Belgian Pieters takes early lead in Dubai

Thomas Pieters. (AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Belgian Pieters takes early lead in Dubai

  • Thomas Pieters, a former Ryder Cup winner, rolled in eight birdies to set the early pace, despite a double bogey on the first hole, having started on the 10th

DUBAI: Belgium’s Thomas Pieters fired a 5-under 67 in difficult conditions to grab a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

The former Ryder Cup winner rolled in eight birdies to set the early pace, despite a double bogey on the first hole, having started on the 10th.

“I know I’m hitting the ball quite nice and I’m just looking forward to the next three days,” said Pieters, who won his fourth European Tour title at the Czech Masters last year.

“It’s always a bit scary starting out, you don’t know what to expect even though you’ve put the work in — that competitive mindset sometimes takes a while to kick in. But I think today was one of my better rounds of the year.”

American David Lipsky sits alone in second place after a four-under 68, but a host of big names appear ready to pounce.

Last year’s winner Bryson DeChambeau carded a 70, while former major champions Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia all signed for one-under first rounds of 71.

It was a bad day for Lee Westwood, though, after the 46-year-old followed his impressive victory last week in the Abu Dhabi Championship by slumping to a six-over-par 78.


Five things you need to know ahead of the Saudi Pro League’s Round 25

Updated 13 August 2020

Five things you need to know ahead of the Saudi Pro League’s Round 25

  • As we approach the start of Round 25 tomorrow afternoon, we take a close look at the top five things SPL fans needs to know ahead of the round’s first match between Al-Fateh and Abha

With only six rounds remaining until the curtain closes on the longest-ever Saudi Pro League (SPL) season, there’s still plenty to play for on both ends of the table. The first two rounds since the restart did not disappoint and were filled with excitement and shock results, giving the fans the perfect dose of football after many months of absence.

As we approach the start of Round 25 tomorrow afternoon, we take a close look at the top five things SPL fans needs to know ahead of the round’s first match between Al-Fateh and Abha.
 
Winner takes all

Draws have not been an option so far with teams going all-out in the remaining rounds in the hope of achieving their objectives and bringing joy to their supporters at home. In the opening 16 matches since the restart, just one draw was recorded between Al-Raed and Al-Wehda. Meanwhile, fans watching from afar enjoyed a goalfest with 46 goals finding the back of the net, with an average of 2.8 goals per match.
 
Champions League qualification battle heating-up

The race to the Champions League spots has been the story of the season so far, with just five points separating eighth-placed Ettifaq and fourth-placed Al-Wehda as things stand. Al-Ahli’s back-to-back wins strengthened their hopes of securing their position in the top four. Meanwhile, Makkah-side Al-Wehda have struggled lately with just one point from a possible six since the restart.

Two massive showdowns will take place in Round 25 when Al-Ahli visit Al-Majmaah to face off Al-Faisaly. The Jeddah giants will be hoping to make it three out of three. Meanwhile, Al-Faisaly will be eyeing the sought-after fourth position with just two points separating them from it. Al-Nassr will play host to Al-Wehda as the Riyadh team will be aiming to continue its championship push on leaders Al-Hilal. Jose Daniel Carreno’s men will be hoping to find their winning ways with their first three points since the restart.
 
Fight for survival continues

The drama at the top of the table may sometimes divert attention away from the action at the bottom end of the league, but that’s certainly not the case in the 19/20 campaign. SPL debutants Damac and Al-Adalah are desperate for a renewed season in the top flight, and they’ve both showed a strong will to do so by recording wins in Round 24.

With 18 points left to play for till the end of the campaign, just seven points separate eleventh-placed Al-Fayha with Al-Adalah at the bottom of the table.

A North African battle for the top playmaker award

The top four players with the highest number of assists this season all share one thing in common — their North African heritage. Al-Faisaly’s Youssef El Jebli, who is Dutch with Moroccan origins, currently leads the way with 11 assists and 46 chances created to his name. Meanwhile, Al-Hazm’s Driss Fetouhi (Tunisia) comes in second with nine assists, Al-Nassr’s Nordin Amrabat (Morocco) and Abha’s Saad Beguir (Tunisia) follow with eight assists each.

Al-Hilal can cement their position at the top

With nine points separating Riyadh neighbors Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, Razvan Lucescu enter Round 25 with confidence as they take on 16th-placed Al-Adalah away from home. Despite the comfortable position that they find themselves in at this stage of the season, the league leaders have a challenging set of matches remaining until the end of the season with crucial trips to King Abdullah Sports City to face off in-form Al-Ahli and King Abdulaziz Sports City against Al-Wehda. They will also play host to Riyadh neighbors Al-Shabab, Champions League qualification hopefuls Al-Faisaly and 12th-placed Al-Hazm.

 Recognizing that fans are unable to attend games for the remaining eight rounds of fixtures, the SPL has developed its #OurLeagueIsBack campaign, which allows fans to share their support online, with videos and messages then being shown across stadiums on match days.