Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic
Seventeen-year-old will tee off alongside some of the world's best players on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club. (Dubai Desert Classic)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic

Local heroes set to mix it with world’s best at Dubai Desert Classic
  • UAE-based Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill tee off at Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club after impressive recent showings

DUBAI: The UAE will be well represented at this week’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic with two talented young local heroes, Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill, teeing up alongside some of the world’s best golfers on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club.

Dubai-born Hill hit the local headlines last week, making the cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship at Yas Links at the tender age of 17 and finishing just outside the top 50 on a respectable +3 after four tough days in difficult conditions.

At 24, UAE national Skaik has also been putting together some impressive recent performances, notably making the cut at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship before narrowly missing out on the weekend at the Aviv Dubai Championship, the penultimate tournament in the DP World Tour last November.

Both are raring to have a crack at the Majlis after receiving tournament invites for the $8 million Rolex Series event, which has attracted three of the world’s top 10, Ryder Cup stars, Major winners, and more.

Hill’s objectives are simple — taking things one shot at a time: “I don’t have any goals other than things like making sure I commit to every shot, making sure me and my caddie talk through the shot well, go through the process. I don’t really want to think about the result; that will come if I’m able to stick to those goals.”

On the prospect of facing the game’s big guns at a renovated Majlis course, he added: “I really like the changes to the course. The revamp of the greens has gone well and they’re running quite nicely. They’re a bit firm, but it’s the same for everyone. It’s obviously longer off the back tees, but you’ve just got to hit quality golf shots, same as last week, same as any tournament.”

Hill added: “It doesn’t really matter who you get paired with. It’s not going to change how I look at the course, or the week. It’s nice to get a good group, but it doesn’t really matter.”

Left-hander Skaik, still a student in his final year at university, is also looking forward to taking on the Majlis and testing himself against the best while playing from the tips. 

Of the Majlis, he said: “I like the Majlis off the tee, but it is different off these ones, I usually play from the blue tees for the men’s championships, but this is a great challenge. I’m hitting the ball well so that’s a positive.”

Skaik, who has been fitting in some practice while studying over the winter, had a tough weekend last time out when he missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship. However, the left-hander was not too disappointed with his game overall, explaining that luck played a major part in two brutal rounds at the event’s new home at Yas Links.

“I would say I got a bit unlucky in the draw,” he said. “On day one I had a late tee time and played with a two-club wind for 17 holes. On day two, I had to come back to play the 18th to finish my round, into a 3-club wind. When I went out again for my second round the wind got up again and it was a 4-club wind all round.

“I actually played well off the tee both rounds and I hung in with my putting although it was tough, but my iron shots spun too much for the conditions, so I think I need to go to the UK to master those shots and links conditions. I need to keep these shots in my bag in case the situation arises again.”

On his ambitions for this week, Skaik just wants to contribute toward the growth of the game in the region. “It is always an honor to represent my country — and Arabs in general — and I want to inspire youngsters to show them that we can play in these tournaments, compete, and do well. I showed at the Aviv that it is possible. I’m one of them, so if I can do it they can do it as well.”

Simon Corkill, tournament director — Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, said: “The inclusion in the field of Ahmad and Josh this year underlines the commitment and investment we are making for the future of our game. Their success will elevate golf to another level in the UAE and wider Middle East region. We wish them well this weekend.”    


Butler tosses in 41 points as Heat take Game 1 from Celtics 118-107

Butler tosses in 41 points as Heat take Game 1 from Celtics 118-107
Updated 7 sec ago

Butler tosses in 41 points as Heat take Game 1 from Celtics 118-107

Butler tosses in 41 points as Heat take Game 1 from Celtics 118-107
  • Jimmy Butler had 17 alone in the third quarter, outscoring the Celtics by himself over those 12 minutes

MIAMI: Jimmy Butler scored 41 points, and the Miami Heat turned things around with a huge third quarter on the way to beating the short-handed Boston Celtics 118-107 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.

