AS IT HAPPENED: Max Verstappen wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after epic battle with Charles Leclerc

Update Sergio Perez took off ahead of the pack for the first time at a Formula One grid in Jeddah. (Reuters)
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Sergio Perez took off ahead of the pack for the first time at a Formula One grid in Jeddah. (Reuters)
Update Red Bull's Sergio Perez during qualifying. (Reuters)
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Red Bull's Sergio Perez during qualifying. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 March 2022

AS IT HAPPENED: Max Verstappen wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after epic battle with Charles Leclerc

AS IT HAPPENED: Max Verstappen wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after epic battle with Charles Leclerc

JEDDAH: Defending Formula One world champion Max Verstappen held off the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc to win Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari was third with Sergio Perez, Verstappen's teammate who had set off from pole, in fourth.

Verstappen was securing his first points of the season after retiring late on behind winner Leclerc in the season-opener in Bahrain last weekend.

"We were battling hard at the front. It was tough. I'm really happy we've finally kick-started the season," said Verstappen.

Despite defeat, Leclerc maintains his world championship lead after two rounds.

"It wasn't enough today, but I really enjoyed that race. It's hard racing but it's fair, every race should be like this. It was fun, I'm obviously disappointed, I wanted to win today," he said.

Merecedes' deposed seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who endured his worst qualifying since 2017 on Saturday, set off in the unfamiliar surroundings of 15th on the grid and crossed the line in 10th.

Follow how the race unfolded below... (All times BST)

19:35 - RESULT! Verstappen wins it! He managed to create more than half a second gap before the DRS zone and Leclerc wasn’t able to make it up before the chequered flag...

19:30 - Verstappen overtakes on the straight again! Leclerc may have only one chance remaining to overtake the Dutchman in the final lap of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Two drivers who have been racing each other since childhood are going at it with four laps to go. All eyes are on P1 and P2 as the two drivers battle it out.

Leclerc is losing grip in the rear as a yellow flag is called in sector 1 with two laps to go...

19:25 - The virtual safety car is over.

The gap between Leclerc and Verstappen is only three tenths of a second, meaning Verstappen is clear for DRS and is now waiting for his opportunity on the straight.

Verstappen is on the back of Charles Leclerc and overtakes the Monegasque!

Leclerc back at it seems like he let Verstappen go through before the DRS zone so that he could get it. If this was his plan, it worked. Leclerc gets DRS as Verstappen falls for the bait and is overtaken by Leclerc

19:20 - Drivers who came into the closed pit lane include Magnussen and Hulkenberg.

Officials say the closed pit lane was due to Alonso retiring his car followed by Ricciardo and Bottas

19:15 - McLaren find their way to top ten as Alonso faces issues in his Alpine and falls one position after the other down the grid

In a quick turn of events, Ricciardo who was also having a good drive like Alonso is now moving very slowly and dropping to the back of the field

19:10 - Perez, who grabbed his first ever pole on Saturday and led the early stages of the race, is still in P4 and has more than two seconds to try and recover to the podium with 15 laps to go.

19:05 - Leclerc posts the fastest lap of 1 minute and 32:71 seconds. The gap between himself and Red Bull’s world champion stays around 1 second as the battle for first place continues with 20 laps to go.

Hulkenberg who’s in for Sebastian Vettel chases down Norris in the McLaren after Norris overtook him to get behind his co-driver. Hulkenberg loses another position to Gasly.

19:00 - Ricciardo who struggled massively at the start has found his way to P11 as the race passes its halfway point.

18:55 - Charles Leclerc just posted the fastest time and is out of DRS range, bad news for the Dutchman. Hamilton is yet to pit, as the Mercedes pair hold P5 and and P6 into lap 24.

Magnussen fights back against Hamilton and takes back P5 after activating DRS taking him past the Mercedes.

18:50 - Leclerc leads into lap 21 being tailed by Verstappen with less than second between the two drivers. Sainz overtakes Perez and gets his redemption on the track.

18:47 - Saftey car ends on lap 20, Hamilton has pulled one pit of the bag, finding his way to P7 just before it was deployed.

