Green, McDowell share lead on 64 in Saudi International

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Graeme McDowell is joint-leader after Round 1 of the Saudi International. (Getty Images)
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Saudi Arabia’s leading amateur Saud Alsharif gets a masterclass from British Open champion Shane Lowry, third left, ahead of Thursday’s first round. (Getty Images)
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Gavin Green is joint-leader after Round 1 of the Saudi International. (Getty Images)
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Phil Mickelson had a storming finish as he came back in 29 shots to be tied with five others at four-under at the Saudi International. (Getty Images)
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Henrik Stenson shot a 65 and is one behind the leaders at the Saudi International. (Getty Images)
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Updated 30 January 2020

Green, McDowell share lead on 64 in Saudi International

  • Tour veterans Stenson and Mickelson go low in packed leaderboard

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia: Veteran Graeme McDowell, trying to refocus to keep up with the demanding life on tour in his forties, caught early finishing Gavin Green at the top of the leaderboard on 6-under after the first round on Thursday in the Saudi International golf tournament.

“It’s focus and motivation since last year in the summer. I really do feel I didn’t play well enough. I got myself new coach, kind of changed my approach to what I’m doing. Nothing major technical, just more on practicing better and thinking better, preparing myself better … I’m getting back to doing what I used to do very well, which was to come out as one of the best prepared players in the field. Because what I lack in talent I make up for with good preparation,” said the 40-year-old from Northern Ireland of his opening day effort of 64 that matched the Malaysian’s card.

McDowell birdied the last three holes and had a chance to overtake the 26-year-old Green but his long eagle putt on No. 18 grazed the left side of the hole.

“It was nice to get out of there with 6-under par because I felt like I played great today. It would have been a horrible round to let get away but to finish birdie, birdie, birdie was nice, just feeding off Phil (Mickelson) finishing with seven birdies on the back nine. It was Phil the thrill out there. It was fun to watch him and fun to play with him,” said McDowell.

Swedish veteran Henrik Stenson, nicknamed The Iceman, kept his cool in the glorious sunshine at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City to shoot 65 — one off the lead — in a group that included fellow countryman Sebastian Soderberg, Spain’s Adri Arnaus, France’s Victor Perez and Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas.

Stenson’s encouraging start gave him a good chance of making up for a missed cut, along with Soderberg, in last year’s tournament inaugural.

“I certainly putted well. It was a lot of fighting and a lot of scrambling and some really good two-putts and chip shots around the greens. Probably the scorecard is a little tidier than I feel I played out there today,” Stenson said.

US star Mickelson, making his debut in this second edition of the European Tour’s Middle East swing, was in a big group at 66, just two shots off the joint leaders.

Mickelson said: “On the back nine, things really started to come together. Meaning I hit a lot of good shots. I started making the putts, and made a lot of birdies, and it was just a good back nine that gave me a good chance heading into tomorrow. I feel like my game is a lot sharper than I’ve been scoring, so it was nice having that back nine.”

Commenting on his eight-birdie round of 64, Green said: “Played solid. Really a few mistakes here and there, which is pretty normal. A couple of pretty big par saves, and a couple of mistakes, a couple of three-putts, which was tough to take in because I was playing well and I was playing solid. Just a couple slipped off. You know, it’s the nature of the game. You just have to live with it and move on, and that’s what we did. We closed off strong, birdied 16, 17. Had a look at 18. Had a nasty little lip-out but it is what it is. I’ll take it.”

Defending champion and world No. 5 Dustin Johnson of the US kept himself in the hunt at -3 with six others in a packed leaderboard, as the elite field of 132 players slug it out in Friday’s second round to try to make the cut for the weekend in chase of prize money totaling $3.5 million.

Of the Saudi trio and local favorites, professional Othman Almulla and amateurs Saud Alsharif and Faisal Salhab, it was the Kingdom’s first and only pro thus far that has a fighting chance to make the cut after shooting 5-over 75.

“It was an interesting day. This was actually the first time in a long time I’ve felt comfortable on the golf course. Having a nightmare last week actually put me in a much, much better position mentally to go out and perform this week. Obviously five-over par still isn’t good enough, but I can take a lot of positives from today — especially in how I struck the ball,” said Almulla.

“If I can go out and continue to put myself in a position where I feel comfortable with my ball-striking, and I give myself opportunities, I think I can take another step up in my career.”

For debuting Salhab, he said: “It’s a good experience. It’s a bad experience. I was really disappointed. I’m hitting good shots but I can’t cash in.”

Kimmich: Bayern need to stay ‘hungry’ for Champions League bid

Updated 09 July 2020

Kimmich: Bayern need to stay ‘hungry’ for Champions League bid

  • Under head coach Flick, Bayern have won all 11 games since the season resumed in mid-May

BERLIN: Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich says the double-winning German champions must stay “fully focused and greedy” for more silverware during their two-week holiday before launching their assault on the Champions League.

“Now it’s time to recharge our batteries and then tackle the Champions League with full focus and greed,” the 25-year-old told magazine Sport Bild.

Head coach Hans-Dieter Flick sent Bayern on a two-week holiday after winning the German Cup last Saturday before fine-tuning their preparations for the Champions League.

After completing the double with a 4-2 cup final win over Leverkusen, Bundesliga champions Bayern are on a 17-match winning streak dating back to February.

Under Flick, Bayern have won all 11 games since the season resumed in Germany in mid-May amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bayern are chasing a treble and are among the favorites in Europe after routing Chelsea 3-0 in London in the last 16, first leg, last February before the Champions League halted due to COVID-19.

Bayern still need to finish the tie to reach the quarterfinals and the draw for the remaining rounds in the knockout stages takes place this Friday. Kimmich called on his teammates to keep training during their break to maintain the “hunger” for the Champions League finals in Lisbon next month.

“It will be decisive how we return from vacation: We want to keep that feeling, that hunger,” Kimmich added.

Having stumbled last November, when Flick succeeded Niko Kovac who was sacked following a 5-1 thrashing by Frankfurt, Bayern are now in great form.

Robert Lewandowski has scored 51 goals this season, including 34 in the Bundesliga and is the Champions League’s top-scorer with 11.

Behind the Poland striker, Thomas Mueller has 25 assists, including a record 21 in the Bundesliga.

Kimmich has bossed the defensive midfield alongside Germany teammate Leon Goretzka and suggests Bayern have developed a mental edge.

“In the last two seasons, mentality has been the most important factor in winning the German league title,” said Kimmich.

“FC Bayern may be ahead of other teams in this respect.”