Rory McIlroy in the spotlight despite trailing by 4 on day 1 of DP World Tour Championship

Rory McIlroy in the spotlight despite trailing by 4 on day 1 of DP World Tour Championship
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 3rd hole during the round one of the DP World Tour Championship golf tournament, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 17 November 2023
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Rory McIlroy in the spotlight despite trailing by 4 on day 1 of DP World Tour Championship

Rory McIlroy in the spotlight despite trailing by 4 on day 1 of DP World Tour Championship
  • Julien Guerrier, Matthieu Pavon and Nicolai Hojgaard in three-way tie at top of the leaderboard after shooting five-under-par 67s in Dubai
  • Quizzed about his decision to resign from PGA Tour’s policy board, McIlroy said: ‘Something had to give … I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now’

DUBAI: World No. 2 Rory McIlroy trailed the leaders by four shots after the opening day of the $10.5 million DP World Tour Championship, the season-ending event of the DP World Tour, but the spotlight was still very much on the Northern Irishman, given events earlier in the week.

McIlroy, a two-time winner of the event, shot a 1-under-par 71 to finish the day tied for 15th. He started well, with three birdies in the first eight holes, but the rustiness as a result of not playing any competitive golf for six weeks since the Ryder Cup began to show after that, as unforced errors led to three bogeys.

Frenchmen Julien Guerrier and Matthieu Pavon both finished the day bogey-free and topped the leaderboard after shooting five-under-par 67s. They were joined by one of the rising stars of the game, Nicolai Hojgaard from Denmark, who represented Europe at the Ryder Cup this year. He made six birdies after an early bogey on the fourth.

McIlroy, who said this week he was stepping down from the PGA Tour’s policy board, was grilled by the media after his round about the sudden announcement.

The four-time major champion said the role had been taking a lot of his time and energy and added: “Something had to give. There’s only so many hours in the day and there’s only so many days in the week, and I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now.

“I am trying to be a world-class golfer, trying to be a good husband and a good father. I’ve got a growing investment portfolio that’s taken up more of my time, I’m involved with the TGL (a new proposed golf league in partnership with the PGA). I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.

“With the policy board stuff, it’s taken more of my time than ever this year. I just feel like there are people who are able to spend more time and put more energy into it than I am right now. And it’s better if someone else takes that spot of mine.”

Meanwhile, Hojgaard, who finished fourth in his previous appearance at the event in Dubai, in 2021, is headed to the PGA Tour. He already secured his card from the limited opportunities he has had to play in the US, and was a leading contender at an event again last week when he finished second in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Johannesburg.

“I played really well today, drove it well and got on a run,” Hojgaard said after his first round in Dubai, during which he made five birdies in the first six holes of the back nine.

“You know there are a few chances out there, so it’s just about keep hitting good shots and staying in the present, and I feel I did a good job today.

“The Ryder Cup was huge for me. Spending time with the best players in the world and fighting for a common goal was amazing. Just being around those guys, seeing what they do, what do I do different and what do I need to work on — it gave me a lot of confidence going into the back end of the season here. You want to play with those guys but you also want to beat them.”

Due to weather concerns, the second round on Friday will be a two-tee start beginning at 11 a.m. UAE time.


Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 18 April 2024
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Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open
  • John Catlin birdied the 18th to remain at the top of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF leaderboard
  • Moroccans Ayoub Lgiurati and Othman Raouzi made the cut as Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh missed by one stroke

RIYADH: Li Haotong and Scott Hend made the most of the calm morning conditions to head into the weekend one shot behind pacesetter John Catlin, who leads on 10-under-par after day two of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF.

Catlin birdied the 18th hole as the sun set on a warm day at Riyadh Golf Club to ensure he heads into Friday ahead of Chinese star and DP World Tour member Li, who shot a scintillating 65, and Australian Hend. Steve Lewton’s 64 was the best round of the day and sees him in third place alongside David Puig, who finished his round with a triple bogey on the ninth hole.

Amateur Khalid Walid Attieh looked set to make history as the first Saudi player to make the cut since the tournament was elevated to the Asian Tour, however three bogeys on the back nine saw him miss out by one, with a putt just sliding by at the last.

Moroccan golfers Ayoub Lguirati and Othman Raouzi, who were two of the golfers given special invites to the tournament as part of Golf Saudi’s strategic partnership with the Arab Golf Federation, finished on one-under-par and even par respectively to extend their participation.

Lguirati said: “It was a positive day for me with only one bogey and one birdie. I stuck to my strategy all day and ended with a good result in a tough competition. I am very happy to have made the cut in this tournament and to play over the next two days.