18:45 - Perez may face a penalty after pushing Sainz out of his pit line causing the Spaniard to nearly crash into the barriers. Sainz is looking for answer from the stewards.

Video replays show Latifi getting on the power early through the final corner, which caused him to lose control and collide nose first into the barriers — two crashes in two days for Latifi.

18:40 - All drivers on hard compound tires now after pitting as the race goes into lap 18. Leclerc leads followed by the Red Bull duo, Verstappen and Perez

18:30 - Hamilton finds his way to top ten and into the points after using DRS down the main straight and overtaking Gasly.

Yellow flag waved after Nicholas Latifi oversteers and crashes into the wall, bad news for Perez who just pit before the crash, and with the saftey car out the Ferrari pair pit along with Russell, Alonso, Bottas, Ocon and others.

18:25 - Hamilton has made it past Norris for P11 as he continues to fight his way to the points and is creeping up on Pierre Gasly in the Alpha Taurin

Into lap 15, Perez leads while the teams using Mercedes engines are at the bottom of the grid, McLaren, Aston Martin and the Williams squads.

18:20 - Into lap 9, the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is struggling wtih grip on the hard compound tires but manages to climb to P12 after overtaking Lance Stroll.

Kevin Magnussen, racing in Saudi for the first time, put the move on Valteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo but Bottas gets the apex and successfully defends P8.

18:15 - Ricciardo who found himself in 14th after picking up a penalty for impeding Ocon in qualifying on Saturday, now finds himself up one position behind Lance Stroll with co-driver Lando Norris ahead in P11.

Alonso squeezes out teammate Ocon in lap 7 to take sixth place, although the Frenchman ambitiously attempted to fight him off despite Alonso’s faster pace around the track so far.

18:05 - Hamilton on hard tires climbs up one position to 14th after failing to qualify on Saturday. He was pushed to 15th on the grid after a massive accident from German driver Mick Schumacher caused Haas to field only one car.

George Russell goes around and overtakes Esteban Ocon in the Alpine.

18:00 - And we’re off! Perez leads, followed by Leclerc, Verstappen takes third place from Sainz off the grid. It’s Red Bull-Ferrari-Red Bull Ferrari as the race gets underway.

17:55 - Drivers have taken to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the formation lap before kicking off the second round of the 2022 Formula One season in Saudi Arabia

14:15 - Great news about Mick Schumacher after a heavy crash in yesterday's qualifying. Hopefully, he'll be back up and running for round three of the world championship in Melbourne in two weeks.

 

14:00 - So, just three months after the very first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, we're back in Jeddah for another raceday. Here is a look at the starting grid for Sunday's race, the second round of the 2022 Formula One world championship:

Front row:
Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)

2nd row:
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari)
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull)

3rd row:
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)
George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)

4th row:
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari)

5th row:
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Red Bull)
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)

6th row:
Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes)
Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari)

7th row:
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes)

8th row:
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
Alexander Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes)

9th row:
Nico Huelkenberg (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes)

10th row:
Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda)

Will not start: Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari)

 


Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse

Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse
Updated 04 February 2023

Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse

Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse
  • ATP told Zverev there was “insufficent evidence” to substantiate allegations of abuse against former girlfriend Olya Sharypova

