Thomas Pieters leads in Abu Dhabi after ‘very good round’

Belgium's Thomas Pieters tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship golf (AP)
Updated 19 January 2018

Thomas Pieters leads in Abu Dhabi after ‘very good round’

ABU DHABI: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson both made their moves on Friday, but they were left chasing the long-hitting Thomas Pieters of Belgium at the halfway stage of the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The 25-year-old Belgian, who was a star for the European Ryder Cup team in their loss to the US at Hazeltine, made seven birdies in his bogey-free round of 65 to climb on top of the leaderboard at 12 under par.
Spain’s Jorge Campillo added a 64 to his opening-round 69 to be one behind Pieters, while Alexander Levy of France (65) and England’s Ross Fisher (67) were in tied third place at 10-under 134 alongside overnight joint leader Tommy Fleetwood (68), who turned 27 on Friday.
After a disappointing opening round of even-par 72, world No. 1 Johnson bounced back with a brilliant bogey-free round of eight-under-par 64.
McIlroy is yet to make a bogey after two rounds and an eagle on his finishing hole catapulted him to nine-under for the tournament with a round of 66.
Pieters, ranked 40th in the world, finished second here in 2016 but missed the cut last year. However, he once again showed his love for the National course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club with a round that finished on a high note — a chipped-in birdie on the ninth from the greenside bunker.
“It was nice to hole one on the last after two terrible shots. Ball-striking was good, but the rest of it was decent today,” said Pieters.
“I mean, I hit most of the middle of the greens. If I had a wedge, I went at the flag and I think I got up-and-down or made birdie with a wedge in my hand three or four times. It wasn’t really that fancy but a very good round.”
McIlroy, returning to professional golf after a lay-off of nearly 100 days, gave himself plenty of chances in his first 17 holes, but converted only four birdies. His spirits were clearly lifted when he poured in his eagle putt from 20 feet on the last.
“It was a nice way to finish. Felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine. I always struggle to read these greens, I feel like I’m hitting good putts and they are just sliding by the edges,” said McIlroy, who has slipped to 11th in the world rankings.
“But it was nice, I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend.”
Johnson was pleased with his effort, especially after the even-par 72 round on Thursday.
“It was pretty easy for a 64. I did everything really well. I drove it well. I hit a lot of really good iron shots. Hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in the hole from pretty close range, but all day, I gave myself really good chances for birdies. It was pretty stress-free,” said Johnson who made three birdies in his last four holes.
The cut fell at two-under par 142. Among the notables who will miss weekend play are European Ryder Cup veterans Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who missed by one shot. World No. 6 Justin Rose made a birdie on the 18th to finish on two under par.

132 — Thomas Pieters (BEL) 67-65
133 — Jorge Campillo (ESP) 69-64
134 — Alexander Levy (FRA) 69-65, Ross Fisher (ENG) 67-67, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 66-68
135 — Paul Casey (ENG) 70-65, Andy Sullivan (ENG) 70-65, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 69-66, Sam Brazel (AUS) 67-68, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 67-68
136 — Dustin Johnson (USA) 72-64, Branden Grace (RSA) 72-64, Ryan Fox (NZL) 70-66, Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 69-67, Chris Paisley (ENG) 69-67, Andrew Johnston (ENG) 68-68, Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 67-69
137 — Martin Kaymer (GER) 69-68, Joost Luiten (NED) 69-68, Jason Scrivener (AUS) 69-68
138 — Wang Jeunghun (KOR) 71-67, Wu Ashun (CHN) 71-67, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-68, Thomas Detry (BEL) 70-68, Kristoffer Broberg (SWE) 69-69, Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 68-70, Paul Dunne (IRL) 68-70, Richie Ramsay (SCO) 68-70, Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 66-72
139 — Matt Wallace (ENG) 71-68, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 70-69, Scott Vincent (ZIM) 69-70, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 69-70, Brandon Stone (RSA) 69-70, Carlos Pigem (ESP) 68-71, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 69-70
140 — Seungsu Han (USA) 73-67, Darren Fichardt (RSA) 73-67, Benjamin Hebert (FRA) 72-68, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 70-70, Richard Sterne (RSA) 68-72, Scott Hend (AUS) 71-69, Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 68-72

Selected others:
142 — Matt Kuchar (USA) 72-70, Justin Rose (ENG) 71-71
143 — Ian Poulter (ENG) 75-68, Lee Westwood (ENG) 74-69
144 — Graeme McDowell (NIR) 70-74
148 — Ernie Els (RSA) 76-72
151 — Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP) 78-73

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.


Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”


Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”


Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”


The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.


Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.