Thomas Pieters leads in Abu Dhabi after ‘very good round’

Belgium's Thomas Pieters tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship golf (AP)
Updated 19 January 2018

Thomas Pieters leads in Abu Dhabi after ‘very good round’

ABU DHABI: Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson both made their moves on Friday, but they were left chasing the long-hitting Thomas Pieters of Belgium at the halfway stage of the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The 25-year-old Belgian, who was a star for the European Ryder Cup team in their loss to the US at Hazeltine, made seven birdies in his bogey-free round of 65 to climb on top of the leaderboard at 12 under par.
Spain’s Jorge Campillo added a 64 to his opening-round 69 to be one behind Pieters, while Alexander Levy of France (65) and England’s Ross Fisher (67) were in tied third place at 10-under 134 alongside overnight joint leader Tommy Fleetwood (68), who turned 27 on Friday.
After a disappointing opening round of even-par 72, world No. 1 Johnson bounced back with a brilliant bogey-free round of eight-under-par 64.
McIlroy is yet to make a bogey after two rounds and an eagle on his finishing hole catapulted him to nine-under for the tournament with a round of 66.
Pieters, ranked 40th in the world, finished second here in 2016 but missed the cut last year. However, he once again showed his love for the National course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club with a round that finished on a high note — a chipped-in birdie on the ninth from the greenside bunker.
“It was nice to hole one on the last after two terrible shots. Ball-striking was good, but the rest of it was decent today,” said Pieters.
“I mean, I hit most of the middle of the greens. If I had a wedge, I went at the flag and I think I got up-and-down or made birdie with a wedge in my hand three or four times. It wasn’t really that fancy but a very good round.”
McIlroy, returning to professional golf after a lay-off of nearly 100 days, gave himself plenty of chances in his first 17 holes, but converted only four birdies. His spirits were clearly lifted when he poured in his eagle putt from 20 feet on the last.
“It was a nice way to finish. Felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine. I always struggle to read these greens, I feel like I’m hitting good putts and they are just sliding by the edges,” said McIlroy, who has slipped to 11th in the world rankings.
“But it was nice, I stayed patient and feel like I got what I deserved on the last for staying so patient and it was nice to finish with a three, leapfrog a few guys and get myself into contention for the weekend.”
Johnson was pleased with his effort, especially after the even-par 72 round on Thursday.
“It was pretty easy for a 64. I did everything really well. I drove it well. I hit a lot of really good iron shots. Hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in the hole from pretty close range, but all day, I gave myself really good chances for birdies. It was pretty stress-free,” said Johnson who made three birdies in his last four holes.
The cut fell at two-under par 142. Among the notables who will miss weekend play are European Ryder Cup veterans Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who missed by one shot. World No. 6 Justin Rose made a birdie on the 18th to finish on two under par.

132 — Thomas Pieters (BEL) 67-65
133 — Jorge Campillo (ESP) 69-64
134 — Alexander Levy (FRA) 69-65, Ross Fisher (ENG) 67-67, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 66-68
135 — Paul Casey (ENG) 70-65, Andy Sullivan (ENG) 70-65, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 69-66, Sam Brazel (AUS) 67-68, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 67-68
136 — Dustin Johnson (USA) 72-64, Branden Grace (RSA) 72-64, Ryan Fox (NZL) 70-66, Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 69-67, Chris Paisley (ENG) 69-67, Andrew Johnston (ENG) 68-68, Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 67-69
137 — Martin Kaymer (GER) 69-68, Joost Luiten (NED) 69-68, Jason Scrivener (AUS) 69-68
138 — Wang Jeunghun (KOR) 71-67, Wu Ashun (CHN) 71-67, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70-68, Thomas Detry (BEL) 70-68, Kristoffer Broberg (SWE) 69-69, Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 68-70, Paul Dunne (IRL) 68-70, Richie Ramsay (SCO) 68-70, Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 66-72
139 — Matt Wallace (ENG) 71-68, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 70-69, Scott Vincent (ZIM) 69-70, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 69-70, Brandon Stone (RSA) 69-70, Carlos Pigem (ESP) 68-71, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 69-70
140 — Seungsu Han (USA) 73-67, Darren Fichardt (RSA) 73-67, Benjamin Hebert (FRA) 72-68, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 70-70, Richard Sterne (RSA) 68-72, Scott Hend (AUS) 71-69, Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 68-72

Selected others:
142 — Matt Kuchar (USA) 72-70, Justin Rose (ENG) 71-71
143 — Ian Poulter (ENG) 75-68, Lee Westwood (ENG) 74-69
144 — Graeme McDowell (NIR) 70-74
148 — Ernie Els (RSA) 76-72
151 — Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP) 78-73

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.