PARIS: Alexander Zverev beat three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup on Friday as the German star returned to the courts for the first time since being cleared of domestic abuse.
The 25-year-old Zverev swept past Wawrinka 6-4, 6-1 in Trier to bring Germany level with Switzerland after the opening day of their qualifier.
On Tuesday, Zverev was told by the ATP that there was “insufficent evidence” to substantiate allegations of abuse against former girlfriend Olya Sharypova.
Former world number two Zverev had always denied the claims, describing them as “baseless.”
On Friday, Wawrinka, who helped his country win the 2014 Davis Cup, was returning to the team competition for the first time in eight years.
Now ranked 135 in the world, he was comfortably beaten for the fifth time in five meetings by Zverev.
Marc-Andrea Huesler had earlier given Switzerland the lead with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Oscar Otte.
The tie continues on Saturday with a doubles and two singles rubbers.
Mackenzie McDonald and Tommy Paul gave the United States a 2-0 lead in their qualifier against Uzbekistan.
McDonald, who knocked Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open last month, eased past Sergey Fomin 6-4, 6-1 in Tashkent before Tommy Paul, a semifinalist at the season-opening Grand Slam in Melbourne, defeated Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (8/6).
“It’s been amazing. It’s not something you get to do a lot throughout the year,” said Davis Cup debutant and 63rd-ranked McDonald.
Despite his lowly ranking of 480, Sultanov opened up a 4-0 lead in the second set over top-20 player Paul before the American’s greater experience paid off.
“He picked up his level a ton,” admitted Paul. “I felt like I wasn’t prepared for it.”
Of Saturday’s rubbers, he added: “A sweep would be nice — bring out the broomsticks!“
France, the 10-time champions, were 1-1 against Hungary in Tatabanya.
World number 182 Zsombor Piros stunned 45th-ranked Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 before Ugo Humbert levelled the qualifier by seeing off Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 6-2.
“It was my first match in the Davis Cup and I was very excited,” said 24-year-old Humbert, the world number 86.
“I tried to stay focussed on what I was doing and it went well.”
In Stockholm, Sweden opened up a 2-0 lead over Bosnia thanks to a couple of straight sets wins by brothers Mikael and Elias Ymer.
There are 12 ties taking place this weekend with the winners securing places in the group stage in September alongside defending champions Canada, 2022 runners-up Australia and wild cards Italy and Spain.
The eight best teams then go through to the Davis Cup Finals knockout stage in Malaga in November.
The qualifying matches taking place between Friday and Sunday are the first since the International Tennis Federation severed its controversial partnership with investors Kosmos less than five years after a 25-year deal was signed.
 


Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics
Updated 03 February 2023

Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics
  • No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games
  • “We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait

