Almulla retains lead: Saudi golf star has chance at consecutive titles in SGF Open

Tournament leader Othman Almulla gets up and down from the bunker on the fourth hole. (AN photos by Noel A. Alipoyo)
Updated 02 December 2016

Almulla retains lead: Saudi golf star has chance at consecutive titles in SGF Open

RIYADH: Defending champion Othman Almulla of Saudi Arabia moved on the cusp of back-to-back titles with a three-stroke lead after the second round on Friday in the 2nd Annual SGF (Saudi Golf Federation) Golf Championship at Dirab Golf & Country Club.
Almulla’s game was on shaky ground, the result of his so-so driving, until two birdies coming home put damage under control in his card of 75, three over on the flat tree-lined layout that bared its fangs and had players struggling with soaring scores.
Together with a first-round 70, Almulla totaled 145 and will start in the last group for the 3rd and final round Saturday with fellow countryman Saud Al Sharief and Bahraini veteran golfer Hamad Mubarak.
The reed-thin Al Sharief, a rising young talent with a maturity for the modern game that is well beyond his years, shot a second-round 75 on a sunny windless day for a 148, three strokes off the pace.
Mubarak also fired a 75 for 150 in a tie with the UAE’s Ahmad Skaik, who returned the day’s second-best score of 73 to make up four strokes on his first-round 77.
Skaik will be in the second to the last group Friday with Qatari Saleh Al Kaabi and the 21-year old Bahraini Fahad Abdullah Sultan.
Al Kaabi is on 151 after a 76 Friday while Fahad sits a stroke back on 152 thanks to the day’s best round of 72.
Bunched on 153 is a quartet representing different countries: Bahrain’s Nasser Yacoub (76), Faisal Salhab of Saudi Arabia (75), Oman’s Azan Al Rumehy (79) and Korea’s M.S. Kim (76).
Despite the difficult playing conditions the day’s round yielded highlight shots – two eagles by Mubarak and one of the leading Filipino golfers Alex Arellano. Mubarak had an eagle two on No. 12 when his 60-degree wedge from 65 yards found the cup after a three-wood teeshot. Arellano made eagle on the par-5 dog-leg right 13, holing an 8-foot downhiller after a good drive and three-wood approach.

 

“My driving let me down today, which is a surprise, as it is the strength of my game,” said Othman, winner of the MENA Tour Order of Merit for MENA Division.
“I regrouped and told myself I knew there will be opportunities for birdies on the last few holes,” he said.
Starting on the back nine, Othman was dropping shots faster than he could gain them. After the par-3 fourth hole, his 13th of the day, Othman was 5-over. He pulled one back on No. 5 where he sank an uphill birdie putt from 10 feet following a lovely approach shot.
Othman then parred the next three holes and enjoyed a birdie finish on 9. His 5-iron second shot from 230 yards out landed pin high in the rough to the right from where he chipped to five feet and made the putt.
“I think I need to putt some work on the range. Need to play good game tomorrow,” Othman told Arab News, as he tries to go for wire-to-wire victory in the biggest amateur golf event in the Kingdom organized by Saudi Golf Federation and that attracted the region’s best players.
With only three shots separating Othman and Al Sharief, a 12th grade student at Naseem International School in Bahrain, Saturday’s battle for all the marbles could go either way.
“I’m still in contention. I’ll try my best. I had my chances today flicking wedges from all over, but failed to take them,” said Al Sharief.


Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”