Defending champion Brooks Koepka returns to Royal Greens at LIV Golf Jeddah

Defending champion Brooks Koepka returns to Royal Greens at LIV Golf Jeddah
Brooks returns to LIV Golf Jeddah as defending champion. (LIV Golf)
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Updated 05 October 2023

Defending champion Brooks Koepka returns to Royal Greens at LIV Golf Jeddah

Defending champion Brooks Koepka returns to Royal Greens at LIV Golf Jeddah
  • Koepka reflects on victory 12 months ago as ‘a huge turning point’ ahead of 2023 successes
  • Individual champion, team championship seeds, and securing 2024 League spots on the line from Oct. 13-15

JEDDAH: Last October, Brooks Koepka secured his first LIV Golf victory with a dramatic performance in Jeddah, the penultimate event of the 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Series.

This month, the defending champion is set to make his triumphant return to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club for LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN, and he shared his excitement about returning for the event and the significance of that win.

“Jeddah was a really meaningful win last year, so it’s going to be special to be back,” said Koepka.

“Going head to head in a playoff against Peter (Uihlein), who was my Smash teammate at the time, and getting both the individual and team win was something I’ll always remember. It was a huge turning point for my game, and gave me a ton of momentum and confidence heading into 2023. I’m excited to get back there, especially as the returning champ.”

It has been a significant year for Koepka, who claimed an individual title at LIV Golf Orlando leading into a runner-up finish at the Masters, as well as securing his fifth major victory at this year’s PGA Championship and competing in last week’s Ryder Cup.

Koepka’s return promises to add excitement to the final individual event of the 2023 LIV Golf season. As the defending champion and team captain of Smash GC, he currently sits in fifth place in the individual standings with 112 points.

With all to play for ahead of LIV Golf Jeddah presented by ROSHN, Talor Gooch, who currently stands second in the standings with three international victories this year at LIV Golf Adelaide, LIV Golf Singapore and LIV Golf Andalucia, understands the challenges that lie ahead as the season-long race reaches its climax.

“It all comes down to Jeddah, and I know what I have to do to win this season-long race,” Gooch said.

“Cam (Smith) isn’t going to let me have it, so I need to go and have a great tournament to win the individual championship. We also need to have a good week as a team to get the first-round bye in Miami, so a lot is on the line for both myself and the RangeGoats GC. It’s a great week to go have a great week.”

Next week’s tournament is the final opportunity to secure points in the individual standings for all 48 players. Those who finish in the top 24 in the overall standings will lock in their position in the LIV Golf League for the next season. Players finishing in the “open zone” (positions 25-44), however, may face trade or release by their respective teams.

Meanwhile, those finishing in positions 45 and below sitting in the “drop zone” will be relegated and will automatically qualify for the league’s promotional tournament, where they will have the opportunity to earn their spot back for the 2024 season.

Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles

Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles
Updated 58 min 24 sec ago

Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles

Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles
  • Murray pulled out of singles at Wimbledon this month and played one match in doubles alongside his older brother, Jamie

PARIS: Two-time Olympic tennis gold medalist Andy Murray pulled out of singles at the Paris Games on Thursday and only will compete in doubles with Dan Evans.
Murray, a 37-year-old from Britain, has said these Olympics will be the final event of his career.
He’s dealt with a series of injuries, including a hip replacement in 2019, and most recently needed surgery last month to remove a cyst from his spine.
Murray pulled out of singles at Wimbledon this month and played one match in doubles alongside his older brother, Jamie.
“I’ve take the decision to withdraw from the singles to concentrate on the doubles with Dan. Our practice has been great and we’re playing well together,” Murray said Thursday. “Really looking forward to getting started and representing GB one more time.”
His withdrawal announcement came shortly before the draw for the Olympics tennis tournament. Play begins Saturday.
Murray won singles gold medals at London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, making him the only tennis player with two.

Equity for women’s cricket edges closer

Equity for women’s cricket edges closer
Updated 25 July 2024

Equity for women’s cricket edges closer

Equity for women’s cricket edges closer
  • England’s captain Heather Knight has emphasized that the women’s game must avoid falling into the same traps as the men’s by having too much franchise cricket

The 2024 annual conference of the International Cricket Council was held in Colombo between July 19 and 22, and one of its outcomes reaffirmed the ICC’s commitment to equity in the game.

