, and a double bogey on the par-four 16th.

“I struggled with the speed of the greens more than anything, but made a nice eagle at five, which got me back to level par. So not too much damage done,” he said.

Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Asian Tour, the CIMB Classic offers the winner $1.26 million and 500 FedExCup points.

Last year’s winner, Ryan Moore of the United States, is back to defend, as compatriot Jason Dufner continues his comeback.

Jason Dufner, the American 2013 PGA Champion, who returned to competitive play last week in Australia after nearly three months off due to a neck injury, could muster only a two-over 74.

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Karlberg takes early CIMB Classic lead

China specialist Levy leads in wet Shanghai

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Frenchman Alexander Levy continued his love affair with China’s golf courses by kicking off the European Tour’s Final Series with a seven-under-par 65 to lead after the first round of the BMW Masters.

Levy, who won the Tour’s China Open in April, fired seven birdies in a bogey-free round to lead by one at Lake Malaran from Argentine Emiliano Grillo, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and another Frenchman, Romain Wattel.

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell also went bogey free, firing a five-under 67 to sit in fifth at the first event of the European Tour’s lucrative final four of the season which offer more than $30 million in combined prize money.

But they were all short of the 24-year-old Levy, who showed some hot form on a cool, damp morning in China.

Starting on the 10th, Levy opened with four birdies before getting to five-under by sending a pinpoint iron at the 200 yard par three 17th to six feet to make the turn in 31.

Another shot was gained at the second before he completed his round by rolling in a 12-foot putt at his last for a birdie three and a 65.

It was the Frenchman’s fifth straight sub par round in China after his four shot win at the Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen.

“For me, this golf course is pretty much the same as Shenzhen. I like this type of golf course with water and the target golf,” he told reporters.

“I enjoy being in China and I’m going to try my best the last few days and try to do the same things I thought of in April. I like China, that’s for sure.”

Levy has been in strong form of late, claiming his last strokeplay event at the curtailed Portugal Masters earlier this month to become the first Frenchman to win at least twice in a single European Tour season.

Levy is 19th in the Tour’s Race to Dubai standings but a strong showing at the $7 million event in Shanghai can help rocket him up the money list.

World number one Rory McIlroy is well clear at the top of the standings but he is skipping this week’s event and the following World Golf Championship HSBC Champions tournament, also in China, next week.

Second-placed Sergio Garcia is also absent this week, opting to compete at the PGA Tour’s event in Malaysia, while Henrik Stenson, third on the list, is also missing from the 78-man field.

Welshman Jamie Donaldson, fourth in the Race to Dubai, made a good start in Shanghai with a four-under 68 to sit in a group of six players, including victorious Ryder Cup-winning team mate Thomas Bjorn, who is fifth in the money race.

Li Hao-tong and Hu Mu led the local charge with the Chinese pair firing 69s to sit tied 12th alongside multiple major winner Ernie Els and Italian Francesco Molinari.

The Italian’s brother Eduardo, one back at two-under, produced the shot of the day with a hole-in-one at the 212 yard fourth.

(1 US dollar = 0.7955 euro)

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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China specialist Levy leads in wet Shanghai

Golf-Rose hopes Final Series can take him to No 2 in world

By Sam Holden

Oct 29 (Reuters) – Justin Rose wants to end the year as the world number two and is targeting the European Tour’s ‘Final Series’ to climb the rankings, starting with the BMW Masters in Shanghai on Thursday.

The 34-year-old Briton joins six of his victorious Ryder Cup team mates in China for the first of the four-tournament series that brings the curtain down on the European season.

World number six Rose is due to play in three of the events and is looking to take advantage of the absence of top-ranked Rory McIlroy and world number five Henrik Stenson with a good performance at Lake Malaren.

“The aim is to strengthen my ranking as much as possible,” said Rose who took four points from his five matches at last month’s Ryder Cup in Scotland.

“If I was to play well and win a few tournaments before the end of the season I could get myself to second in the world rankings which would be a personal best,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Rose accepted that he had a tough task to dislodge McIlroy who goes into the Final Series with an almost unassailable lead at the top of the European money-list.

The Northern Irishman, who has won two majors this year, is taking time out to focus on his legal battles with his former management company and will not play again until the series ends with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.

PATERNITY LEAVE

Stenson is taking paternity leave this week following the birth of his daughter.

Rose, who has won on the European and PGA tours this year, warmed up for the BMW Masters with a match-play exhibition victory over close friend and Ryder Cup team mate Ian Poulter.

