LOS ANGELES: Rory McIlroy captured his 20th career US PGA Tour title on Sunday, firing a six-under par 66 to win the CJ Cup by one stroke over Collin Morikawa.
Disappointed by a poor performance at last month’s Ryder Cup and his struggles after trying to match the long-distance driving of Bryson DeChambeau, the 32-year-old from Northern Ireland showed the form that made him a four-time major champion.
“For the last few months, I was trying to be someone else,” McIlroy said. “I realize that being me is enough and that’s enough to do things like this.”
McIlroy rolled in an eagle putt from just inside 35 feet at the par-5 14th and parred the last four holes to finish on 25-under par 263 at the Summit Club in Las Vegas.
McIlroy said the sting of his Ryder Cup flop in Europe’s record 19-9 loss inspired his improved play.
“It was huge. It really was,” McIlroy said. “I was disappointed with how I played. I get more emotional thinking about that than about this (win).”
After his best round in two years with a 62 on Saturday, McIlroy followed with a near-perfect run to claim his 29th worldwide victory and become only the 39th player with 20 US PGA wins.
“It’s quite an achievement,” McIlroy said. “I still need a couple more years on tour to get that lifetime exemption but at least I’ve got the 20 wins. It’s a great achievement.”
Since World War II, only Vijay Singh and Gary Player have more US PGA victories than McIlroy among players from outside the United States.
Two-time major winner Morikawa, who finished with an eagle, was second on 264 after a closing 62 with fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Keith Mitchell third on 266.
The event was moved from South Korea for a second consecutive year due to coronavirus pandemic travel issues.
McIlroy, ranked 14th, won his second title of the year, having snapped an 18-month win drought in May with his third career triumph at Quail Hollow, and first of the 2021-22 season.
“I’ve been close before to opening my season with a win,” he said. “It’s great. It feels really good, some validation of what I’ve done the last few weeks. Just keep moving forward.”
Morikawa was pleased with his week despite settling for second.
“It has been an awesome start to the season,” he said.
Fowler led by three early Sunday but could not match McIlroy’s pace, shooting 71. World number 128 Fowler has not won since taking his fifth PGA title at the 2019 Phoenix Open.
“Obviously disappointed,” Fowler said. “But this is a big step in the right direction from where I’ve been in the past couple years.”
Fowler rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt at the par-4 ninth to share the lead at 22-under with McIlroy and Morikawa, but stumbled back with a three-putt bogey at the 10th.
McIlroy drove the green at the par-4 12th and rolled in a four-foot birdie putt to seize the lead alone.
McIlroy found the rough at the par-5 14th and came up just short of the green but rolled the ball into the cup from just inside 35 feet for eagle to reach 25-under and lead by three.
Morikawa sank an eagle putt at the par-5 18th from just inside seven feet to pull within one, but McIlroy closed with four pars to seal the victory.
Fowler teed off with a two-stroke lead over McIlroy and dropped his approach inches from the cup to set up a birdie on the opening hole to lead by three.
But McIlroy sank an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-3 second and had a tap-in birdie at the par-5 third.
Fowler birdied the fourth but took a double bogey at the par-5 sixth while McIlroy birdied from just outside four feet to share the lead.
McIlroy birdied the eighth to reach 22-under to match Morikawa’s birdie at the par-3 11th and share the lead.
Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
The race taking place this upcoming Sunday is Saudi Arabia's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix with Jeddah hosting the race
Updated 04 December 2021
JEDDAH: Fans all over the world eagerly await Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, taking place this Sunday, including some notable professional Saudi athletes.
“It’s a momentous event for the country,” said Husein Alireza, the Saudi professional rower. “Everyone’s flown in, there’s a real buzz in the air, you know? We haven’t had this buzz in a very long time.
“I think we’re used to hosting people from all over the world — Jeddah has been the social capital for a long time, it’s a tourist hotspot. We’ve got the Red Sea, and the people of Jeddah are very laid back and welcoming.”
“I think for any tourist, a way to experience a new location for the first time — to do it through the world of sports is a great way,” said Dania Akeel, professional Saudi race driver. “You get action, you get the social aspect, you get entertainment and you get to witness excellence at the highest level.”
At the launch of the Aston Martin Vantage F1 edition in Jeddah, Arab News had the opportunity to talk with some Saudi pro athletes, along with Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin F1 team principal, about some of their predictions before the long-awaited Jeddah race.
