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


Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

Updated 23 May 2018
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Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir ‘100 percent ready’ to face England, says coach

  • Left-armer is fit after a knee injury
  • “He’s fine, he’s ready to go,” says team coach Mickey Arthur

LONDON: Pakistan spearhead Mohammad Amir is “100 percent ready” for the first Test against England at Lord’s starting on Thursday despite a knee injury, according to team coach Mickey Arthur.
The left-arm fast bowler was seen stretching out his right knee as Pakistan beat Test debutants Ireland by five wickets during a one-off match in Malahide, Dublin concluded last week.
Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood suggested Amir had suffered a recurrence of a “chronic” problem.
But head coach Arthur, speaking to reporters at Lord’s on Tuesday, had no qualms about the fitness of Amir.
“He’s perfect, 100 percent,” Arthur insisted. “He’s fine, he’s ready to go.”
As for Amir, missing Pakistan’s final warm-up match ahead of the two-Test England series, last weekend’s drawn match against Leicestershire, Arthur added: “It was his rotation. (Mohammad) Abbas sat out the first (tour) game, Hasan (Ali) sat out the second, so he sat out the third.”
Amir was the hottest property in world cricket after bursting on the scene as a teenager in 2009 and at 18 he was the youngest bowler to have taken 50 Test wickets.
But his world was turned upside down in 2010 when he became involved in a spot-fixing scandal after deliberately bowling no-balls during the Lord’s Test against England — an incident that would eventually see him sent to prison by an English court and given a five-year ban by the International Cricket Council.
Amir’s first 14 Tests saw him take 51 wickets at just a fraction over 23 apiece, figures that had him on course to be an all-time great.
But the 17 Tests since his comeback two years ago have seen him take 49 wickets at a more expensive average of 34.91
Amir, and Pakistan for that matter, have not been helped by the fact that those 17 Tests since 2016 have also seen 16 catches dropped off his bowling.
The stigma of his spot-fixing exile has started to fade, with Amir playing for Pakistan during their 2-2 draw in a four-Test series in England two years ago.
He also starred for Essex as they won English domestic cricket’s first-class County Championship title last season.
Now the 26-year-old Amir is set to be the leader of an inexperienced Pakistan attack.
England, who didn’t manage a single win during their recent seven combined Tests in Australia and New Zealand, collapsed to 58 all out in Auckland in March as Kiwi left-arm quick Trent Boult took six wickets.
And Arthur backed Amir to do similar damage
“I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 percent right,” Arthur said.
“We’ve used that spell that Trent Boult bowled in Auckland. We’ve had a look at his lengths.
“We believe he (Amir) bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers (Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan) in the (England) top four.
“He’s ready, I just hope it goes really well for him because he’s been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches.
“He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited, he’s in a very good place at the moment.”
Arthur is unusual in having served as the head coach of three leading nations — his native South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
But he was adamant he had no desire to replace Trevor Bayliss when the Australian steps down as England coach next year.
“No, I’m very happy,” Arthur said. “I’d like to keep going with Pakistan for as long as they will have me because it’s unfinished business for us at the moment. This is a very young cricket team and I worry if we move on what happens to these guys. Their fitness regime is outstanding, they are training hard and they are enjoying their cricket. I’m very, very happy with where I am at the moment,” he insisted.