“I usually play on the second tier Asian Development Tour but with the help of the Royal Moroccan Golf Association and Golf Saudi I have been able to reach this level and I continue improving.”

Meanwhile, Li is excited to challenge for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy as he looks to put some recent poor form behind him. Four birdies in five holes on his back nine catapulted him up the leaderboard.

Li said: “I played really well and wasted some chances. The course played a lot easier compared to yesterday, because of no wind and easier pin positions.

“I am still struggling a little bit off the tee, but except for that everything’s pretty solid overall. I am here to try and get the job done and get the trophy! So hopefully I have a hot start tomorrow.”

Li will play alongside Hend and Catlin on Friday, but will be wary of Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Puig in the penultimate group, who won the PIF Moment of the Day for a stunning front nine of 29, which included five birdies and an eagle in his first six holes.


Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF
Updated 16 April 2024
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Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF
  • Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital
  • Haotong Li: I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world

RIYADH: A strong field has assembled for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, commencing tomorrow, April 17, with Asian Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour stars teeing off at Riyadh Golf Club.

Thai star Denwit Boriboonsub won the 2023 Saudi Open in December in stunning fashion, but Henrik Stenson, Peter Uihlien and Haotong Li are the standout names hoping to dethrone him, as 144 players from 33 different countries fight for glory from 17-20 April.

There are 20 Arab golfers from eight nations in the field, including seven from Saudi Arabia, who have all been handed the opportunity to compete alongside some of the world’s best players as golf continues to develop in the region. Golf&More will be on display at the course throughout the week with live DJ sessions at sunset, special activities for children and the authentic Sajah Bazaar giving fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture.

Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital. The American believes it will be an action-packed four rounds, filled with low scores and plenty of birdies.

Uihlein said: “I watched the 2023 Saudi Open on TV in December and the Aramco Series Ladies International recently and I saw a lot of low scores, so I am hoping for a tournament full of birdies. It does depend how much the wind blows, but hopefully it dies down later in the week. 

“It’s my first time in Riyadh, having been to Jeddah a few times, and I’m excited about it. I spoke to Othman [Almulla] about how many courses are planned and the ones they are already building around the Kingdom. It is really cool to be here.

“I feel like the stuff I am working on is getting better and better, and I feel a little bit sharper as the weeks go on. It is why I’m here - to carry on working on my game ahead of LIV Adelaide and LIV Singapore.”

Chinese sensation Haotong Li is a four-time DP World Tour winner and has chosen to play in the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF to experience the continued growth of the game in the Kingdom.

Li said: “I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world. It’s extremely exciting to play this week and do something special. I am truly honoured to be here and be a part of growing the game as big as possible. Hopefully everybody starts to fall in love with golf.

Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza spoke to gathered media ahead of the tournament and he stressed the importance of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF’s commitment to handing opportunities to national and regional players.

Alireza said: “We are delighted to welcome a strong field to the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF following its first staging on the Asian Tour last year and I am certain that this week will prove a success with exciting golf on show at Riyadh Golf Club.

“The opportunity that the Saudi Open presents to all of the competitors, but particularly to the seven Saudi nationals and the 13 other Arab golfers in the field, is one of the main driving forces behind our desire to host this tournament in Riyadh. Playing alongside the best Asian Tour players, plus a number of LIV Golf and DP World Tour members, helps them understand what it takes to reach this level and is a vital part of their golf education. It is a key part of Golf Saudi’s commitment to golf in our country.”


Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 15 April 2024
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Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open
  • Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the 2024 Saudi Open
  • Almulla facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer Othman Almulla looked poised to impress at the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, as he entertained media at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the event.

Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the Asian Tour event, including fellow professionals Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. He facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20.

The 37-year-old walked for three holes with journalists as he explained his thought process behind each shot and gave his views to the gathered media on the continued emergence of the game in the Kingdom, plus Golf Saudi’s exciting plans to grow golf further.

The gathered media were also given a professional coaching clinic by Golf Saudi coaches in the Saudi capital, where Golf & More will see an exciting array of onsite activities each day as the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations continue, including live DJ sessions, the authentic Sajaah Bazaar and a dedicated kid zone.

Almulla highlighted the importance of giving both children and adults a gateway into golf by turning the tournament into a festival of activity, and admitted it would be a dream come true to lift the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy on Saturday evening.

Almulla said: “The 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF is set to be another fantastic event here at Riyadh Golf Club and I am excited to compete in my national open once again. In addition to the world class golf on display, there will be attractions to keep fans of all ages entertained throughout each tournament day as the Eid celebrations are extended.

“It is vital that we use the Saudi Open as gateway to golf, and encourage more Saudis to start playing the sport. The sunset sessions put on at the end of the day’s play and the beautiful Sajaah Bazaar will attract more fans to Riyadh Golf Club to see our great sport.