“I think we will do a really good job in Jeddah, the track looks amazingly fast and like nothing else on the calendar, so it should be good fun,” Szafnauer said. “Lance (Stroll) progresses year-on-year. He’s in the steep part of the learning curve, and he had a great race in Doha.”
Szafnauer, a Romanian-American engineer, was received at the launch of the Aston Martin car by Ali Alireza who gifted Szafnauer a special sword, which the team principal thanked him for and jokingly said: “This will come in handy for future negotiations with drivers.”
“Sebastian (Vettel) has brought a lot of winning experience to the team and know-how of what it takes to win — not just races, but also world championships, and he’s lifted our game quite a bit, but because of the rule change, we really did take a step backwards.”
Due to COVID-19, F1 race cars from 2020 were carried over to this season with very little technical adjustments. There were, however, aerodynamic rule changes set by the FIA that stripped performance away from Aston Martin’s low-rake car, hindering their performance this year.
“It was too late, and that’s not a driver thing, that’s more of a car development issue,” Szafnauer said. “Once those rule changes were upon us, we couldn’t really do anything.”
As a result, Aston Martin have had to use some of their resources for 2022 on this year’s car to try and remedy what’s left of the season, to no avail.
“But next year is a whole new year, all the rules (will) even the playing field for everybody,” he added.
Akeel said many factors currently in play will determine the champion of this season, saying that no matter what changes have been done to the engine to make it perform better, the human element in the driver is always a key factor.
“You know, the truth is, I don’t favor any driver, but I favor incredible driving skills. Each driver delivers a certain finesse, technique, a certain decision-making process that you can’t compare to each other,” she said.
“One driver will blow you away in the rain, another driver will come from the back of the grid all the way to the front, another driver will show you their resilience in defending their position. Each driver behaves differently on corners, on overtakes, on straights. And of course, that's not to say, the team as well has such a massive influence.”
Dania Akeel made history when she became the first Arab female to win the T3 title at the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas event this year. She completed a remarkable comeback from a serious injury suffered earlier this year.
Akeel told Arab News that despite sustaining three pelvic fractures while participating in the Bahrain Rally Season, she was still planning to compete in the 2022 Dakar Rally which will take place in Saudi Arabia next January.
Alireza, who took part in the men’s rowing in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, competed with a damaged lung. Mid-competition, a new ad hoc strategy was devised by his team that had allowed him to manage injury-hit races, with the 28-year-old unable to perform at full capacity.
On F1, Alireza had his own take on who the crown of this season will go to.
“I always go for the underdog and you know, seven years of Hamilton — I love the guy, I supported him at the start, but I would love to see Verstappen win the race. He’s such an exciting, dynamic driver, I love the way he drives, extremely aggressive. And it would be nice to see him win it here in Jeddah, that would be cool.
“We’ll see what happens but I think I’m on Team Verstappen on this one,” he concluded.
Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives
The German Formula 1 driver said wanted to hear their first-hand accounts of recent changes in the country what life is like for them in the Kingdom
Updated 04 December 2021
JEDDAH: In an effort to learn more about life in Saudi Arabia and recent changes in the country, and as an activist for equality, Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel said that he organized a special karting event this week for women in Saudi Arabia.
In comments shared on social media, the German driver, who races for Aston Martin, said he hired a karting track in Jeddah on Thursday and invited some Saudi women to race so that he could hear their first-hand accounts of what life is like for them in the Kingdom.
Vettel said: “It’s true that some things are changing here. There are a lot of questions that have been asked and I have asked myself. So I was thinking of what I can do. I really tried to think of the positive side.
“And so I set up my own karting event today, under the hashtag Race for Women, and we had a group of seven or eight girls and women on the track.
“I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and, obviously, on the track; to do something together to grow their confidence. Some of them had a (driving) license, others they did not. Some of them were huge Formula 1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with Formula 1 or racing before today.
“It was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and a great event. Everybody was extremely happy,” he continued. “And I was, I have to say, very inspired by their stories and their backgrounds, their positivity about the change in the country.
“It was important to get to know some of these women. And I think it was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick-off the weekend by focusing on the positive.”
Vettel will compete in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, Dec. 5.
Hamilton seals practice double, LeClerc crashes out on day one of historic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points — with nine wins to seven — and is looking for points in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi to seal a maiden world title
Updated 03 December 2021
JEDDAH: History was made on Friday as Formula One drivers took to the streets of Jeddah to get to grips with the circuit during the opening practice sessions ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Months of hard work and planning came to fruition as Lewis Hamilton pipped his title rival Max Verstappen by five hundredths of a second in the first session, and stretched the margin further ahead of the pack in the second evening session.
