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.”


Chinese badminton superstar Lin Dan retires

Updated 04 July 2020

Chinese badminton superstar Lin Dan retires

  • Lin Dan will not be competing in the next Olympics in Tokyo

BEIJING: China’s two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player of all time, announced his retirement on Saturday aged 36.

It means that Lin, who won gold at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, will not compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were pushed back to next summer because of coronavirus.

The end of Lin’s glorious career comes just over a year after the retirement of his great rival and friend, the Malaysian star Lee Chong Wei.

The duo reigned over the sport for more than a decade and have only relinquished that hold in recent years as their powers waned.

Lin, who had something of a “bad boy” reputation during his younger days and has several tattoos, ends with 666 singles wins and a glut of medals.

“My family, coaches, team-mates and fans have accompanied me through many peaks and difficult troughs,” he said in a post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo that quickly went viral.

“Every forceful jump was a desire for victory.

“I have dedicated everything to this sport I love.”

As well as the double Olympic golds, Lin was also a five-time world champion and a long-time former world number one.

Lin earned the nickname “Super Dan” at the peak of his career.

However, the left-hander’s career has tailed off in recent years as age and injuries took their toll.

He always said that he was determined to reach the Tokyo Olympics, but his ranking of 19 in the world and the postponement of the Games made that dream unlikely.

Lin had always maintained that he would try to make it a last Olympics hurrah in Tokyo in an unlikely bid for a third Olympic gold.

But he said on Saturday his body would not allow him to plow on.

“’Persevere’, I said to myself in every moment of suffering, so that my sporting career could be prolonged,” he wrote on Weibo.

“Rather than simply pursuing rankings as I did when I was younger, in these years, I have been wanting to challenge the physical limits of an ‘old’ athlete and practice the sporting spirit that I will never give up.

“(But) my physical abilities and pain no longer allow me to fight alongside my team-mates.”