“Spending time with the media today will help to drive increased participation in the sport through their understanding and knowledge of the game when they cover it. It was really interesting to be able to talk to them about some of the more intricate parts of the game. I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Almulla is part of a field headlined by LIV Golf players Henrik Stenson, David Puig, Peter Uihlein and Andy Ogletree at Riyadh Golf Club, where thanks to collaboration with the Arab Golf Federation, 14 golfers from seven different countries in the Middle East and North African region have been invited to compete.

Meanwhile, each evening the fan zone will come alive at sunset as the Golf & More offering takes center stage. Spectators are set to flock to the authentic Sajah Bazaar and enjoy live music from local DJs, all complemented by stunning firework shows and food and beverage options for all the family.


Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East
Updated 14 April 2024
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Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East
  • Saudi owner of Golftec Dubai is offering new avenue to embrace a sport long seen as a male domain

DUBAI: Thirty-one-year-old Haya Ghassan Alsulaiman, Saudi owner of the Dubai-based golf coaching center Golftec, is hoping to encourage more women to play the sport in the Middle East.

Already one of the US’ most popular institutions for golf development, Golftec — with Alsulaiman at the helm — launched in 2023 at Dubai City Walk.

The organization was initially founded in 1995 in the basement of a Denver, Colorado, country club, and has since become a household name around the world, operating in six countries, with more than 210 locations employing in excess of 800 full-time golf coaches.

However, it remains little known in the Middle East.

Alsulaiman is ready to change that across the UAE and wider region and, in the process, empower more women to embrace a sport that has long been seen as the domain of men.

“I am used to being the only woman in a male-dominated industry,” Alsulaiman told Arab News, explaining that she had previously worked for her father’s automotive dealership in Saudi where she was the only female employee among more than 200 men.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alsulaiman would vacation in California with her family every summer, and would regularly play tennis with her father.

When her father injured his knee, he switched to golf and learned how to play with Golftec.

“It was much easier for my father to understand the sport with this type of learning facility,” she said. “Then he encouraged my sister to get involved by first becoming his caddy.

“The more she went with my father, the more she desired to play,” Alsulaiman said. “Then she suggested to take lessons with him at Golftec.”

Haya soon caught the bug and joined her father and sister in taking golf classes.

From 2014 she began playing golf each summer during the family holiday in California.

“The routine was to take a lesson or two at Golftec and then go out on the range to practice what we were taught in the lesson and then, two days after, go play on an official golf course,” she said. “That was our routine, week after week.”

Alsulaiman developed a great love for the sport. However, when she returned to Saudi after the summer, she had nowhere to practice and play.

“In Saudi there were not the facilities for golf that there are today and no coaches, so we could only play in the summer,” she said. “We played from summer to summer. The sport bonded our family. We so enjoyed it. We laughed, had fun and engaged in family friendly competition.”

After the pandemic, Alsulaiman decided to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Dubai. Following her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her own business — Golftec’s first branch in the Middle East.

The business allows her to do what she loves and, she said, encourage more women to play the sport.

While golf has become a popular sport in the UAE, with many golf courses and training centers, Alsulaiman said that there was nothing that matched Golftec’s teaching methodology, with the advanced use of motion technology and video feedback making it easy for trainees to follow. She also finds the learning environment less intimidating than that of a golf club.

“It’s relaxed and fun and is a perfect place to encourage more women to learn,” she said.

Just under a decade ago the idea of a Saudi female golfer would have been hard to imagine. Today, thanks to a slew of social reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, golf and many other sports are increasingly accessible to women across the country.

In 2020, the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund was held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, signaling a turning point for women’s golf in the Kingdom.

The event also launched a comprehensive national golf sustainability strategy that oversees the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sport.

In December 2023, the Royal Diriyah Golf Club was unveiled in an event that saw Saudi women and men take to the Greg Norman-designed golf course for the first time alongside international guests.

Abeer Al-Johani, director of the Federation Office at the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the strides women were making in the sport reflected the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“Saudi women aside, women playing golf need much more sport, more media coverage and more opportunities,” Al-Johani told Arab News. “We need similar encouragement to what men receive but I believe we are beginning to see a lot of change — a lot of women are supporting other women in the sport specifically.”

Alsulaiman and Golftec are more than playing their part in making that happen.


Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
Updated 14 April 2024
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Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
  • Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining; the course was tough as ever

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Scottie Scheffler was in the lead and seemingly in control of his game Saturday in the Masters until realizing there was no such thing at Augusta National.

He posed over another beautiful shot at the flag on the 10th hole and was stunned to see it take a hard hop over the green and roll down into the bushes. He made double bogey and suddenly was one shot behind.

