Rejuvenated McIlroy sets early pace in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy takes aim at the Falcon clubhouse as he shot an 8-under 64 at The National course in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images)
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Updated 21 January 2021

Rejuvenated McIlroy sets early pace in Abu Dhabi

  • Rory McIlroy: ‘I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I’ve shot it a few times, so I thought let’s try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that’
  • Tyrrell Hatton, who shot a 65 to lie in sole second place, conjured up an eagle on his opening hole, the 10th, adding another on the par-five 18th

ABU DHABI: Rory McIlroy began his 2021 season in sparkling fashion, assembling a spotless 64 to take a one-shot first round lead over Ryder Cup team-mate Tyrrell Hatton at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday.
The four-time major winner arrived at this first of three tournaments in the Gulf after a winless 2020.
But the 31-year-old Northern Irish golfer shrugged off a near three-hour fog delay to lead the pack at eight-under par on his return to Abu Dhabi after a gap of two years.
“It feels good,” McIlroy told Sky Sports after carding his lowest score at an event where he has done well in the past without winning.
“I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I’ve shot it a few times, so I thought let’s try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that.”
Looking back on his 2020 which ended with a tie for fifth at the rescheduled Masters at Augusta National he said: “It was getting better as the year went on and honestly it was sort of disappointing that it finished when it did because I felt like I was getting right back into it.
McIlroy, who became a father last year, added: “I didn’t really take much time off after Augusta.
“I sat at home for maybe three or four days and was like I just need to get out there and sort of keep this going.
“Played quite a bit over the Christmas break and practiced quite a bit. Felt maybe as sharp as I’ve ever done coming into the start of the season. It’s paid off early.”
Hatton conjured up an eagle on his opening hole, the 10th, adding another on the par-five 18th.
The world number nine carded three birdies on the front nine, saying: “I’m really happy with that. I think I got away with it.
“In 10 holes I hit one fairway, so that wasn’t ideal. Obviously I can only play with what’s in front of me and I’m happy with the job I managed to do in the end.”
Defending champion Lee Westwood opened with a 69 to sit five shots off the lead but world number three Justin Thomas has work to do after a struggling 73.
Lying in third place behind McIlroy and Hatton is Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti on six under.


Azam, Nabi cruise Kings to victory over Peshawar Zalmi

Updated 03 March 2021

Azam, Nabi cruise Kings to victory over Peshawar Zalmi

  • Afghan allrounder Muhammad Nabi declared man of the match for his impressive inning
  • In Wednesday's second match, Multan Sultans are taking on Quetta Gladiators

KARACHI: Pakistan’s star batsman Babar Azam and Afghan allrounder Muhammad Nabi cruised the Karachi Kings to victory over table toppers Peshawar Zalmi, defeating them by six wickets at the national stadium in Karachi on Wednesday.

Karachi Kings won the toss, invited Peshawar Zalmi to bat first and completed a chase of 189 runs with three balls to spare, making it 13 consecutive wins for a chasing team since the start of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2021.

Azam, who scored 77 out of 47 with the help of six fours and three sixes, fell one run short of scoring his 6,000 runs in the Twenty20 cricket career but ensured a win for his side and a place on the top of the points table. Nabi, who was dropped at 20 by Amad Butt, scored 67 of 35 with the help of eight fours and four huge sixes. He made a partnership of 118 runs with Azam, earning victory for his team. 

Nabi was declared man of the match for his impressive inning.

Kings lost their early wickets in their chase of 189 runs. Sharjeel Khan was caught out at the duck, Joe Clarke and Colin Ingram scored only 17 and three runs. Dan Christian, who came to bat after Nabi, scored16 of nine, including the winning shot.

Batting first, Zalmi’s inning started well but debutant Abbas Afridi sent back openers Kamran Akmal and Tom Kohler-Cadmore to the pavilion back-to-back in the fifth over. Akmal scored 21 of 17 and Kohler-Cadmore made 10 of 11. Shoaib Malik, who captained the team in the absence of injured Wahab Riaz, was the third to go in the next over after facing just two balls and making one run. Haider Ali, who batted well in previous innings, could score just nine out of 12 balls and was caught by Afridi on the ball of Christian in the tenth over.