The 2030 women’s T20 World Cup will comprise 16 teams, up from 12 in 2026. In the forthcoming 2024 competition, between Oct. 3 and 20 in Bangladesh, 10 teams will participate. An increase to 16 in 2030 is not quite equity, since the 2024 men’s T20I World Cup comprised 20. However, it ought to be regarded as a step in the right direction.

Women’s cricket has grown very quickly in the last decade. Heather Knight, England’s captain, who spoke at the World Cricket Connects event at Lords on July 5, which was reviewed in last week’s column, emphasized that the women’s game must learn lessons from the men’s game and avoid falling into the same traps.

The main trap to which she seemed to be referring is franchise cricket. There are now 11 men’s franchise leagues compared with four for women. Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League started in 2015/2016, followed in England and Wales by The Hundred in 2021, the West Indies Caribbean League in 2022, and India’s Women’s Premier League in 2023.

Knight is expecting this number to grow. What concerns her is how that growth will be managed.

The expansion of men’s franchise leagues has led to a very crowded calendar that has already forced some Test match cricket out of its historic temporal rhythm and ODI cricket to the margin. There is simply no room to accommodate every format to its full extent.

Knight’s concern is that if the women’s game falls into similar scheduling issues the consequences could be even more severe. She stressed the need for a clear direction to be established, supported by good governance.

It is not clear in which direction she was looking. The ICC is cricket’s governing body. A franchise league requires sanctioning by the ICC in order to be legitimate. If this was refused, players participating in such a league would be barred from existing franchises and international cricket. It is not known if any applications have been refused.

The ICC warns members about dubious offers from intermediaries to organize a franchise league. So far, these actions appear sufficient to deter notions of breakaway leagues.

However, the ICC has not been able to establish a universal limit on the number of overseas players per playing lineup across the franchises. Its preferred number is four. In July 2023, the ICC’s Chief Executives Committee could not reach agreement on the number.

This was a relief to the DP World ILT20 and the US’ Major Cricket League, which allow nine and six international players in starting lineups. It is understood that the Board of Control for Cricket in India, although in agreement with the principle of a limit of four, was against imposing restrictions, a rather anomalous position.

Market forces clearly dominate the men’s game, with some players choosing to follow the money, either by electing franchise cricket over country or one franchise over another.

Knight fears that uncontrolled market forces will affect the women’s game disproportionately. This is because there is a shallower pool of women players in many countries.

If the best players are attracted by the franchise leagues, they may be lost either totally or partially to international cricket. This will be weakened as a result, along with the international team which the players represented.

It is also the case that women’s salaries and the amount of funding available to national cricket boards vary widely. The amount of Test cricket played by women is much lower than by men. In theory, this should cause less of a scheduling issue in women’s cricket.

Yet, Knight is concerned that a proper balance is found, so that players are able to play both for their country and in franchise leagues. The former remains the peak of ambition, the latter an opportunity to earn money and be exposed to different experiences. There have already been examples of the top players having to juggle availability, a situation that Knight is asking to be minimized.

Her aim is laudable, but who will take responsibility to plan coherent schedules? Market forces have a habit of winning if not regulated, as is apparent from the men’s game, in which there seems no turning back.

A new test of market forces is looming which will affect both the men’s and women’s games. This relates to The Hundred and the England and Wales Cricket Board’s proposal to sell off 49 percent of the competition’s equity, valued at $515 million (£400 million) or more by the board. The balance of 51 percent equity would be owned by each of the six host counties, free to decide what to do with it.

Rumors abound that those private investors who have expressed interest are becoming frustrated at the lack of clarity over what they will receive for their funding, a reluctance by counties to sell their equity, a desire to exercise a veto over who could buy stakes, and a lack of player-availability guarantees.

It is known that there is interest from Indian Premier League franchise owners who are sure to want as much control as possible. The ECB’s CEO has said that “English cricket is not for sale.”