KYIV: With next year’s Paris Olympics on the horizon and Russia’s invasion looking more like a prolonged conflict, Ukraine’s sports minister on Friday renewed a threat to boycott the games if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete and said Kyiv would lobby other nations to join.
Such a move could lead to the biggest rift in the Olympic movement since the Cold War era.
No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games. But Ukraine won support from Poland, the Baltic nations and Denmark, who pushed back against an International Olympic Committee plan to allow delegations from Russia and ally Belarus to compete in Paris as “neutral athletes,” without flags or anthems.
“We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, who also heads its national Olympic committee, citing attacks on his country, the deaths of its athletes and the destruction of its sports facilities.
A meeting of his committee did not commit to a boycott but approved plans to try to persuade global sports officials in the next two months — including discussion of a possible boycott.
Huttsait added: “As a last option, but I note that this is my personal opinion, if we do not succeed, then we will have to boycott the Olympic Games.”
Paris will be the final Olympics under outgoing IOC head Thomas Bach, who is looking to his legacy after a tenure marked by disputes over Russia’s status — first over widespread doping scandals and now over the war in Ukraine.
Bach’s views were shaped when he was an Olympic gold medalist in fencing and his country, West Germany, took part in the US-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He has condemned that decision ever since.
Russia has cautiously welcomed the IOC’s decision to give it a path to the Olympics but demands it drop a condition that would leave out those athletes deemed to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.”
Russian Olympic Committee head Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who was a teammate of Ukraine’s Huttsait at the 1992 Olympics, called that aspect discriminatory. The IOC, which previously recommended excluding Russia and Belarus from world sports on safety grounds, now argues it cannot discriminate against them purely based on citizenship.
The leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged the IOC to ban Russia and said a boycott was a possibility.
“I think that our efforts should be on convincing our other friends and allies that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes is just wrong,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. “So boycotting is the next step. I think people will understand why this is necessary.”
The IOC said in a statement that “this threat of a boycott only leads to further escalation of the situation, not only in sport, but also in the wider context. It is regretful that politicians are misusing athletes and sport as tools to achieve their political objectives.”
It added bluntly: “Why punish athletes from your country for the Russian government starting the war?”
Poland’s sports minister Kamil Bortniczuk said as many as 40 countries could jointly condemn Russian and Belarusian participation at Paris in a statement next week but that it could stop short of a boycott threat. He told state news agency PAP that the IOC was being “naive” and should reflect on its position.
Denmark wants a ban on Russian athletes “from all international sports as long as their attacks on Ukraine continue,” said Danish Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.
“We must not waver in relation to Russia. The government’s line is clear. Russia must be banned,” he said. “This also applies to Russian athletes who participate under a neutral flag. It is completely incomprehensible that there are apparently doubts about the line in the IOC.”
Asked by The Associated Press about the boycott threats and the IOC plan, Paris 2024 organizing committee head Tony Estanguet would not comment “about political decisions.”
“My job is to make sure that all athletes who want to participate will be offered the best conditions in terms of security, to offer them the chance to live their dream,” he said in Marseille.
Ukraine boycotted some sporting events last year rather than compete against Russians.
Huttsait said a boycott would be very tough, saying it was “very important for us that our flag is at the Olympic Games; it is very important for us that our athletes are on the podium. So that we show that our Ukraine was, is, and will be.”
Marta Fedina, 21, an Olympic bronze medalist in artistic swimming, said in Kyiv she was “ready for a boycott.”
“How will I explain to our defenders if I am even present on the same sports ground with these people,” she said, referring to Russian athletes. She noted her swimming pool in Kharkiv, where she was living when Moscow invaded, was ruined by the war.
Speakers at the Ukrainian Olympic Committee’s assembly meeting raised concerns about Moscow using Paris for propaganda and noted the close ties between some athletes and the Russian military.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday if athletes from the two countries compete, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states.” Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympics.
If the IOC’s proposal takes effect, Paris would be the fourth straight Olympics where Russian athletes have competed without the national flag or anthem. The Russian teams at the Winter Olympics in 2018 and 2022 and the Summer Olympics in 2021 were all caught up in the fallout from a series of doping cases.
The last time multiple countries boycotted an Olympics was in 1988, when North Korea and others refused to attend the Summer Games in South Korea. The North Korean team was a no-show at the Tokyo Games in 2021, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The IOC barred it from the following Winter Games in Beijing as a result, saying teams had a duty to attend every Olympics.
Although the IOC set the tone of the debate by publishing advice on finding a way to help Russia and Belarus compete, decisions must be made for the governing bodies of individual sports that organize events on the 32-sport Paris program.
Those organizations, many based in the IOC’s home of Lausanne, Switzerland, run their own qualifying and Olympic competitions and decide on eligibility criteria for athletes and teams.
The International Cycling Union signed on to the IOC’s plan ahead of its Olympic qualifying events to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as “neutrals.”
Track and field’s World Athletics and soccer’s FIFA were among most sports that excluded Russian athletes and teams within days of the start of the war. Tennis and cycling let many Russians and Belarusians continue competing as neutrals. Other governing bodies are more closely aligned with the IOC or traditionally have strong commercial and political ties to Russia.
One key meeting could be March 3 in Lausanne of the umbrella group of Summer Games sports, known as ASOIF. It is chaired by Francesco Ricci Bitti, a former IOC member when he led the International Tennis Federation, and includes World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
ASOIF declined comment Friday, though noted this week “the importance of respecting the specificity of each federation and their particular qualification process” for Paris.


Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla
Updated 03 February 2023

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla
  • Final stage concluded in Maraya mirrored building in Ashar Valley

ALULA: The Saudi Cycling Federation team ended the 2023 Saudi Tour with some valuable racing experience under their belts, having competed alongside world-class cyclists in the AlUla desert.

Stage five offered a fitting finale after four grueling stages around the ancient desert city. 

The 142.9km sprint took the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s arts and culture district, before passing the farms and verdant oases of the area and moving through Hegra, Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

The riders had to navigate a tricky gravel section at pace, before finishing with a sprint in front of Maraya, the iconic mirrored building and multi-purpose entertainment venue in the Ashar Valley.

The stage also had a lighter moment when the peloton was joined by a herd of donkeys which ran along the roadside.

Reflecting on the Saudi Cycling Federation’s impressive debut on the Saudi Tour, team member Hassan Al-Jumah said: “It was a wonderful experience to ride in the Saudi Tour in AlUla with these international athletes and teams was unforgettable and will play a big part in our progress. There is a big gap in levels, we can see how hard the international teams work and how much experience plays a role.

“This race is a big part of our development and if we continue, we should be getting better year on year and the gap will be closer to the professionals.”

