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.”

NBA star LeBron James opts out of wearing social justice message on Lakers jersey

Updated 12 July 2020

NBA star LeBron James opts out of wearing social justice message on Lakers jersey

  • ‘It is just something that didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal’
  • But Lakers star still working behind the scenes to improve the lives of others

LOS ANGELES: NBA superstar LeBron James said Saturday he would opt out of wearing a social justice message on the back of his jersey because it doesn’t “resonate with his mission.”
James, who has often spoken out against racism and police brutality in America, is passing on the NBA’s plan to help bring attention to racial inequality by having players wear messages like “I Can’t Breathe” instead of their family names.
“I didn’t go with a name on the back of my jersey,” the Los Angeles Lakers forward James said Saturday. “It was no disrespect to the list that was handed down to all the players.”
“I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It is just something that didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.”
James says he wishes he had had some input into the jersey change.
“I would have loved to have a say on what would have went on the back of the jersey. I had a couple of things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process which is OK.”
“I don’t need to have something on the back of the jersey for people to understand my mission and what I’m about and what I am here to do.”
The vast majority of NBA players have decided to pick a social justice message when play resumes in Orlando, Florida.
James is one of just about 17 players out of 285 so far who have opted to continue using their family names on the back of their uniforms.
The list of suggested messages, agreed on by the players union and NBA owners and then made available to players, includes “I Can’t Breathe,” which is what George Floyd said more than 20 times before he died with a white police officer kneeling on his neck.
Other messages include: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
James said even though he isn’t taking part in the jersey messages, he is still working behind the scenes to improve the lives of others, especially people in the Black community.
“Being able to use my platform, use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on. Because I will not stop until I see real change for us in Black America, for African Americans, for people of color. And I also believe I can do both, though.”
James said he always expected to play in the restart to the season: “I am here for one goal and one goal only and that is to win a championship.”