Tyler Herro scored 18 and Gabe Vincent added 17 for the Heat, who outscored Boston 39-14 in the third quarter. Butler had 17 alone in the third, outscoring the Celtics by himself over those 12 minutes.

Max Strus scored 11 and Bam Adebayo added 10 for Miami.

Jayson Tatum scored 29 for the Celtics, who were without starters Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols). Jaylen Brown added 24 for Boston, which got 18 apiece from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.

Game 2 is Thursday.

Boston led by 13 in the first half and took a 62-54 lead into halftime. Whatever Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during intermission clearly worked.

A 22-2 run was how Miami started the second half, the run punctuated by steals that led to baskets on three consecutive possessions. Strus had one, the next two by Butler pushed the lead out to 76-64, and the Heat were off and running.

The lead reached 96-76 when Herro was fouled on a 3-point try and made all three free throws early in the fourth.

Boston had a run left; a 10-0 spurt cut the deficit in half, and a 3-pointer from Tatum made it a nine-point game — outcome still very much in doubt — with 7:35 left.

But the Heat had a response. PJ Tucker answered Tatum’s 3 with one of his own. Brown then connected from deep to get Boston within single digits again, only to have that one answered by a 3 from Strus.

Some of the plans that both sides had for Game 1 were thrown away about 3 ½ hours before game time, when the Celtics revealed that Smart and Horford wouldn’t be playing. Smart’s absence was somewhat expected because of a mid-foot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday.

Horford’s absence, however, was a surprise.

He entered the league’s health and safety protocols Tuesday afternoon, which ruled him out of Game 1 and quite possibly could keep him out for multiple games going forward. And it’s not clear if any other Celtics could need testing.

“I’m honestly unsure about that as of now,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said pregame.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Boston’s biggest lead was 13 points. The Celtics are now 46-7 this season in games in which it led by at least that many. ... Boston scored 18 points of the first 6 ½ minutes of the first half, then two points in the first 6 ½ minutes of the second half. ... The Celtics trailed for only 16 seconds in the first two quarters. ... Boston has dropped 17 of its last 26 East finals games.

Heat: Former Miami guard Goran Dragic was in attendance. ... This series is the 50th in Heat postseason history. They’re now 28-22 in Game 1s. ... Butler’s 15th point — a free throw 16 seconds into the second half — gave him 14,000 for his career, including playoffs. He’s the 220th NBA player to score that many. ... Miami missed its first seven shots. ... Tucker left in the second quarter to get his right ankle re-taped, then returned for the second half.

BLOCK PARTY

There were 20 blocked shots in the game — 12 by Miami, eight by Boston.

SECOND BEST (AND WORST)

The 25-point differential in the third quarter was the second-best for the Heat and the second-worst for the Celtics this season. Miami outscored Charlotte by 27 in the third quarter on Feb. 5. Boston was outscored by 28 points in the fourth quarter by Chicago on Nov. 1.

SLOW SECOND

Boston didn’t have a field goal in the first six minutes of the second half — the slowest start to a half in any of the Celtics’ 94 games this season. The previous low for field goals made in the opening 6:00 of a half by the Celtics this season, including playoffs, was one in the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 7.


Seville on alert: 150,000 expected for Europa League final

Seville on alert: 150,000 expected for Europa League final
Updated 18 May 2022

Seville on alert: 150,000 expected for Europa League final

Seville on alert: 150,000 expected for Europa League final
  • Both Glasgow Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt have huge and loyal fan bases, and many supporters are making the trip despite not having tickets for the final at the 43,000-capacity Sánchez-Pizjuan

SEVILLE, Spain: More than 5,000 police officers and security personnel are on high alert in Seville as the Spanish city braces for up to 150,000 supporters of Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt arriving for the Europa League final.

Streets are being closed, barriers are being erected around monuments and security has been heightened in subway stations and at the city’s main squares to try to maintain order among the throngs of Scottish and German fans who are expected in the city ahead of Wednesday’s match.