“We had a little match play competition yesterday and he managed to beat me 3 & 2 so it would be nice if I can go one up on him this week,” Briton Poulter said.

“It’s always nice to come back to Asia and I’ve got a decent record here. I’ve played well on this golf course in the past so I’m looking forward to getting going.

“I like the layout, I like the way it looks and if the weather holds off for us and is kind, it’s going to be a great week,” added Poulter.

The pair will this week be back in the company of Ryder Cup colleagues Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson, Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher who helped Europe beat the United States in the biennial team event at Gleneagles.

Seventy-eight players will compete for a prize fund of seven million euros ($8.92 million) at Lake Malaren.

($1 = 0.7847 Euros) (Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Golf-Rose hopes Final Series can take him to No 2 in world

Garcia and Reed to face off Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – A resurgent Sergio Garcia goes toe-to-toe with US Ryder Cup sensation Patrick Reed at the CIMB Classic beginning Thursday, as reigning FedExCup champion Billy Horschel looks to lift his game to an even higher level in the Malaysian event.

Garcia, who will be paired with Reed, is enjoying some of his best form in years at 34.

The Spaniard has won once in 2014, finished second to world number one Rory McIlroy in the Open Championship in July, and played solidly in Europe’s recent Ryder Cup victory as he returned to the world top 10.

Along with England’s Lee Westwood, Garcia and the 24-year-old Reed comprise the premier trio for the first two rounds when they tee off together at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC).

“It’s going to be fun to be able to play with both of them,” said Garcia, the highest-ranked player in the field at world number four.

“Obviously I’m quite friendly with Lee, so it should be good fun to be able to play with both, and hopefully we’ll be playing well.”

Reed was a revelation in the Ryder Cup where, along with fellow young playing partner Jordan Spieth, he was a rare bright spot for the United States in another humbling loss to Europe.

Horschel, 27, has also emerged as one of golf’s hottest young talents, clinching the season-long FedExCup crown and its whopping $14 million payday in September.

The American said he won’t just “sit back and enjoy” that windfall but is aiming for his first Major win this year and to defend the FedExCup title.

“I’m always thinking about the next level,” he said.

Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Asian Tour, the CIMB Classic offers the winner $1.26 million and 500 FedExCup points.

Last year’s winner, Ryan Moore of the United States, is back to defend, as compatriot Jason Dufner continues his comeback.

Dufner, the 2013 PGA Champion, took nearly three months off due to a neck injury but showed little rust in a steady showing during his return last week at the ISPS Handa Perth International.

Other contenders include South African Major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, the top-ranked Asian player in the world at 21st.

All competitors will need to be wary of the steamy local conditions, said Westwood, who won the 2014 Malaysian Open at KLGCC.

“To play on the KLGCC you have to be able to manage your body well and stay hydrated all the time because of the heat,” he said.

The tournament offered a sponsor’s exemption to 16-year-old Guan Tianlang of China, who caused a sensation by qualifying for an invitation to the 2013 Masters.

Then only 14, Guan was the youngest player ever to compete at Augusta National, and made the cut, but has yet to match that performance.

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Garcia and Reed to face off Malaysia

Rose targets career-high ranking at BMW Masters golf

Shanghai (AFP) – Justin Rose has set his sights on a career-high ranking of world number two over the final events of the year as he headlines a weakened field at the BMW Masters from Thursday.

The Englishman can further his claims in Shanghai after fifth-ranked Henrik Stenson pulled out, joining world number one Rory McIlroy on the sidelines.

But Rose believes it might be a step too far to close the gap on McIlroy, who also leads the Race to Dubai, over the European Tour’s “Final Series” of four big-money events.

“I’m not sure I can catch Rory, I haven’t really done the maths 100 percent,” Rose told AFP at Lake Malaren Golf Club on Wednesday.

“The aim is to strengthen my world ranking as much as possible. If I was to play well and win a few tournaments before the end of the season I could get myself to second place in the world rankings which would be a personal best.”

McIlroy is taking time out to prepare for a multi-million dollar lawsuit with his former management company, and will not play again until the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next month.

The Northern Irishman, who has won two majors this year, holds a healthy lead of more than three million euros in prize money at the top of the Race to Dubai standings.

The final series also includes next week’s World Golf Championships HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the Turkish Airlines Open and the climax to the season in Dubai.

With the euros on the standings now converted to points, and each tournament offering 1,166,000 points to the winner, it means this year’s battle to succeed Stenson, the reigning Race to Dubai champion, may not quite be over.

The BMW Masters has suffered a double blow with the withdrawals of McIlroy and Stenson after the Swede’s wife, Emma, gave birth to their third child, on Sunday.

