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
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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.

SCORES
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


London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

Updated 16 August 2018
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London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

  • Super Cup final in UK capital can boost Saudi football's image around the world, claims SAFF official
  • SAFF defends number of foreign players allowed to play in Saudi Pro League claiming they help raise the standard.

LONDON: Saturday’s Super Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad in London will not just be a great experience for the players, but also a chance to showcase the best of Saudi Arabian football on an international stage ahead of what should be a season to remember.
That is according to Luai Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)ahead of the cup clash at Loftus Road, the home of Queen’s Park Rangers. The match is the traditional season curtain-raiser that features the champions and the winners of the King’s Cup. And with holding fixtures overseas a growing trend in modern football, Al-Subaiey told Arab News the decision to play the match in London was a no-brainer.
“Club teams from one country playing in another country is commonplace,” Al-Subaiey said.
“Teams from the English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese leagues played in the US this summer. The Spanish Super Cup was played in Morocco last week.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London, (roughly) 300,000 people there.”
Al-Subaiey and Co. are confident that a great game in London this Saturday will be a springboard to a great season to come, especially with leading clubs in the country active in the international transfer market.
With eight overseas players allowed in Saudi Arabian teams in the upcoming Saudi Pro League season, there have been concerns that opportunities for local talent could be reduced. Al-Subaiey, however, believes that importing quality players can only be a good thing.
“Foreign players in the Saudi League will help improve the quality of football,” he said.
“But it also needs to be managed and balanced with the need to nourish domestic talent and provide our homegrown players with a pathway to the top.”
International stars such as Omar Abdulrahman have a part to play in the development of the Saudi Pro League and its ambition to be one of the leading leagues in the world. The United Arab Emirates playmaker joined Al-Hilal earlier in August in a season-long loan deal worth a reported $15 million — the second highest in football history.
As well as Abdulrahman, Al-Hilal have signed Peruvian international Andre Carrillo, who scored at the World Cup this summer, as well as former Barcelona defender Alberto Botia. Al-Nassr have bought Nigerian international Ahmed Musa from Leicester City and Nordin Amrabat from Watford.
“Has Wayne Rooney added something to DC United and the MLS? Has Omar Abdulrahman added to Al-Hilal? Of course, additions like these improve the quality of football,” Al-Subaiey said. “For the fans, these players bring excitement, and for the clubs and their league, these players bring a higher profile and greater attention — but there is something deeper too.”
For the official, what the best players bring is attitude and the utmost professionalism.
“Central to high performance sport is the right mindset. People like Rooney and Abdulrahman bring a great work ethic and possess great skills — but they also possess a professional mindset. And the young players who will work with them will see this, experience this — and learn from this.”
If all goes according to plan Saudi Arabia will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and perhaps even
progress to the second round for the first time since 1994. In Russia the Green Falcons started off with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the hosts in the opening game in Moscow. The team tightened up before losing narrowly to Uruguay, and then going on to beat Egypt 2-1 in the final game.
“We were absolutely delighted to be at the World Cup,” Al-Subaiey said.
“As you can tell with teams like Italy, Holland and the USA not qualifying and teams like Germany and Argentina not progressing (far in the tournament), the standard of play in international football is very high.
“Our particular group was quite challenging, and our initial game against host Russia, one of the biggest surprises of the World Group, was a difficult first match. Our final game, our win against Egypt, was a World Cup high point for our team. It was a match our young players and our national program can build on.”