Partnership of 83 runs between Sherfane Rutherford (46 of 32) and Ravi Bopara (58 of 40 not out) provided Zalmi a chance to score a defendable total, but this was Amad Butt’s blitzing 27 on seven balls that made the match interesting. Butt hammered the last over by Christian which turned a treat for the opposition. The Kings’ Australian bowler gave away 32 (almost 17 percent of Zalmi's total) runs in his last year.

Afridi remained the most successful bowler and grabbed two wickets by conceding 27 in his four overs. Muhamad Ilyas took two wickets in his four by giving away 27 runs. Imad Waseem and Arshad Iqbal proved expensive and conceded 16 and 10 respectively in their one and two overs. Christian who took the wicket of dangerous hitter Haider Ali and conceded 13 in first two remained the most expensive due to his over, which provided Peshawar Zalmi a good chance to fight for a win.

In the day's second match, Multan Sultans are taking on Quetta Gladiators which so far have lost all four matches they have played this season.


Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Updated 03 March 2021

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

  • All-female team competed in New York City while also promoting environmental causes

RIYADH: The profile of women’s football in Saudi Arabia continues to rise.

The first Women’s Football League was established in the Kingdom last year and now a new film documenting the historic appearance of the Saudi Greens at the 2019 Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup) is being released by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).

Launched across the SFA website, its YouTube channel and social media accounts last week, the documentary chronicles the all-women Saudi football team’s journey at the GGWCup in New York City.

It was the first time a female sports team from the Kingdom had ever competed in the US, but the team’s involvement went beyond just a sporting achievement.

The tournament framed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, as 30 teams worldwide competed to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team created an action plan with a particular global goal and strived to achieve it in their own country while also competing in five-a-side football tournaments.

Regional qualifying rounds determined which teams progressed to the finals in New York, where the winner was decided based on the impact of its activism and performance on the pitch.

In 2019, the Greens focused on SDG 15 “Life on Land,” bringing attention to the effects of single-use plastics on the environment. Prior to the tournament, team members hosted community events and campaigns across the Kingdom, helping to educate people on the impact of plastics and the wider SDGs in general.

The team distributed reusable bags, collected litter, held awareness talks, and collaborated with local schools and sports clubs to collect plastic bottles and teach children about the importance of recycling.

After they progressed through qualifiers in Copenhagen, the Greens joined 14 other teams at the 2019 finals, where they finished in second place. 

The documentary highlights the team’s experience in New York, but not just in footballing terms. The film also reflects on the team’s social development, international bridge-building and the Greens’ role in boosting female empowerment within Saudi Arabia.

The Greens were formed in 2018 with support from the SFA, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the country’s Olympic Committee. Less than three year later, the team has come to symbolize progress and female empowerment in the Kingdom.

Since the tournament, the team has hosted virtual workout sessions for the GGWCup Clubhouse, contributed to SFA events and initiatives, and paved the way for the Women’s Football League, which was launched last February.

The latest role for the team will be as ambassadors for the upcoming GGWCup Saudi Arabia – the Kingdom’s first qualifying round of the global competition – due to take place this year.


Islamabad beats winless Quetta by 6 wickets in PSL 

Updated 02 March 2021

Islamabad beats winless Quetta by 6 wickets in PSL 

  • Paul Stirling smashed 56 off 33 balls as Islamabad eased to 157-4 with three balls to spare 
  • Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad and Lahore Qalandars share a three-way tie atop the leaderboard 