With world number four Sergio Garcia in Malaysia this week for the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic, it means the top three in the “Race to Dubai” standings are missing.

And that has opened the door slightly for the likes of fourth-placed Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn (fifth), Victor Dubuisson (sixth) and Rose (eighth) who are all part of this week’s elite 78-man field.

Rose, a father of two himself, had sympathy for Stenson after he withdrew on Sunday.

“The six months of fall-out leaving your wife after just having a baby? It’s not worth it,” Rose said, smiling. “He’s made the right decision.”

The tournament was won last year by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castagno who has endured a torrid 12 months since.

The Spaniard had to rely on a sponsor’s invite to defend his title, having dropped to 86th on the Race to Dubai standings.

And he now needs a high-placed finish here or his season will be over as only the top 60 in the standings will qualify for Dubai.

“For some reason I play well in China,” Fernandez-Castagno told AFP, recalling last year’s win and also his 2006 Asian Open victory across the city at Tomson Golf Club.

“Maybe it’s the food or maybe it’s being so far from Europe that nobody can bother me with phone calls and text messages,” he said.

“I can just go out there and play.”

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Rose targets career-high ranking at BMW Masters golf

Golf-American Lipsky eyes ticket home with Malaysia win

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Asian Tour Order of Merit leader David Lipsky has already secured European Tour playing privileges this year but the American is eyeing an even grander ticket to his home PGA Tour at this week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysian.

The 26-year-old Californian made the most of the Asian Tour’s co-sanctioning tie ups to seal a European circuit card until the end of 2016 with victory in Switzerland last month at the European Masters.

The lucrative win rocketed him to the top of the regional money list and helped book one of the 10 spots for Asian Tour players at the U.S. PGA Tour’s $7 million CIMB Classic which begins on Thursday and offers an even greater prize.

The $1.26 million winner’s cheque would all but end the annual earnings race in Asia but the two-year exemption on the world’s most prestigious and lucrative tour would be far more valuable.

“Being from the United States, definitely, getting to the PGA Tour at some point is one of my goals,” Lipsky told reporters in the Malaysian capital on Monday.

“So you know, I’ve been progressing every year with my game and developing everything so hopefully the next couple years, I’ll be able to take that next step and play the PGA Tour.”

The Northwestern University graduate has not looked back since trying his luck on the Asian Tour in 2012 after winning the qualifying school.

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He won the Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic on his third start before returning to the Asian Tour’s winner circle this year with a $500,000 first prize in Switzerland.

India’s Anirban Lahiri has won twice on the Asian Tour but in smaller events, meaning he sits second in the standings, around $165,000 behind Lipsky’s tally of $669,170 with eight events left this season.

“Obviously, Anirban is playing well but as long as I take care of business and do what I need to do, then everything should take care of itself,” Lipsky said of his chances of staying top.

No Asian Tour player has won the co-sanctioned CIMB Classic in its four previous years but Lipsky was quietly optimistic after a venue switch from the short and tame Mines Country Club to the more testing Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

“I’ve played well here in the past and I have good memories, so I’m looking forward to the week,” Lipsky said, adding his local caddie was arguably more excited to be back in Kuala Lumpur than he was.

“It’s my fourth event here. I’ve played ten rounds here. So I know the course quite well.

“I finished third here in a European Tour event a few years ago, so I know I can play well around this course. It’s just a matter of executing the shots I need to see.” (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Golf-American Lipsky eyes ticket home with Malaysia win

‘Daddy’ Stenson pulls out of BMW Masters

Shanghai (AFP) – The European Tour’s flagship event in China suffered a new blow Tuesday when it was confirmed that Henrik Stenson had withdrawn after the birth of his third child.

The $7 million BMW Masters, which begins at Lake Malaren on Thursday, was already reeling from world number one Rory McIlroy’s decision last week to pull out.

It lost another of its big stars in the Swede, who last year won both the USPGA Tour’s Fedex Cup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings.

Stenson’s wife Emma gave birth to baby Alice in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday and the Swede, who is third in the Race to Dubai standings, has understandably decided to remain in the States.

He is now expected to travel to Shanghai for next week’s World Golf Championships HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan Golf Club after spending a week with the newest addition to the Stenson family and his other two children, seven-year-old Lisa and four-year-old Karl.

“No3 has arrived!!” Stenson posted on his Facebook page along with a picture of him holding the baby.

“Alice was born Sunday afternoon! Mommy did great! Lisa and Karl seems to be pretty happy with the new addition.”