Abdulaziz Al-Hashim was the best placed of the Saudi team on stage five, just one minute and 50 seconds behind winner Simone Consoni of Cofidis (3 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds), with fellow Saudi team-mates Al-Jumah, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, Murtadha Al-Shaghab and Hani Al-Mrhoon finishing in a group further back.


Ronaldo scores first goal for Al-Nassr to salvage a late point against Al-Fateh

Ronaldo scores first goal for Al-Nassr to salvage a late point against Al-Fateh
Updated 03 February 2023

Ronaldo scores first goal for Al-Nassr to salvage a late point against Al-Fateh

Ronaldo scores first goal for Al-Nassr to salvage a late point against Al-Fateh
  • Stoppage time penalty secures a 2-2 draw that sends the Riyadh club back to the top of the Roshn Saudi League table
  • The five-time UEFA Champions League winner had a busy evening at the Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Sports City Stadium and it ended on a high

AL-HASA, Saudi Arabia: Finally, it happened. In an action-packed game, after having a goal disallowed, hitting the woodwork and missing a great chance, Cristiano Ronaldo finally scored for Al-Nassr with a stoppage time penalty that secured a 2-2 draw at Al-Fateh and sent them back to the top of the Roshn Saudi League.
It was the Portuguese international’s first competitive goal for the club since his move to Riyadh.
The five-time UEFA Champions League winner had a busy evening at the Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Sports City Stadium and it ended on a high.
New signing Cristian Tello put Al-Fateh in front in style early in the game, but Anderson Talisca, who was sent off in the final minutes, equalized just before the break for goal number 13 of the season so far. In the second half, Algerian star Sofiane Bendebka volleyed home another scorcher to restore Al-Fateh’s lead, only for Ronaldo to dash home team hopes.
As an advertisement for Saudi Arabian football, it had everything: fantastic goals, near misses, a red card and drama that kept a big crowd entertained right until the final whistle. They also had the question of whether Ronaldo, playing his third competitive game in the country, would get on the scoresheet.
The former Real Madrid star looked like he meant business from the start as Al-Nassr dominated the opening period, but it was ex-Barcelona forward Tello who put Al-Fateh in front with a beauty after 12 minutes of his first appearance.
Al-Nassr’s new on-loan goalkeeper Agustin Rossi punched a cross outside the area, but there was Tello, who joined the club in January, to send a looping volley back over the Argentine shot-stopper and into the net.
Ronaldo thought he had levelled the scores after 24 minutes. Receiving the ball from Talisca with his back to goal, the Portuguese star flicked the ball up, turned beautifully and then sent a low shot in off the post. It was immediately, and rightly, flagged for offside by the assistant referee.
He missed an easier chance 10 minutes later. Talisca’s low shot from the left side of the area was brilliantly tipped on to the post by Jacob Rinne only to rebound to Ronaldo, standing unmarked just to the right of the penalty spot. The away fans in the stadium got ready to erupt only for the 37 year-old to blast the ball over.
Three minutes before the break, Talisca made it 1-1. The Brazilian, the league’s leading goalscorer, found some space to receive a low left-sided cross from Ghislain Konan to drill the ball past the Swedish shotstopper.
There was still time in the first half for Ronaldo to hit the bar. Abdulrahmeen Gahreeb slipped the ball to the captain in the area and while it was slightly behind him, fans again expected the net to ripple. Instead, the ex-Manchester United man found only the woodwork. The frustration that the five-time Ballon D’or winner felt was there for all to see.
It looked as if the nine-time champions would take the lead sooner or later in the second half, but Al-Fateh did so, once again against the run of play and once again, it was a spectacular strike and one made in North Africa. Bendebka volleyed home a deep left-sided cross from Morocco’s Marwane Saadane high into the net from the back post. Rossi had no chance.
Al-Nassr had plenty of possession but struggled to create clear chances, though, late on, a Talisca volley forced a great reaction save from Rinne as Ronaldo took issue with what he saw as time-wasting from the home team and received a booking in the last minute of normal time as tempers boiled over.
He got his chance for revenge seconds later as the referee pointed to the spot when Jaloliddin Mashiparov was brought down in the area. He stepped up to give Rinne no chance. There were still seven minutes of added time, but hopes of a late winner were dashed when Talisca saw red for a rash tackle on Petros.
On Thursday, Al-Shabab went top temporarily with a 2-1 win over Damac, thanks to early goals from Santi Mina and Carlos. Al-Taawoun won 1-0 at bottom club Al-Batin to stay well-placed in fifth, just four points off the top.
Al-Hilal in third are in FIFA Club World Cup action on Saturday as the Asian champions face African counterparts Wydad AC of Morocco. Al-Ittihad can go level on points with Al-Shabab with a win against Al-Tai on Sunday.
 