The two world championship title contenders were clear of their rivals and well on top during the first two sessions, to the delight of the crowds in the grandstands.
All eyes will be on Jeddah on Sunday for the race, but for a fully focused Hamilton and Verstappen, Friday was all about finding an early edge in one of the tightest F1 championship battles for years.
Teams wasted no time getting drivers out on track to collect data on the championships’ newest circuit, and it was a good first run out for the drivers, with Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas claiming third in the first session — while the honor of first F1 driver round the record-breaking Jeddah Corniche went to Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr.
Grip was expected to be at a premium given the new asphalt, but drivers reported it was better than expected.
“Grip seems pretty high in general,” Esteban Ocon said over team radio. “I think it’s a big surprise, everywhere, traction through the mid-corner.”
First impressions of the track appeared positive from the rest of the field with Bottas declaring the circuit “cool,” and Mercedes’ sporting director, Ron Meadows, complimenting Race Director Michael Masi at how well circuit personnel had prepared the track surface overnight.
Hamilton continued his on-track dominance over his rivals as he led the second session by six-hundredths of a second over Bottas, with Verstappen nearly two-tenths back in fourth.
The session was a calamitous one for Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc, who crashed heavily with five minutes remaining, his car suffering considerable damage.
The Monaguesque lost control at turn 22, already pinpointed by teams and drivers as one of the hardest corners on the circuit.
With two sessions under their belt, one at sunset and another under the lights in the evening, the drivers will be looking to push their times down even further when the final practice and qualifying sessions get underway on Saturday.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by eight points — with nine wins to seven — and is looking for points in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi to seal a maiden world title.
‘Valued’ Joelinton reaping the benefits of Eddie Howe’s faith
The Brazilian forward has been one of the success stories since the arrival of the new manager
Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles return to the fold for the game against Burnley at St James’ Park on Saturday
Updated 03 December 2021
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed how making £40 million Newcastle United flop Joelinton feel “valued” is getting the best out of the Brazilian.
The forward has been outstanding since the arrival of Howe, putting in a man-of-the-match, all-action display on the right-hand side in the 1-1 home draw with Norwich City on Tuesday, in a game that saw United down to 10 men in the ninth minute.
Joelinton is a figure who has starkly divided opinion on Tyneside since his 2019 arrival from Hoffenheim for a club record fee.
And while his first couple of years with the Magpies may have seen Joelinton labelled a frontline failure, Howe believes showing the player a bit of love is making a huge difference to this “outstanding” talent.
“Joe has been fantastic for me. We really like him,” said head coach Howe, speaking ahead of Newcastle’s game against Burnley at St James’ Park on Saturday. “He has a good mix of physicality and technical ability. His work rate has been a real feature of his play, he has covered every blade of grass for the team — a real selfless mindset.
“We are really pleased with him, but we think there is more to come,” Howe added. “We have made him feel valued. There’s just eagerness to prove himself. We think he is going to be a huge player for us.”
The South American striker, who netted his first goal of the season in Howe’s debut match in charge against Brentford, is expected to retain his place in the side against Sean Dyche’s men. Howe argues Joelinton could play any number of positions, such has been the versatility shown since his arrival.
Howe said: “Against Norwich he started as a No.10, then moved to a No.8, into midfield. In terms of his best position, he can play in a number of areas. He has already played three or four positions for me, and played them well.
“He has work ethic, a high technical level, physicality, the ability to score, and you have an outstanding individual.”
United have gone 15 games in all competitions without a win this season, 14 of those have come in the Premier League.
And it’s not lost on Howe that no team has ever stayed in the top flight having not won in their opening 14 games.
“We are so desperate for those three points,” he said. “There were so many positives to take from Tuesday, although it wasn’t the result we wanted. The manner of the performance in the circumstances was really, really encouraging.
“So, if we can go into (Saturday’s) game with the same fundamentals, the same fight and spirit, I back the players to get the win sooner rather than later. A win would transform everything,” said Howe. “It would transform the feeling of the squad, the fans, the confidence.”
Howe also revealed that, despite a bruising encounter against Norwich, he has no new injury concerns ahead of the Clarets clash. And while Ciaran Clark sits it out following his straight red card in midweek, Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles return to the fold.
“We have a few bumps and bruises, but hopefully nothing too serious,” said Howe. “The squad has come through unscathed and of course we have the two boys returning from suspension.”