National Police Chief Juan Carlos Castro said 50,000 Frankfurt fans and up to 100,000 Rangers fans could make it to the city ahead of the final at Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium.

Both clubs are hoping to end decades of European despair by winning the final of the second-tier continental competition. Frankfurt hasn’t won a European trophy in more than 40 years, while Rangers’ last European title came 50 years ago.

The winning club will also secure a coveted automatic spot in the group stage of the Champions League next season. Rangers last played in the group stage of the top European club competition in 2010-11, while Frankfurt have not played in the tournament since losing the European Cup final to Real Madrid in 1960.

“You see fans traveling in numbers and all sorts of routes to support us. For us we take a lot of pride in the support and backing we get,” Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack said Tuesday. “We’re the lucky ones as we get to play and there are 100,000 who would like to. We want to put on a performance and make them proud.”

Both clubs have huge and loyal fan bases, and many supporters are making the trip despite not having tickets for the final at the 43,000-capacity Sánchez-Pizjuán. Only about 10,000 tickets were allocated for fans of each club. UEFA asked for those without tickets not to travel to Seville and warned about the dangers of purchasing tickets on the secondary market.

“In order to maintain the safety and security of fans, ticket holders should be aware that checks will be carried out at the finals and the local authorities in the cities will take action against the unauthorized resale of tickets,” UEFA said.

Castro said police will pay special attention to fans trying to enter the stadium without tickets.

“Some groups will try to enter the stadium any way they can,” he said. “It’s a very big risk with that number of fans without tickets.”

The city prepared two fans zones — with a capacity of more than 20,000 each — to accommodate supporters who won’t be able to watch the match inside the stadium.

Hotels were at full capacity and fans from both clubs were seen in several other cities nearby Seville.

“I think it’s not about the numbers,” Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “You can bring 50 people and and they will give you chaos. I know we have a lot of people traveling with us. We have to enjoy it, and make sure we are not causing any problems. Half of the people will go back home really happy and half of the people will go back home angry, but we should always respect the whole city.”

There had been fan violence involving visiting fans in Seville when local clubs Sevilla and Real Betis hosted matches earlier in the competition. Before the semifinal match between Frankfurt and West Ham in Germany, more than 30 arrests were made after supporters of both clubs clashed in several locations in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt fans swarmed into Barcelona when the team played against the Catalan club in the Europa League quarterfinals, with more than 30,000 making their way into the Camp Nou Stadium even though the club was only allocated about 5,000 tickets for its fans.

“Our fans are exceptional. They have gone to great lengths to follow us around Europe,” Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner said. “We’ve got two teams with incredible fans and maybe the best away fans in Europe.”

There had been no incidents of fan violence reported early in the week in Seville but authorities said the worst was yet to come.

“We need maximum coordination between local and federal police to reduce as much as possible the risks that come along an agglomeration of fans like this,” Sevilla mayor Antonio Muñoz said.

The economic impact of the Europa League final to Seville is expected to reach about $52.6 million (50 million euros), the mayor said.


All eyes on Tiger’s comeback and Jordan Slam quest at PGA

All eyes on Tiger’s comeback and Jordan Slam quest at PGA
Updated 18 May 2022

All eyes on Tiger’s comeback and Jordan Slam quest at PGA

All eyes on Tiger’s comeback and Jordan Slam quest at PGA
  • Woods' emotional return at last month’s Masters ended with a share of 47th and a stamina struggle, but he saw walking 72 holes as a major feat and says he’s stronger as another endurance test looms
  • If he wins, Spieth will join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to sweep all four major titles in their careers

OKLAHOMA, U.S:Tiger Woods and his incredible injury comeback and Jordan Spieth’s quest for a career Grand Slam will seize the spotlight in Thursday’s opening round of the 104th PGA Championship.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, and three-time major winner Spieth are grouped with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a marquee trio for the first two days at Southern Hills.

Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 2021 British Open winner Collin Morikawa and second-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm are among the most fancied players and are together as well, but might struggle to match the Woods group spectator count.

“Tiger’s here, so nobody really remembers that I’m here,” Scheffler said. “So it’s all good.”

Woods suffered severe leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, spending weeks hospitalized and months unable to walk.

His emotional return at last month’s Masters ended with a share of 47th and a stamina struggle, but he saw walking 72 holes as a major feat and says he’s stronger as another endurance test looms.

“I’ve gotten stronger since then, but still it’s going to be sore and walking is a challenge,” Woods said.

Asked if he can win, Woods said, “I feel like I can, definitely. I just have to go out there and do it.”

Among those trying to stop him will be Rahm, who comes off a victory two weeks ago at the US PGA Mexico Open.

“He’s Tiger. He’s a competitor,” Rahm said. “He’s going to try to win every single time and anytime he tees up, the world wants him to win.

“Yeah, totally expected for the attention to be on him, but it doesn’t really change anything of what I want to be doing this week.”

Like Rahm, Spieth wants to be having his name engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy. If he wins, Spieth will join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to sweep all four major titles in their careers.

Spieth won last month’s Heritage title and was second at last week’s hometown Byron Nelson event. He expects Southern Hills will be formidable.

“I think it’s going to be one of the higher scoring PGAs that we’ve seen,” Spieth said. “It’s a great test.”

World No. 4 Cameron Smith of Australia, a top-five Masters finisher in three of the past five years, is ready for the struggle of playing in the group just ahead of Woods.

“There can be a lot of external noise with crowds and just a lot more moving parts,” Smith said. “Just another thing to really think about. Just make sure to spend a little bit more time worrying about what’s happening outside to make sure when you’re inside that shot, everything’s perfect.”

Tricky winds are expected, with the strongest breezes on the first two days.

“The forecast is different every day in this wind,” Woods said. “It’s supposed to be all different directions. We’re going to see a different course almost every day.”

That, warns Rahm, also comes with tee boxes made for adjustable distances, changing the holes each day no matter the weather.

“They can truly make it as difficult as they want to be,” Rahm said. “They can really, truly manipulate the score out here very easily, even if the conditions are benign and we don’t get too much wind.”

Scheffler, happy to hide in Woods’s shadow, will try to become the first player to win the green jacket and PGA Championship in the same year since Nicklaus in 1975.

“It’s right in front of you. It’s just really hard,” Scheffler said of the course. “You know what to do. It’s just hard to actually do it.”

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka sees Scheffler as the man to beat.

“He’s No. 1 in the world. That usually has something to do with it,” Koepka said. “I think confidence, too. No. 1 in the world, you’ve got that swagger when you walk on the range. I know I did.

“I’m pretty sure everybody else that has been No. 1, you’ve got a little extra strut. You’ve got a little something and I think it’s noticeable.”


Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine

Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine
Updated 18 May 2022

Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine

Rahm tells Spanish teen tennis star to embrace routine
  • Rahm’s advice was to stay with his regimen and work habits even if tempted to make changes in the wake of early success

TULSA, OKLAHOMA: Reigning US Open golf champion Jon Rahm of Spain has some advice for teen tennis star compatriot Carlos Alcaraz — embrace the routine and put in the work.

World No. 2 Rahm praised the 19-year-old Spanish sensation on Monday as he prepared for Thursday’s start of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

Alcaraz, who won his first ATP title in March at Miami, captured his second earlier this month at Madrid, defeating 20-time Grand Slam winners Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic plus third-ranked Alexander Zverev on his way to the crown and a jump to sixth in the world rankings.

“Pretty impressive, especially in the world of tennis. He’s got some big shoes to fill,” Rahm said.

“Historically Spain has had great tennis players, and with Rafa out there it can be probably daunting yet really exciting too for somebody like him.