There are many variables at play in this complex scenario. At its base, selling and buying parties are seeking to maximize financial returns and control. This normal economic equation is clouded by the sellers’ desires to protect the heritage of English and Welsh cricket. There is no guarantee that the buyers will do that or even understand it.

By acclaim, The Hundred has been positive for women’s cricket. Knight’s hopes for orderly schedules may be dashed by the machinations over that competition, which are directed mainly by men. This seems unfair given the heightened profile and contribution of women in cricket.

It would be no surprise if they felt a need to control their own competitions and schedules.

‘I was so poor as a child I shared a bed with 7 siblings — now I’m worth $300,000 thanks to esports’

‘I was so poor as a child I shared a bed with 7 siblings — now I’m worth $300,000 thanks to esports’
Updated 25 July 2024

‘I was so poor as a child I shared a bed with 7 siblings — now I’m worth $300,000 thanks to esports’

‘I was so poor as a child I shared a bed with 7 siblings — now I’m worth $300,000 thanks to esports’
  • After his star performances at the Esports World Cup in Riyadh, champion roamer Rowgien ‘Owgwen’ Unigo, who plays for Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, shared his heartwarming and life-changing story

RIYADH: When it comes to tales of rags to riches, Rowgien “Owgwen” Unigo’s story is hard to beat. As a youngster, he shared a bed — not just a room — with his seven siblings. Now, as a 23-year-old professional esports player, he has career earnings of $300,000.

“I grew up in a very poor family,” Owgwen, from Quezon City in the Philippines, and a world champion roamer for Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons in “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” states matter-of-factly.

“We are seven siblings and we just lived in our grandparents’ house. All seven of us shared one big bed. I’m the eldest. Sometimes my other siblings would wake up during the night because the space in the bed wasn’t big enough for all of us. It meant we suffered from lack of sleep.”

The family also struggled to feed themselves. His mother, who ironically worked in a restaurant, and unemployed father, divorced when he was young.

“We were so poor that we only had broth and rice to eat — broth and rice every day, every week,” says Owgwen. “The broth was from a neighbor for free. The rice was from our grandmother, whose house we all lived in. It wasn’t enough with seven siblings. It was really hard.”

Despite all this, he developed a passion and talent for gaming, playing whenever and wherever he could with friends and people he met who saw his ability.

Owgwen, whose incredible gaming moves are adored by millions of fans across the globe, remembers quite vividly the first time he won a “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” amateur tournament in the Philippines.

“I thought: ‘there’s money here,’” he recalls. “I won — I won money for winning these tournaments, and that helped a lot when it came to providing for my family. As an eldest son, it helped my family survive through everyday life.”

His dream was to become a professional esports player. The barrier to that, as a 19-year-old still to be signed up, was getting time off from his job as a call center agent to compete as much as possible and be spotted.

“Luckily, Coach Ducky scouted me,” says Owgwen of Francis “Ducky” Glindro, a fellow Filipino who is the coach for Team Falcons. “He secured me my spot in esports and the rest is my journey.”

Owgwen adds: “I support three siblings. They are only children — aged 14, 12 and 11 — and are still going to school. I help my family provide for what they need. And, of course, the bills I help with too.

“It means a lot to me to be able to do that. Life is hard when you don’t have anything, and you have to survive in your life. It helps my family, and me, to experience a normal life.

“I’ve made, like, $300,000. It’s been life-changing for me and my family. It makes me feel really good I can give my family whatever lifestyle they want.

“What motivates me the most is that I came from poverty. It really drives me to compete and play competitively against my opponents.”

In addition to supporting his family, he also recently set up his first business — an internet cafe and gaming hub in Binangonan, around 30 km from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. His dad helps him run the gaming hub.

“Business is booming,” Owgwen smiles.

Growing up, Owgwen could never have dreamed of the places that his gaming exploits have taken him to around the world. Having traveled on a plane for the first time two years ago, when he was 21, he has since been to Cambodia, Indonesia, Romania, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

The latest venture is the Esports World Cup in Saudi Arabia, the largest gaming festival in the world, running for eight weeks from July 3 until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The elite competition is where the best players and clubs on the planet battle it out for the Esports World Cup Club Championship. The tournament has a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of esports, and truly life-changing money.

