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.

SCORES
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


Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Updated 49 min 59 sec ago

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

  • The 23-year-old from Jeddah will take part in the 100m race on Friday
  • “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible,” Al-Dabbagh said

TOKYO: Only a few weeks ago, Yasmine Al-Dabbagh was an unknown Saudi sprinter with big dreams.
On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
For the 23-year-old, as for the rest of 33-strong Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and football. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman’s) Vision 2030. 
“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem, that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability.”


Al-Dabbagh will make her 100m Olympic debut at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30, but had things worked out differently earlier in her life, she could now have been taking part in a different sport.
“Ever since I can remember, sports has always been my passion,” Al-Dabbagh said. “When I was a student at Jeddah Knowledge School, I loved everything from basketball, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. 
“Track and field held an especially exceptional place in my heart. It was running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling kept me coming back for more. It was a sense of being empowered, strong and self-confident.
“What also hooked me was that the challenge was on me,” she said. “As an individual sport, I love that you get out what you put in. It’s all on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the corresponding reward and absolutely love that feeling.”
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she first started training, access to running facilities was a bit of a challenge, particularly for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investment across all sports in Saudi Arabia including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more people playing sports than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support shown to me by so many, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.”
At a time when female participation was still several years away from becoming widespread, and culturally more acceptable, across the Kingdom, she was lucky to have a family that believed in her unquestioningly.
“My family were and still are my biggest supporters and have always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt doubtful or fearful, they were the ones who helped me overcome that. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympian could one day be realized. I am so proud and humbled also, that the dream is now coming true.”
When vindication of her career path came, it could not have been from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As much of a cliché as that may sound, it genuinely helped me overcome many obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. I was told by one of my biggest idols, who is now my coach, Linford Christie, that I have the ability to make it to the Olympics. Ever since then, I have been working really hard to get to where I am today but this is only the start. As the saying goes, a journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. I consider this as a first step on a long journey to come, inshallah.”
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by the American runner Allyson Felix, who has won a staggering 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those golds and three of the silvers were claimed in the Olympic Games, making her the first female runner in history to have that many gold medals for track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance of breaking the world record of nine athletics gold medals held by her legendary compatriot, the sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother, and founder of a brand that specializes in creating products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to myself and to many women all over the world.
“I would be amiss not to recognize our very own athletes at home,” she added. “In the runners department, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, the equestrian Dilma Malhas and the swimmer Mariam Binladen.”
Al-Dabbagh only got the call to the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Earning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and to do it through a ‘universality place’, breaking the national female record for the 100m race … I could not have asked for more,” she said. “It is a culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning across Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday being Olympics-themed … that is how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I am truly ecstatic that this moment has finally arrived.”
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she will be up against some of the best runners in the world, but after the disruptions of the last year, it is an experience she is relishing.
“I know I’m very inexperienced compared to my running competitors, but I see this as a positive,” he said. “I inevitably will gain so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to dedicate 100 percent to training and competing, COVID struck so I’ve missed a lot of track time and many chances to race. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has gone through a rough 18 months, and I can’t wait to see sports bring together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. I want to make sure I savor that moment and that it will propel my sporting career forward.”
Al-Dabbagh is not setting any specific goals at this stage in her career, but the landmarks keep coming just the same.
“My target is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible. I am hoping to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and to inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already the holder of the national (100m) record and I’d like to improve upon that, and come back a better athlete. At this stage in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a building block for the future, both for me personally, but importantly for the future of sports in the Kingdom.” 

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US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004

Updated 26 July 2021

US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004

  • The USA face Iran in their next game on Wednesday when France take on the Czech Republic

SAITAMA, Japan: The US men’s basketball team suffered a shock 83-76 defeat at the hands of France on Sunday, losing at the Olympics for the first time since 2004 and for just the sixth time in the history of the tournament.
The French had upset the US men when they last met in the 2019 FIBA World Cup quarter-finals and they had their number again on the first day of group play at the Saitama Super Arena, powered by a game-high 28 points from Evan Fournier.
“It felt good, it felt good,” Fournier told Reuters.
Moustapha Fall had high praise for his teammate.
“He is the offensive leader for us, always aggressive, always trying to score,” Fall said of Fournier. “We knew he was going to be our leader offensively and he assumed this role, so he is good for us.”
The Americans got out to a good start in the first half, leading 45-37 at the break on the back of their defensive energy, but were outscored 25-11 in a disastrous third-quarter with France taking the lead.
Team USA clawed back to briefly regain the lead in the fourth quarter, but the French wouldn’t go away and took their first ever Olympic win versus the United States.

