Belgium’s Pieters leads the way in Saudi

Thomas Pieters, right, shot a seven-under-par 63 to lead, after the first round, at the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA. (Getty Images)
Updated 31 January 2019

Belgium’s Pieters leads the way in Saudi

  • Pieters, a three-time European Tour winner, recorded seven birdies in a blemish-free first round at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to hold a two-shot advantage
  • World Number One Justin Rose finished his first round at level par (70), while World Number Two and playing partner Brooks Koepka (69) faded after a promising start

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Thomas Pieters leads the way in a world-class field at the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA after carding an opening round of seven-under-par.

The three-time European Tour winner recorded seven birdies in a blemish-free first round at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club to hold a two-shot advantage over a group of players, including English duo Ross Fisher and Alfie Plant.

Plant was on course for a 59 when he registered seven birdies in his opening nine holes to reach the turn in a magnificent 28, but two bogeys on the front nine derailed his chances of the monumental feat.

Four of the world’s top five players are playing at the course within King Abdullah Economic City, with Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Trevor Immelman among the eight Major Champions also in the field.

World Number One Justin Rose finished his first round at level par while World Number Two and playing partner Brooks Koepka saw a promising start fade as he signed for a one-under-par 69. Swede Henrik Stenson enjoyed the best round of the stellar group at two under.

Plant, who was invited to the event in Saudi Arabia, spoke about his incredible opening nine holes at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

“It’s a good start,” he said. “Pretty much flagged it all the way on the front nine, which is nice. I always thought the front nine was a little bit more challenging. You’ve got to hit a lot more good shots.

“I didn’t realize I was on 28 until I’ve just come in. I’ve never shot 28 before on the front nine or back nine.”

Starting on the back nine, Belgian Pieters hit three birdies to reach the turn in 32 but moved to four under at the first with his fourth gain of the round, to sit one shot behind Plant.

He almost took sole lead at the fourth when his eagle putt stopped marginally short of the cup for a tap-in birdie, but the 27-year-old only had to wait one more hole to do so following a great approach to six feet.

Pieters increased his advantage to two strokes, despite his tee-shot at the seventh finding the rough, as he hit a superb second to concessional range for his seventh birdie of the round to set the clubhouse target.


‘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.