With Owgwen in fine form, Team Falcons qualified for the “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” final earlier this month at the Esports World Cup. However, in an incredible game-for-the ages showpiece, in front of a raucous crowd at a packed Saudi Esports Federation Arena, they were beaten 4-3 by Malaysian outfit Selangor Red Giants.

As disappointed as Owgwen was, overcoming setbacks is something the Filipino knows all too well. He also sees the big picture and was blown away by the passion for gaming and esports in the Kingdom.

“It’s so big here,” says Owgwen. “Saudi Arabia supports esports. It really helps us shine as athletes that otherwise might not have the opportunities. It really means a lot to me. I think it’s a pleasure to serve Team Falcons here.

“They have trusted us with their name. We made it to the Grand Final but sadly we didn’t win the championship. But it was still a great experience for us in our journey here in Saudi Arabia.”

Asked whether he wants to become a millionaire through esports, Owgwen replies: “I’m not focused on the money. I’m focusing much more on winning esports games and helping my teammates be better on our ‘ML:BB’ journey.”

And his message to those who were once just like him, with only their dreams and love of family to live for?

“Don’t stop,” he says. “Don’t stop catching your passion. If you really like your passion then you won’t have any regrets, and you too can come this far.”

Team Falcons Vega hoping Riyadh crowd can cheer them to Esports World Cup glory

Team Falcons Vega hoping Riyadh crowd can cheer them to Esports World Cup glory
Updated 25 July 2024

Team Falcons Vega hoping Riyadh crowd can cheer them to Esports World Cup glory

Team Falcons Vega hoping Riyadh crowd can cheer them to Esports World Cup glory
  • Saudi-based team began their quest for success in ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Women’s Invitational’ by topping Group A on Wednesday after wins over CFU Serendipity and Cloud9
  • The competition runs until Saturday at Boulevard Riyadh City and has the largest women’s esports prize pool of $500,000



Standfirst 1:


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By Arab News


RIYADH: The women stars of Team Falcons Vega are hoping the passionate support from home fans can help propel them to “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Women’s Invitational” glory at the Esports World Cup in Riyadh.

Team Falcons Vega are one of 12 teams battling it out at the MWI event for the largest prize pool in the history of women’s esports — with the winners claiming $180,000 of the $500,000 total.

Organized by Montoon and the Esports World Cup Foundation, the MWI group stages continue on Thursday, with the top two sides from each of the four groups advancing to the playoffs. The quarterfinals take place on Friday, with the semifinals and grand final on Saturday.

It was an excellent start for Team Falcons Vega in the group stages of the competition on Wednesday at Boulevard Riyadh City. They topped Group A — dubbed the “Group of Death” thanks to the quality of the teams drawn together — after victories over both CFU Serendipity and Cloud9.

Team Falcons Vega player Agatha, from Jakarta, Indonesia, said: “I’m very happy because we’re so excited to be a part of this tournament, the MWI. Being No. 1 and winning is a big goal for me — if we can achieve No. 1, it would be great.

“To represent Team Falcons is a really good opportunity for us. In Riyadh, I feel everyone loves Falcons. This is the Falcons’ homebase and this is the first experience for me of going out and everyone going ‘Go, Team Falcons!’ I think the supporters really help us mentally and boost our performance on stage.”

Agatha’s teammate Thall, also from the Indonesian capital, agrees: “I’m so excited because the people here are so nice. They all say: ‘Go Falcons, go Falcons!’

“It’s great to have that welcome and that support. The arena is very good. This is the best arena I have played at. It’s my first experience of a facility here (in Saudi Arabia) and it’s so good.”

Agatha, 22, whose real name is Angelia Agatha, said about the cash on offer: “I think this prize pool would change my life, especially for my family. I would love to give it to my mum and dad. Family comes first, right? I’ve been in esports since I was 19 so this tournament really matters to me.”