One player who remains on the sidelines, however, is defensive stalwart Paul Dummett.
The 30-year-old is yet to kick a competitive ball this campaign, and Howe said Dummett is still a long way from doing so.
“He is back running on the grass with the physios but still has quite a bit to go through to declare himself fit to play,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Reigning champion heads into F1 race 8 points behind Max Verstappen, tells Arab News of balancing pressures of racing with interests off track
Updated 03 December 2021
JEDDAH: The first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is almost here, and the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time could not be more relaxed, considering what is at stake.
A potential record-breaking eighth championship is back within tantalizing reach. And as the eyes of the world turn to the newly completed Jeddah Corniche Circuit, F1 has never been more popular.
And some of its newest fans have come from a most unexpected source. “I think it’s changed the game,” said Lewis Hamilton.
High praise indeed. Not for a new car, or some revolutionary technical innovation, though. Hamilton was referencing the Netflix show “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” and how it had brought the sport to a whole new global audience.
“I don’t think anybody knew what it was going to do for the sport exactly. Definitely thought it would be positive, but it’s changed the sport for good I think,” the reigning world champion added.
“I think it’s been the best thing because our sport is often quite difficult for people to understand. If you turn the TV on, you have no clue what’s going on. It’s very intricate, very complex, and there’s so many moving parts.”
The world’s most exclusive sport suddenly seems that little bit more welcoming to outsiders these days.
The 36-year-old Mercedes driver said: “Most people play football at school, play tennis, or try out these other sports. Most people don’t get the chance to race cars, so it’s been great for that show to be able to showcase that there are actual personalities within sport and the excitement in depth rather than just what you see on TV.
“And now there’s this whirlwind of new fan following, and yes the close championship makes it even more exciting.”
Not that Hamilton’s profile needed boosting.
Seven-time world champion, possessor of most pole positions (102) and race wins (102), and now gunning for a record eighth driver championship with Mercedes, Hamilton is coming off a sensational win at the first ever Qatar Grand Prix which has cut Max Verstappen’s lead at the top of the standings to eight points.
“The track was awesome. When we started driving it, just with the wind direction and the grip level, the speed of all the corners, they were all medium- and high-speed corners, I was sure the racing was not going to be great there. But it actually was, surprisingly.
“Qualifying lap, single lap, felt incredible and we had good preparation,” Hamilton added.
Having won the previous weekend in Brazil, Hamilton and Mercedes initially struggled in Doha.
“The Friday was a difficult day for me, I was nowhere, and I just kept my head down and studied hard and was fortunate, I felt, to turn it around and have a great Saturday and Sunday.
“I definitely didn’t know that at this point I’d be this close (to Verstappen in the standings) and have the performance that we finally were able to unlock with the car. I’m super grateful for it,” he said.
Next up for the rivals is this weekend’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and yet another new track in Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
“I think all the drivers have driven the simulator; it is incredibly quick. It is a bit reminiscent of Montreal in terms of the long straight track that they have there, but they’re all curved at this track, and also there’s not a lot of run-off area so it really is quite a street circuit, and right in the city.
“It looks pretty epic to be honest, but we won’t fully know until we feel the rollercoaster ride of the real G-Force and speed, once we get there,” Hamilton added.
The British driver will be hoping to take the championship to the last race in Abu Dhabi, where the Yas Marina Circuit has been reconfigured for the first time since its completion in 2009.
He said: “It’s obviously an incredible circuit with the whole build-out of the place, I think they spent the most on that circuit than any other circuit, so it’s a great spectacle, beautiful last race of the season. But the layout has always been very, very difficult to follow and overtaking is quite difficult.
“It’s quite interesting that they’ve made these changes and I really think it’s going to unlock the potential of that circuit, to be more of a racing circuit. Because it’s so hard for us to follow each other, when they make these types of small changes, it’s hard to follow those through.
“So, from the simulator driving that I’ve done it looks like it’s going to make it very, very difficult to hold, to even keep position. It looks like it could be something where you’re constantly switching and changing. They might move to one of the best racing circuits, we’ll see when we get there,” he added.
Of Hamilton’s seven titles, six have been won with Mercedes in the last seven years, and such was his dominance at times, often it seemed that he was racing against himself, and history.
The closeness of this season’s battle with Verstappen and Red Bull is something Hamilton is cherishing.
“I really am because each year you’re faced with different scenarios. I wouldn’t say that it’s ever been a choice for me. I’ve never had it easy, in my younger days starting with an old go-kart, having to always race from the back.