“Make another bogey at 11 and all of a sudden I’m probably going from in the lead to a few out of the lead and then,” Scheffler said, “you know, things happen pretty fast out there.”

It was so fast and furious that it was hard to keep up.

Six players had at least a share of the lead at one point. There was a five-way tie for the lead early on the back nine. No one was safe. It was like that to the very end.

Scheffler made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-under 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who has largely disappeared from the elite in golf and now is one round away from the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Bryson DeChambeau looked to be on the verge of a meltdown when he drove into the trees right of the 18th fairway, punched out to the short grass and then hit wedge from 77 yards that spun back into the cup for a birdie to sum up a wild Saturday.

“Easier than putting,” DeChambeau, adding that he was joking although there was some truth to that. He three-putted three times on the back nine.

Max Homa has gone 32 holes without a birdie and he was only two behind after a round of 17 pars and one bogey for a 73. Xander Schauffele has gone 25 holes without a bogey, and that goes a long way. He was five back after a 70.

Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining. The course was tough as ever, with a wind that would have felt scary if not for the day before. The greens made players feel as though they were putting on linoleum floors.

Scheffler was at 7-under 209 as he goes for a second Masters green jacket and tries to extend a dominant stretch that includes two wins on tough courses (Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass) and a runner-up finish in his last three tournaments.

“It’s nice to have that experience, but going into tomorrow, that’s really all that it is,” he said.

Morikawa made two tough pars to finish off a 69 — of those was a long birdie putt that hit the lip and spun 12 feet away. He is the only player to break par all three days at this Masters. Not bad for a someone who only found a swing key on Monday, switched putters after the first round and hasn’t had a top 10 since the first week of the year.

“If you asked me at the beginning of the week I’d be one back heading into Sunday, I would have taken that any time,” Morikawa said. “You give yourself a chance with 18 holes left, that’s all you can really do.”

Another shot back was Homa, whose last birdie was on the fourth hole of the second round. He has made 32 pars in his last 36 holes.

Eight players were separated by five shots going into the final round, where the greens are likely to be even faster, crispier and more frightening.

Tiger Woods was not among them. Neither was Rory McIlroy.

Woods, having made his Masters-record 24th consecutive cut Friday, started the third round seven shots out of the lead and hopeful of at least making his massive following think there might be more magic left in that battered 48-year-old body.

Instead, Woods posted his highest round in three decades playing the majors. He shot an 82, the third time he has failed to break 80 in a major, and the first since the 2015 US Open.

“Just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it,” Woods said.

McIlroy came to the Masters thinking this might be the year he finally got the last leg of the career Grand Slam. All he could muster was a 71 that left him 10 shots behind with 20 players in front of him.

There were no shortage of challengers.

Ludvig Aberg, the rising Swedish star playing in his first major, was among those who had a brief share of the lead until missing a pair of short par putts on the back nine. He still managed a 70 and was only three shots behind.

Another newcomer to the Masters, Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark, had the lead to himself with three straight birdies around the turn. He celebrated that good fortunate by running off five straight bogeys, putting the ball in the water on both par 5s.

And then there was DeChambeau, who started the third round tied with Scheffler and Homa.

DeChambeau kept making enough birdies to hang around and was only one shot behind until he decided to go for the green from the trees on the par-5 15th. He went well right toward the 17th fairway — the second time in as many days he played a par 5 from two holes — only this one didn’t work out so well.

He chunked his wedge and watched it tumble into the pond. He took a penalty drop, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey. And then he three-putted for bogey on the 16th. And right when it appeared to be falling apart, he made his surprise birdie to limit the damage to 75. He was four shots behind.

Scheffler didn’t escape the craziness. He reached 8 under quickly by chipping in across the green on No. 1 and making a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 3. But all it took was two holes to make it feel like his head was spinning.

What saved his day was a 7-foot par putt on No. 12 and then a 30-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th that dropped on its final turn and elicited rare emotion from Scheffler.

“C’mon, baby!” he yelled when the putt dropped.

“Things got a little dicey in the middle,” Scheffler said. “On No. 10, I hit what I thought was a decent shot 8 feet from the hole and it wound up in the bushes. I did a good job of staying patient.”

He’ll need another dose for Sunday, even with the experience of winning a Masters. Two years ago, he had a three-shot lead going into the final round and spent the morning in tears as his wife gave him soothing words of confidence.

Now his wife is home in Dallas expecting their first child at the end of the month. Scheffler brought in his best friends from home to stay with him.

“I didn’t want to be in the house all by myself this weekend. Didn’t really seem that exciting to me,” Scheffler said.

There’s plenty of that inside the ropes.