Thall, 20, whose real name is Talitha Ambar Maheswari, added: “I’m so happy because I’ve played in ‘Mobile Legends’ for three years and this is my first international tournament in Riyadh. I’m so excited.”

Asked if she had a message for young Saudi Arabian female gamers, Agatha said: “I think everyone must try and achieve their dreams — you must try. When you dream and you try, and when you train hard, you can achieve it.”

Group B of the MWI features DreamMax Girls, Net Angels and Omega Express. Group C consists of Falcon Vega MENA — with players from Egypt participating for the side — VSG (Victory Song Gamers) and Zino Lillies. Group D has Team Vitality, Gaimin Gladiators and Tidal Legends Gaming in action.

With 66 of the best “ML:BB” women players in the world, some 14 nationalities are represented in the tournament. This includes the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Egypt, Malaysia, Brazil, Cambodia, Myanmar, Russia, the US, Vietnam, Paraguay, South Korea and Thailand.

The MWI is a significant addition to the Esports World Cup, which kicked off at Boulevard Riyadh City on July 3 and runs until Aug. 25. The tournament reflects the growing presence of female gamers, who make up 48 percent of the sport in Saudi Arabia.

The Esports World Cup, which has a $60 million prize pool, the largest in history, features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

More than 1,500 players, representing over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the Esports World Cup this summer. Week four’s competitions include the “PUBG Mobile” and “Overwatch 2” contests.

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’
Updated 25 July 2024

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’

Eiffel Tower stadium wows Olympic beach volleyball players: ‘I got goosebumps’
  • The first training session for the Olympic beach volleyball athletes took place Wednesday at the photogenic venue
  • The Eiffel Tower stadium, with its 12,000 seats, is poised to be a centerpiece of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics

PARIS: Lezana Placette felt a wave of calm looking up at Paris’ most iconic landmark.

“Whenever I get a bit nervous, I’ll just turn my head and look at the Eiffel Tower. That should help remind me what I play for,” the French beach volleyball player said, standing on the sand of the Olympic stadium in the tower’s shadow for the first time.

The first training session for the Olympic beach volleyball athletes took place Wednesday at the photogenic venue.

The French women’s team, Placette and her teammate Alexia Richard, took the court for a 45-minute session under sunny Parisian skies. The duo, who have played together for a decade, will represent France in their first Olympics together.

“I got goosebumps stepping into the court and imagining the French fans cheering,” Richard said.

The Eiffel Tower stadium, with its 12,000 seats, is poised to be a centerpiece of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. The atmosphere during practice was a blend of excitement and reverence, as athletes familiarized themselves with the venue installed in a park that once served as the training grounds for Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Paris organizers have made an effort to creatively tie the Summer Games to the city’s rich history, setting events like BMX, 3x3 basketball and skateboarding in the historic La Concorde square, and the equestrian competition in Versailles. For many athletes, the presence of the Eiffel Tower adds an unparalleled sense of grandeur.

“We’ve got the best seat in the house. I don’t know who made the call for setting us here, but I really appreciate it,” Adrian Carambula from Italy said.

Yorick de Groot of the Netherlands, participating in his first Olympics, also took in the extraordinary setting. After his practice session, the 24-year-old spent several minutes capturing the moment with photos, selfies and videos, both with his coaches and alone, cheerfuly laying in the white sand.

“I have to show this to my people at home, to make sure that they believe me. This is a memory that I will never forget,” de Groot said.

The anticipation is heightened by the promise of a full stadium, a stark contrast to the empty venues of the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19. Organizers have announced that most of the competition will be played to sold-out crowds.

“Visualizing a packed stadium like this is what gets me going,” said Carambula, who at 36 believes this will be his last Olympics after competing in Rio and Tokyo.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the stadium on Wednesday, accompanied by Tony Estanguet, head of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, and French Sports Minister Amélie Oudea-Castera. Macron shared his enthusiasm in a selfie video from the top row of the stands facing the Eiffel Tower.

“See the rings behind me? And the Eiffel Tower? Everything is ready, let’s open up the Games,” Macron said.

After the beach volleyball tournament, which starts Saturday, the stadium will transition to host the blind football competition during the Paralympics.