KARACHI: All-rounder Faheem Ashraf and Paul Stirling starred in Islamabad United’s emphatic six-wicket victory over winless Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday.
Fast bowler Ashraf’s 3-11 limited Quetta to 156-7 and then Stirling smashed 56 off 33 balls as Islamabad eased to 157-4 with three balls to spare.
The match was rescheduled for Tuesday after Islamabad’s leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Two more foreign cricketers, including one unidentified Islamabad player, tested positive Tuesday before the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to go ahead with country’s premier Twenty20 tournament.
Quetta’s fourth successive loss at the toss continued a trend, as all 12 preliminary round matches have been won by teams chasing with all six captains opting to field first after winning the toss.
Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad and Lahore Qalandars share a three-way tie atop the leaderboard after the conclusion of fourth round matches, with each having won three of their four games.
Quetta skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed (54) hit his second successive half century that featured four consecutive sixes off spinner Iftikhar Ahmed.
But Islamabad always looked ahead after fast bowlers Hasan Ali (2-23) and Ashraf picked up four wickets inside the first six overs of Quetta’s batting powerplay.
Ashraf sent Cameron Delport’s offstump cartwheeling off his first delivery before trapping Sarfaraz leg before wicket in his return spell as Quetta could score only one six and a four in their last seven overs.
Stirling took the game away from Quetta within the first three overs by propelling the total to 44-0. The prolific Irish batsman hammered South Africa’s Dale Steyn for four boundaries in one over after smashing leftarm spinner Mohammad Nawaz for two boundaries and a six in the first over.
Legspinner Zahid Mahmood (2-29) clean bowled Stirling in the 10th over off a sharp googly, but Rohail Nazir (34), playing his first PSL game this season, and captain Shadab Khan (21) made useful contributions to take the two-time champion home. 


Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

Updated 02 March 2021

Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

  • They bring to four the number of known infections in Pakistan Super League 
  • Pakistan Cricket Board official says league will continue with testing every three days 

KARACHI: Two more foreign cricketers and one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday. 
One unnamed player was from Islamabad United, while the other two’s names and teams were not identified by Pakistan Cricket Board media and communications director Sami Ul Hasan.

They bring to four the number of known infections in the league after Australian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive on Saturday. His Islamabad side had its scheduled game against Quetta Gladiators on Monday postponed to Tuesday.

Hasan said that game will go ahead, and the league will continue with testing every three days. Spectators will also continue to be allowed.

All four people who tested positive are in 10-day isolation. 


Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Updated 02 March 2021

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

  • Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage

MIAMI: Nelly Korda produced a flawless final round to claim a three-shot victory at the Gainbridge LPGA tournament in Florida on Sunday.

Korda — whose elder sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour’s previous event, the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January — fired a three-under-par 69 to finish on 16 under.

The 22-year-old, whose father is former Czech tennis star Petr Korda, had opened up a one-shot lead on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.

On Sunday at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, she picked up where she left off in the third round.

Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage.

She then reeled off 12 consecutive pars to remain in control and close out the fourth LPGA Tour victory of her career with her parents and sister Jessica rushing to congratulate her on the 18th green.

“Honestly I did not play very good golf today,” Korda told a television interviewer moments after clinching her first career win on US soil.

“I just stayed really solid. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was definitely very stressful.

“Winning in front of my parents was a first too, so that was really nice.”

Korda’s 72-hole aggregate 272 left her three clear of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko who finished tied for second on 13 under.

Thompson had closed to within three of Korda with a brilliant eagle three at the par-five 11th, but a bogey on the following hole stymied her chances of mounting a charge down the stretch. Thompson finished with a four-under-par 68.

New Zealand’s former world No. 1 Ko stormed up the leaderboard at the start of the back nine with four consecutive birdies starting on the 12th hole, eventually carding a three-under-par 69.

World number one Ko Jin-young meanwhile finished five off the lead in fourth place on 11 under. Ko posted a one-under-par-71 after an erratic final round that included four birdies and three bogeys.

There was disappointment for Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who had started the day one off the lead.

The 21-year-old rookie faded with a two-over-par 74, with two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine dropping her out of contention.

Tavatanakit finished on 10 under alongside Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who shot a three-under-par 69.

Meanwhile, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, who parred her final hole on Friday to make the cut in her first tour start since 2008, closed with a four-over-par 76, propping up the leaderboard on 13 over.