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.”

Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

Updated 30 May 2020

Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

  • The move aims to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes

MANCHESTER, England: Liverpool might not win the English Premier League at Anfield after police included the leader’s key games among at least five it wants at neutral venues in a bid to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp hopes authorities will allow them to play at home as planned, with supporters adhering to advice while they are prevented from attending games due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Police originally wanted neutral venues for all 92 remaining games but the plan was opposed by the clubs — particularly those trying to avoid relegation.
The league plans to resume on June 17 after a 100-day shutdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pending final approval from government, which is trying to prevent a second spike in cases.
Police don’t object to the games on that Wednesday night being played at Manchester City and Aston Villa.
But police want the derby between Everton and Liverpool to be played away from Merseyside a few days later. The game was originally scheduled at Goodison Park. Liverpool, which leads by 25 points with nine games remaining, could clinch the title by beating Everton if second-placed City loses to Arsenal on June 17.
If the 30-year title drought doesn’t end that day, police want Liverpool’s next game, against Crystal Palace, to be played away from Anfield.
Greater Manchester Police have already determined Liverpool’s third game back against Manchester City should be staged away from Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool’s fourth game back is against Aston Villa, currently scheduled at Anfield.
The same Manchester force wants City’s game against Newcastle and Manchester United’s home game against Sheffield United played outside of the northwest location.
Police in Newcastle also don’t want the home game against Liverpool to be played at St. James’ Park on the final day of the season, which could be July 26.
Mark Roberts, the head of football policing in England, said the plans will remain under review but are based on public health demands.
“We have reached a consensus that balances the needs of football, while also minimizing the demand on policing,” said Roberts, the football policing lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council. “The views and agreement of forces which host Premier League clubs have been sought and where there were concerns, the Premier League has been supportive in providing flexibility in arranging alternative venues where requested.”
One obvious neutral venue is Wembley Stadium in north London which is not the home of any club side.
“This plan will be kept continually under review to ensure public health and safety and a key part of this is for supporters to continue to respect the social distancing guidelines, and not to attend or gather outside the stadiums,” Roberts said.
Even without a vaccine for COVID-19, fans could return to games next season, which is due to begin in September.
“There is optimism at the Premier League and at clubs that we will see fans back in the stadiums next season,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told Sky Sports TV, “and it may happen on a phased basis.”
Only 200 of the 380 Premier League games each season are contracted to be broadcast live in Britain, but all remaining fixtures will be aired live because fans will not be allowed in stadiums.
The reshaped English season is set to end with the FA Cup final on Aug. 1.
The Football Association on Friday announced its competition will provisionally resume with the quarterfinals on the weekend of June 27-28. The semifinals are now scheduled for July 18-19.
“This has been a difficult period for many people and, while this is a positive step, the restart date is dependent on all safety measures being met,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said.
Though the COVID-19 deaths per day have fallen in Britain since early April, another 377 were still reported on Thursday, bringing the known death toll in all settings including hospitals and care homes to 37,837.