In-form Abraham Ancer cards 66 to take one-shot lead in PIF Saudi International

In-form Abraham Ancer cards 66 to take one-shot lead in PIF Saudi International
Updated 34 min ago

In-form Abraham Ancer cards 66 to take one-shot lead in PIF Saudi International

In-form Abraham Ancer cards 66 to take one-shot lead in PIF Saudi International
  • American Cameron Young lurks just one shot behind at midway point as leaders benefit from calmer conditions
  • Thailand well represented on the leaderboard with Kaewkanjana in third and 15-year-old amateur Chantananuwat one shot further back

JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and American Cameron Young took advantage of the calmer afternoon conditions on Friday to top the leaderboard in first and second place at the midway point of the PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers.

Ancer followed up his tournament low 63 on Thursday with a 4-under-par 66 to take a one-shot lead going into the weekend at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. It was another near-perfect round for the 31-year-old with five birdies and only his first blemish of the tournament coming on 17.

After the round, Ancer said: “I’m very pleased with the way I’ve been rolling it and hitting it off the tee. Also my iron play has been pretty dang good, so I’m happy with my game.

“Having that bogey on 17 from a very scorable spot kind of burns a little bit and dropping the first shot of the tournament, but extremely happy with my play and the way my body feels, the way my swing feels. Yeah, extremely happy.”

Young, sitting one shot behind at 10-under par, is enjoying his first appearance at Royal Greens with two bogey-free rounds of 65, “It’s been great. I think it’s been a lot of fun in the wind. We have to hit a bunch of shots, and I’ve played really nicely.”

Sadom Kaewkanjana and Ratchanon Chantananuwat showed why they are two of Asia’s most exciting young prospects when they climbed up the internationally loaded leaderboard.

Kaewkanjana, 24, shot a four-under-par 66, making the most of the morning’s calm conditions, in contrast to the blustery weather he played in on Thursday afternoon.

He said: “I’m happy. Yesterday afternoon was so windy, but I played solid. Today I’m happy to play in the morning in the second group. So, everything’s good. My tee shot, my iron, all good. I hope to do more tomorrow and the last days the same as the first two days."

Compatriot Chantananuwat, known as “TK,” showed maturity beyond his years after the first two rounds in the Asian Tour’s flagship event. The 15-year-old amateur sits in a tie for sixth place, alongside Lucas Herbert, with rounds of 67 and 66. It was a tale of two halves for the young star on Friday after going out on the front nine in an impressive six-under-par before battling the wind to return a one-over-par back-nine.

“I have to split it in two halves because I played phenomenal on the first seven, had five birdies. I was really happy with that. I actually played even better yesterday actually, I just couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities as well as I did today.

“The last 11 holes I’m actually very happy with, as well, because it was an all-out scramble, and to shoot 1-over in these conditions playing like that, I easily could have shot 4-over. I made so many clutch par putts and the birdie putt on the last. Overall, very happy with my round because I’ve improved in lots of aspects compared to two months ago.”

Marc Leishman shot the low round of the day with a 6-under-par 66 to sit two shots back alongside Kaewkanjana and Louis Oosthuizen, who closed the round in style with an eagle on the 18th.

Defending champion Harold Varner III from the US also made a strong move, carding a 66 to jump up into a tie for 11th, six shots behind the leader.

The midway cut was made with those on level-par making it through in the last spots. Lee Westwood, Joaquin Niemann, and Jazz Janewattananond are all notable names who made it through into the weekend on the mark and will look to climb the leaderboard on moving day.