Guerschon Yabusele of France shoots againnst Edrice Adebayo of the US. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Star US player Kevin Durant was saddled with foul trouble early and found it hard to get into a rhythm. He fouled out near the end of the game.
The United States is always the team to beat at basketball — they now have a 138-6 record and have won gold 15 times since joining the Olympic program in 1936 — boasting more depth than any other country with their star-studded NBA line-ups.
But their recent form suggested reaching the top of the podium would not be as easy as in the past, after they dropped two straight exhibition games this month including a surprise loss to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.
Preparations were also disrupted by the absence of players due to this year’s late NBA playoffs and late replacements due to COVID-19 protocols and injury.
Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were finally able to join the team after the last game of the NBA finals on July 20. Holiday scored a team-high 18 points on Sunday despite having flown into Japan the day before.
US head coach Gregg Popovich said his team had to be more consistent, pointing to several leads they had let slip away.
“We gave all of those up. Because of a lack of consistent defense, too many errors on offense, possessions where we didn’t move and took ill-advised shots. So you understand it, look at it, put in the work and try to get better.”
In other Group A action on Sunday, the Czech Republic held on to beat Iran 84-78 after the Iranians had cut a 22-point deficit down to four points with less than a minute to go.
In Group B, Australia overcame a 22-turnover performance to top Nigeria 84-67, while Italy fought to a 92-82 win against Germany that saw the Italians pull away late after tightening up their defense.
In their next games on Wednesday, the United States will take on Iran and France will meet the Czechs, while Australia will face Italy and Germany will take on Nigeria. 


West Indies, Pakistan rearrange four-match T20 series

Updated 25 July 2021

West Indies, Pakistan rearrange four-match T20 series

  • New fixtures announced after ongoing West Indies, Australia series was affected by COVID-19
  • T20 World Cup begins in the Gulf in October with West Indies looking to retain the title

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS: West Indies and Pakistan have agreed to play a revised four-match T20 series, Cricket West Indies (CWI) announced on Sunday.

The cricket boards of Pakistan and West Indies were forced into the alteration to the scheduled tour dates after West Indies' current ODI series against Australia was rocked by a positive COVID-19 test which saw Thursday's second match suspended.

It was finally played on Saturday with the third and final match pushed back to Monday — one day before the scheduled opener against Pakistan.

The revised dates allow for an opener in Barbados on Wednesday with three further matches in Guyana.

"Together with the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board), CWI have examined various scenarios, and we jointly agreed that the best solution in the present circumstances is to cancel the first T20I and play a four-match T20I series starting on Wednesday and keep the rest of the tour schedule unchanged," CWI president Ricky Skerritt said.

"Both teams are in the final stages of preparing for the ICC T20 World Cup, so we anticipate an exciting and entertaining series of games."

The T20 World Cup begins in the Gulf in October with West Indies looking to retain the title.

The teams will also play two Tests as part of the 2021-23 World Test Championship.

West Indies v Pakistan revised tour schedule:

July 28: 1st T20, Kensington Oval, Barbados
July 31: 2nd T20, National Stadium, Guyana
August 1: 3rd T20, National Stadium, Guyana
August 3: 4th T20, National Stadium, Guyana
August 12-16: 1st Test, Sabina Park, Jamaica
August 20-24: 2nd Test, Sabina Park, Jamaica


Defending champion Murray out of Olympics singles with injury

Updated 25 July 2021

Defending champion Murray out of Olympics singles with injury

TOKYO: Two-time defending Olympic tennis champion Andy Murray withdrew Sunday from the men’s singles tournament due to a muscle injury, Team GB said in a statement.
Murray, 34, will stay in Tokyo to play doubles with Joe Salisbury. The pair won their opening match of the competition on Saturday.
“I am really disappointed at having to withdraw but the medical staff have advised me against playing in both events, so I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe,” Murray said in a statement.
“The decision follows consultation with medical staff in relation to a quad strain,” it added.
The Scot was scratched from the order of play just hours before he was due to face Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round. He was replaced in the draw by Australia’s Max Purcell.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray is the only player to win two Olympics singles titles. He was bidding for a third successive gold following his victories at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Murray’s career has been blighted by injury in recent years, twice undergoing hip surgery since rising to world number one at the end of 2016.
He recently suffered his earliest Wimbledon exit in 16 years when he was knocked out in the third round by Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.
Murray and Salisbury will play Germany’s Tim Puetz and Kevin Krawietz for a spot in the Olympic men’s doubles quarter-finals after dumping out French second seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the first round.
 


Czech Republic tops Iran 84-78 in Olympic basketball opener

Updated 25 July 2021

Czech Republic tops Iran 84-78 in Olympic basketball opener

SAITAMA, Japan: Patrik Auda scored 16 points, Blake Schilb added 14 and the Czech Republic wasted most of a 22-point lead before holding on to defeat Iran 84-78 in the first game of the Olympic men’s basketball tournament on Sunday.
Jan Vesely added 11 for the Czech Republic.
Behnam Yakhchali had a game-high 23 points for Iran (0-1), which trailed by 22 late in the third and by 21 in the fourth before putting together its comeback bid. Mohammad Jamshidi scored 16 and Hamed Haddadi had 15 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late for Iran.
Jamshidi’s 3-pointer with 1:10 left got Iran within 80-76, but Schilb scored on each of the next two Czech possessions to help close out the win.
Iran opened the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run, getting within 69-61 on a three-point play from Yakhchali with 5:39 remaining. The Czechs missed nine of their first 10 shots from the field in the fourth, seeing their lead get trimmed to single digits for the first time since early in the second quarter.
Both teams return to play Wednesday, with Iran facing the US and the Czech Republic playing France in Group A matchups.