Dustin Johnson holds off Li Haotong challenge to win inaugural Saudi International

Dustin Johnson endured a roller-coaster back nine but birdies on the last two holes at the Royal Greens handed him a two-shot win in the inaugural Saudi International on Sunday. (Getty Images)
Updated 03 February 2019

Dustin Johnson holds off Li Haotong challenge to win inaugural Saudi International

  • 34-year-old American closed with a three-under 67 to finish on 19-under par
  • Despite missing out on glory, Haotong was delighted with his performance

LONDON: Dustin Johnson endured a roller-coaster back nine but birdies on the last two holes at the Royal Greens handed him a two-shot win in the inaugural Saudi International on Sunday.
The 34-year-old American closed with a three-under 67 to finish on 19-under par, two better than his playing partner for the day Li Haotong, who made a birdie on the last to secure a solo second placed finish.
Despite missing out on glory, Haotong was delighted with his performance in the Kingdom and was gracious in defeat.
“It was a very good match (with DJ), especially on the front nine,” he said.
“On the back nine, I was just a little off today and it wasn’t my best game there. But I’ve learned a lot and the last few holes were good for me.
“I think (Dustin) deserved to win this event.”
England’s Tom Lewis (65) made a spirited charge, but after making five birdies in his first five holes, he ran out of steam and finished third.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee, younger brother of LPGA Tour star Minjee Lee, shot a second successive round of seven-under par 63 in only his second start as a professional to finish fourth, one shot behind Lewis. Frenchman Alex Levy was fifth.
Lewis was particularly happy with his showing in Saudi Arabia. 
“It shows that I can go low over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday period. Hopefully, if I can just start better in some tournaments, and then carry on doing what I’m doing when I do shoot 1-over, then maybe I’ll walk away with a trophy,” he said.
Playing in the final group after starting the day tied on 16-under par, Johnson and Li were neck and neck after eight holes with one birdie to show in their rounds. But Li moved ahead with a chipped-in birdie from a difficult position on the ninth to take a one-shot lead into the back nine.
It took a lipped-out par putt from less than two feet on the par-4 10th hole to finally wake up Johnson. He hit a brilliant tee shot on the par-3 11th to tap-in distance to catch up with Li, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 12th to edge ahead by a shot.
The advantage doubled on the long and tough par-4 13th hole when Li made a bogey from the greenside bunker and followed it up with another on the 14th hole.
But there was more drama to come. Johnson hit his tee shot into the Red Sea on the picturesque par-3 16th hole. He did manage to make a 15-foot putt to avoid a double bogey and the lead was down to one shot going into the final two holes.
Johnson managed to birdie both, while Li could not convert his on the 17th after hitting a wild tee shot.


Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.