“And particularly in karting, there was always wheel-to-wheel racing, super close. It was always down to that last lap, you had to be very, very tactical to make sure you came out first. I miss that in racing, and as you get through your cars you get less and less of that, and it’s more about positioning and holding the position.”
Red Bull have certainly raised the stakes this season, but Hamilton and Mercedes have risen to the challenge in recent weeks; the gap to Verstappen is down to only eight points in the drivers’ championship, while the team now leads Red Bull by five points.
Hamilton said: “Then of course we have all these disparities between cars each year, one team does well, and the other team doesn’t. We’ve done well for quite a few years, it’s amazing to now have this close battle again because it’s reminiscent of my karting days in terms of how close it is.
“But it also meant that we all have to elevate and perfect our craft even more. That’s what sport is about, right? That’s why it’s been super exciting. It’s been challenging for my engineers, for the mechanics, how do they dig deep and squeeze more out of their potential. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, but something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Should Hamilton win the title in Abu Dhabi, it will be a very popular victory among the natives. The organizers of the race at Yas Marina Circuit still speak with pride at how Hamilton — who races in No. 44 — took part in the UAE’s 44th National Day celebrations in 2015.
Having spent a significant part of his life racing around the world, Hamilton has seen first-hand how F1 has grown in the Middle East.
“Each time we go out to Bahrain, the crowds seem to get bigger and bigger. Abu Dhabi gets bigger and bigger each time we go and of course we have more and more presence now particularly with Qatar and Saudi,” he added.
Crucially, more young people are taking up motorsports in this part of the world, especially karting.
“I just spoke to someone from Saudi, I don’t know a lot of people in Saudi, but they are talking to me about how there are a lot of girls, and boys, where their first choice is not football, it’s racing,” Hamilton said.
“It’s quite cool to see there is a new generation out in the Middle East that are car crazy and want to be racing. So, who knows, maybe in the future we’re going to see a Formula 1 driver from somewhere in the Middle East, I think that could be quite cool. Would be even better if that was female.”
Hamilton, famously, has developed many interests, and supported many causes, outside racing.
“Being an athlete, being a sportsman, most often that’s all you do and for me it’s been important to find other outlets, other areas, because if you focus on one thing it doesn’t always lead to happiness.
“You’ve got to be able to fill and explore your other potential, other avenues that you might be good at. It’s always great to be able to turn your mind off from racing, and focus on something else, something that you can be creative with,” he added.
Unlike most other drivers, or athletes, Hamilton has had ventures into music and fashion. He has also built a close relationship with Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen — for whom he is an ambassador — over the last few years, helping design his very own timepiece, Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition Lewis Hamilton.
“So, I really enjoyed the whole process, from sitting in the car at Hockenheim with Christopher (Grainger-Herr, chief executive officer of IWC Schaffhausen), driving to the airport and talking about a potential collaboration, and talking about the intricacies of a watch, and saying I want my own watch one day, to now having my own timepiece.
“It was really challenging for me, sitting there working with them because I have a lot of appreciation for the brand’s work and expertise, but I also wanted to add my own touch. I had questions like, what can we change on the dial? The tourbillon, I want to get the tourbillon in one of my pieces because it’s one of my favorite movements, if not my favorite movement,” he said.
In recent years, activism has played a big part in Hamilton’s life away from F1, and he has become an outspoken advocate for social equality, diversity in sport, and environmental sustainability, his own X44 team taking part in the first ever electric SUV rally series, Extreme E, this year.
Hamilton noted that it was vital for him to work with people who shared his values.
“So, I’ve been on calls with my partners at IWC Schaffhausen talking about things like, what are you doing during this time about diversity? How diverse is your company, what are your goals, how are you going to be more inclusive moving forward? And they’re fully on board with that.
“That for me is amazing to see, that people are conscious of sustainability, brands are conscious of the impact that we’re having on the planet. I only really like to engage with people that are like-minded in that sense, rather than just business-minded,” he added.
Far from being distractions, his interests away from racing have helped him keep an almost zen-like sense of perspective in his career, as his continued brilliance on the track has shown.
He said: “Tapping into different things helps take the pressure off this crazy, intense world that I have over here. Because if I stop and think about that and only think about the racing, I have 2,000 people working flat out, depending on me at the end to pull it through.
“Partners, and my own expectations can be super overwhelming, so these other things help me dilute that pressure and feed that energy into something positive.”
Still, when he lands in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, expect one thing, and one thing only, to be on Lewis Hamilton’s mind.