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Bernie Wilson: Oracle beats Kiwis in Bermuda for America's Cup bonus point

QUOTE-UNQUOTE: As if it needed any more of a boost, two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA will start the 35th America's Cup match ahead 1-0. Owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison and skippered by Australian Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team USA sailed a masterful race on Bermuda's Great Sound on the final day of the qualifiers Saturday to beat Emirates Team New Zealand and earn a bonus point in the 35th America's Cup match that starts June 17. It's just one of the radical departures from tradition in this America's Cup, which, perhaps fittingly, is being sailed on the northern tip of the Bermuda Triangle. Imagine if the World Cup final started with one team already ahead by a goal. Or the World Series starting with one team already up by one game.That's similar to what Oracle gained."We just won a race in the Cup, boys. Good work," tactician Tom Slingsby told his crewmates after Oracle's fast, 50-foot catamaran splashed down off its foils at the end of the race.There's still plenty to get used to in this America's Cup. This is the first time the defender has sailed with the challengers in the preliminaries. It's the first time a bonus point has been awarded for the match. Oracle will need to win only six races starting June 17. The challenger will still need to win seven in order to pry the oldest trophy in international sports away from powerhouse Oracle. –The AP's esteemed Cup coverage via veteran SoCal sports writer Bernie Wilson, who has been covering the Cup since 1992. Full story via the Charlotte Observer here.

Photo of today's important (for the bonus point) race between ETNZ and OTUSA, taken by the celebrated veteran Cup photog Gilles Martin-Raget (FRA), courtesy of ACEA.