McIlroy declared a week ago that he was taking time away from golf to deal better with the multi-million dollar legal dispute he has with his former management company.

“I’m going to need time away from tournament golf to prepare for the trial over my legal dispute with Horizon Sports Management,” said McIlroy.

The hearing is set to take place in February and McIlroy will not play again until next month’s season-ending tournament in Dubai.

With world number four Sergio Garcia opting to play only at next week’s event in Shanghai it means the top three in the “Race to Dubai” standings are missing as the first of the “Final Four” season-ending series of big money events begins on Thursday.

The field still boasts seven of the victorious European Ryder Cup team, led by world number six Justin Rose of England.

He is joined by teammates Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson, Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter in the 78-man starting line-up.

The other two absentees from the victorious Ryder Cup team are US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and Lee Westwood of England.

Kaymer last year came to the end of an association with tournament sponsors BMW and is now attached to rival German car Mercedes. Westwood is teeing up this week in Malaysia at the USPGA Tour’s CIMB Classic, an event co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour.

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‘Daddy’ Stenson pulls out of BMW Masters

South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace wins at China LPGA

Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa won the rain-hit Blue Bay Championship in China on Monday, wrapping up her first LPGA Tour victory with a birdie on the final hole.

The 33-year-old finished on 200 with a five-under 67 in the third and final round, leaving her three strokes ahead of Germany’s Caroline Masson overall.

“I can’t actually believe it,” Pace said.

“I’m still so in the moment of one shot at a time that I think it’s going to hit me. It’s like, literally ‘Now I can relax’. It’s amazing. Obviously one of my life goals.”

Pace fired five birdies in her bogey-free round, while Masson ripped through four birdies in her final six holes.

“I’m happy with that finish and that was all I could do,” said Masson.

Americans Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda finished third on 205.

The pair both made two bogeys in the final round as they lost touch with the lead.

The Jian Lake club was hit by heavy rain during the tournament, with organisers forced to reduce the $2 million event from four rounds to three and extend it to Monday.

Pace claimed her ninth Ladies European Tour victory at the South African Women’s Open last week.

She is the second South African-born player to win on the LPGA Tour after 15-time champion Sally Little.

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South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace wins at China LPGA

Streb seals maiden PGA Tour win in playoff

(Reuters) – Robert Streb held his nerve to win his first PGA Tour title in a playoff with fellow American Will MacKenzie and Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge for the $5.6 million McGladrey Classic at Sea Island in Georgia on Sunday.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened to end a day of unbroken sunshine on the Seaside Course, Streb sealed victory by sinking a four-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole, the par-three 17th, where de Jonge narrowly missed his attempt from 18 feet.

After retrieving his ball from the cup, the 27-year-old Streb removed his cap to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd before being congratulated by the burly de Jonge, who had also been bidding for his maiden victory on the PGA Tour.

MacKenzie, seeking to end a six-year title drought on the U.S. circuit, was eliminated from the playoff at the first extra hole, the par-four 18th, where he bogeyed after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

The trio had finished the 72 regulation holes on 14-under-par 266, de Jonge closing with a five-under 65, MacKenzie carding a 68 and early starter Streb firing a best-of-the-day 63.

“The wait was a little nerve-wracking because they (the final groups in regulation) had the par-five (15th to come),” Streb, who finished his round an hour-and-a-half before MacKenzie, told Golf Channel.

“And then obviously those last two short putts I was pretty shaky,” he added, referring to his four-footer for par on the first extra hole and his birdie putt for victory.

Asked if he could put his emotions into words, Streb replied: “Not yet but I am very thrilled.”

BIRDIE FLURRY

De Jonge made the first significant move in a hotly contested final round, a flurry of three birdies in the opening three holes lifting him into a tie for the lead with overnight pacesetters Andrew Svoboda and MacKenzie.

While Svoboda slipped back with bogeys on 11, 12 and 14, Streb, who began the final round five strokes off the pace, drained a 33-footer at the 17th for his fourth consecutive birdie to move into a share of the lead.

Streb had to settle for a par at the last after his birdie attempt from 21 feet pulled up a few inches short of the cup.

“It was a lot of fun,” Streb said after signing his card. “I made quite a few putts and stuffed a couple of wedges (close). Before you know it, you’ve got a whole pile of birdies.”

MacKenzie faltered with a three-putt bogey at the 16th but rebounded with a birdie at the 17th, where he very nearly holed his tee shot.

He salvaged a par at the 18th after his tee shot ended up in the right rough and failed to reach the green in two, two-putting from around 25 yards to join the playoff.

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Streb seals maiden PGA Tour win in playoff

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