“He has got a great start. Hopefully he can keep it going and be a great champion.”

Rahm’s advice was to stay with his regimen and work habits even if tempted to make changes in the wake of early success.

“Believe in yourself and keep working, I would probably tell him,” Rahm said.

“You see a lot of people... they win a major championship and they decide they need to change things because they need it to get better.

“There’s a reason he’s gotten to this point. Just keep using that routine and keep getting better. Don’t need to do a complete 180 flip. Just keep believing in yourself, keep practicing and keep training and results will come.”

Rahm has done that this week in the hope he can add to his major title haul, which began last June at Torrey Pines.

The 27-year-old Spaniard comes in off a victory two weeks ago at the Mexico Open, Rahm’s seventh career US PGA triumph and first since last year’s US Open.

“I don’t know if I needed more confidence, but a win is a win. It was a good one,” Rahm said.

“Hadn’t had my best year so far. I had a couple of really good finishes, but since Torrey, I wasn’t really relevant on the leaderboard, so it was nice to be up there and get the win.”

Rahm says tee shots will be crucial to attack the course this week, but Southern Hills will test all facets of his game.

“If you’re in the rough, you might not be able to be aggressive toward the pins,” Rahm said. “You have to hit a lot of fairways out here.

“Everything needs to be good. Iron game, short game, putting, driving, everything — otherwise something really will have to excel for something else to be lacking.”


Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury

Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury
Updated 18 May 2022

Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury

Medvedev rules himself out for French Open crown after loss in return from injury
  • Medvedev went under the knife after losing in the quarterfinals in Miami, meaning the Geneva loss was his only clay-court match ahead of Paris

GENEVA: World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday ruled himself out as a title contender at next week’s French Open after losing his first match back after an hernia operation.

The US Open champion, who underwent surgery last month, was beaten 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) by French veteran Richard Gasquet in the Geneva Open round of 16.

Medvedev said it was hard to look beyond Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as favorites to win the second Grand Slam of the year and said he would work further on sharpening up his game in the remaining days before Paris.

“I don’t play my best tennis on clay courts. I know that I’m capable of making some good results, as I did in the past. But for this I kind of need to be in the zone,” Medvedev told reporters.

“I don’t feel as confident on clay as on other surfaces, that’s why I lost 7/5 in the tiebreak finishing with a double fault. It’s disappointing but I’ve had tougher losses in my career.

“Physically I felt not bad. With more days of practice I should be ready for Roland Garros.”

The 26-year-old Russian reached the 2021 French Open quarterfinals.

“I haven’t played for a month and a half, two months. I’m going to try to work both physically and tennis-wise and hopefully I can find the game I had there last year — which is not going to be easy,” he said.

Medvedev went under the knife after losing in the quarterfinals in Miami, meaning the Geneva loss was his only clay-court match ahead of Paris.

“Clay for my body is the most dangerous surface. For me it’s clay courts — every time, every year I have some problems where I cannot be 100 percent,” he said.

“I’m not a favorite for Roland-Garros but I do want to play well. If I can find my level again, I can be dangerous.”

It was the first time 35-year-old Gasquet had defeated a top two player since beating Roger Federer in 2005 — his only other victory over a top-two opponent in 38 attempts.

“It’s a great victory for me and it’s incredible for me to win against Daniil, even if he’s coming back from injuries,” Gasquet said.

“It’s a great moment and that’s why I still continue to play and try to do well.”

The former world No. 7, who underwent hernia surgery himself in 2019, was surprised by the speed of Medvedev’s comeback.

“The first match after surgery it’s always difficult, so I knew it was tough for him but I know how good he is,” he said.

“He has come back quickly because two months off is not a lot after an operation. It’s impressive. It will take time for him to get back to his best.”

The world No. 75 faces Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Last year’s Geneva winner Casper Ruud, runner-up Denis Shapovalov and Reilly Opelka are the top 20 players still in the draw.