Open champion Cam Smith returns to ‘happy place’ of Augusta National Golf Course

Australia’s reigning Open champion Cam Smith never once dissed the PGA Tour, and he never once questioned his own decision to join the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Updated 05 April 2023

Open champion Cam Smith returns to ‘happy place’ of Augusta National Golf Course

  • The 29-year-old Australian expertly negotiated questions on tensions between PGA and LIV golfers

AUGUSTA: Like a perfect goodwill ambassador, Australia’s reigning Open champion Cam Smith never once dissed the PGA Tour, and he never once questioned his own decision to join the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf.

In a 21-minute-long press conference that was a model on how to handle a delicate situation, the 29-year-old from Brisbane sidestepped a few loaded questions and also met a few of them head-on.

The world No. 6 admits he came to Augusta National Golf Club — his “happy place” where he has four top-10s in his last five starts since 2018 — with some trepidations this year.

“I just think there’s too much rubbish going on, basically. I spent an hour out there and saw lots of familiar faces, lots of smiles and hugs, and it’s been nice. I don’t think there’s any kind of hatred going on between the players. We are all happy where we are. I’m just as happy for the guys winning out on the PGA Tour as I am for the LIV golfers,” said Smith, who will be playing his seventh Masters.

“I really wasn’t sure what I was going to expect walking on to the range. I didn’t want to expect too much. I think there’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment that doesn’t need to be going on, especially in the media.”

In no mood to confront, Smith said it was important for LIV Golf players to do well at the Masters, one of the few opportunities they have to match wits against the PGA Tour players.

Asked about the chances of LIV players — who play a unique team format and have 48-man field in 54-hole tournaments — producing a Masters champion, Smith was candid again.

“I think it’s just important for LIV guys to be up there. I think there’s a lot of chatter about these guys don’t play real golf; these guys don’t play real golf courses. For sure, I’ll be the first one to say, the fields aren’t as strong,” said Smith.

“But we’ve still got a lot of guys up there that can play some really serious golf, and we compete against each other hard week-in and week-out and we’re trying to do the same things that we did six months ago. And it’s good to see Brooks win last week. He’s playing some really good golf again. Yeah, I think we just need a good, strong finish."

Smith also stood by his decision to move to LIV Golf, despite having one of the most phenomenal seasons on the PGA Tour in 2022 and rising to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Asked if he missed playing certain tournaments, or against certain players, on the PGA Tour, the 2022 Players champion said: “For sure there are a couple of tournaments that I really have enjoyed in the past that I feel like I’ve missed out on. But at the same time, I’ve made my bed and I’m happy … very, very happy. I’m happy to sleep in the bed I’m in.

“I do miss certain tournaments, certain golf courses. I’m looking forward to this week playing against the guys for sure.”

Smith scored another winner when asked about his own form this year compared to 2022, and if LIV Golf had a role to play in it.

“I think for me, I’m just trying to play the best golf I can. For me, it’s frustrating when I’m playing like this on any tour. As the LIV Tour grows and the fields get deeper and stronger and all that stuff unfolds, it's just going to be better and better. I can’t wait to see it unfold personally,” said Smith.

“I had a pretty long off-season, but I was in Australia and spending a lot of time with my family and friends. I remember having a pretty big off-season the year before as well. I didn’t really spend much time in Australia, but I did a lot of hard work in Ponte Vedra (Florida) and really sorted out a lot of stuff with my swing that I thought needed fixing for a long time. It paid off earlier in the 2022 season.”

And Smith was also honest with his answers. When asked if he is contractually obligated to wear the LIV logo, he said: “Basically, yes. I have another set of clothes made up this week without them. We haven’t really heard much from Augusta National about the logos, and for me personally, I’m really proud of where I’m at and what I’m doing. Unless it’s a problem for these guys, I’m going to wear it.”

‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

Updated 17 sec ago

‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

  • No. 10 is at ‘a crucial phase’ in his injury recovery, says the Roshn Saudi League champions’ manager Jorge Jesus
  • Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly is eagerly awaiting the return of Neymar: ‘I call him the magician because he has so much magic in his feet’

RIYADH: Neymar is working to make his comeback from injury in the first few months of next season, Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus has revealed.
The Brazilian superstar playmaker, a record signing for Al-Hilal last summer, suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury while on international duty in October.
Neymar, however, was a big part of Al-Hilal’s recent Roshn Saudi League title celebrations in Riyadh and declared himself as “feeling good” and “impatient to be back on the pitch.”
With the No. 10’s rehabilitation in full swing, Jesus is eagerly anticipating having the world-class attacker back in his plans for the upcoming campaign.
“He’s currently in a crucial phase of treatment, and we’re hopeful he might be ready to rejoin the team and start practicing by September or October,” Jesus said. “He’s a star player, he possesses exceptional talent. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a definitive answer at this point. Injuries like Neymar’s typically require 10 to 12 months for recovery.”
As someone who knows exactly what it is like to both play with and against Neymar, his Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly will be delighted to have the 32-year-old back in action. The Senegalese defender, a key part of the club’s world record-winning run earlier in the campaign, believes the re-addition of Neymar will only make Al-Hilal even better next season — as well as himself.
“It will be really important. Neymar is a really important player for us. I call him the ‘Magia’ — magician — because he has so much magic in his feet,” Koulibaly said. “When he touches the ball, he is incredible. We are waiting for him to be fit and to play with us and to make us happy and to make the supporters happy. Also to play with him — to play with someone of that level — you can only increase your own level and become better. Neymar is really important for us, and I hope that next year he will play all season and that we can win some trophies with him.”
Speaking at the recent title celebrations following Al-Hilal’s 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem, which clinched the Riyadh club’s 19th Saudi Arabian league crown, Neymar said: “I am very happy obviously. Winning titles is always good. The best thing would have been being on the pitch, but I am so happy for my teammates.
“I am fine. I am feeling good. I am impatient to be back on the pitch. The fans are unbelievable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give them the happiness they deserve, but you can be sure that next season we are going to have a lot of fun.”
Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal clinched the Roshn Saudi League title with three matches to spare and have won 29 of their 32 games thus far. Nearest challengers Al-Nassr, who are captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, are 12 points behind. Al-Hilal’s next match is at home to Al-Tai on Thursday in the Roshn Saudi League.
Al-Hilal created top-flight world football history this season by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions. The incredible run saw them overtake Welsh club The New Saints’ winning streak of 27 games in season 2016-17. Prior to that, the record stood for 44 years following Dutch giants Ajax’s 26-game winning stretch between 1971 and 1972.

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

Updated 22 May 2024

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

  • Al-Shabab defeated Najmat Jeddah in the final to earn their second futsal title
  • The national tournament featured 18 women’s teams from across the Kingdom in the knock-out tournament from May 8-20

RIYADH: After a sensational 25-match tournament that saw 339 goals, Al-Shabab FC captured their second women’s futsal title on Monday in thrilling fashion to conclude the 2024 edition of the Women’s Futsal Tournament.

With 18 of Saudi Arabia’s top women’s futsal sides competing in the second edition of the tournament, the final saw goals galore as Al-Shabab ran out winners, beating Najmat Jeddah 22-2 in the final to earn their second domestic honor.

The competition aims to inspire the growth of women’s futsal in the Kingdom, with the Saudi National Women’s Futsal team set to meet later this month in Bosnia for a training camp until June 15.

Aalia Al-Rasheed, head of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “The Women’s Futsal Tournament has demonstrated the incredible talent that lies within the women’s game in Saudi Arabia. The skill on display has been remarkable, and we congratulate all clubs for their participation in the competition.

“The unprecedented growth we are seeing in the women’s game across all levels is exciting, and we look forward to seeing how this supports our national program to continue to develop in the coming months.”

Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

Updated 22 May 2024

Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

  • Pakistan has experienced massive changes in its cricket board since T20 World Cup 2022
  • Pakistani batter will be first person to lead a team for first time in three successive World Cups

ISLAMABAD: The return of tried and tested Babar Azam as captain for the Twenty20 World Cup belies the massive changes in Pakistan cricket over the last 18 months.

Since Babar’s team lost the T20 World Cup final to England in November 2022, the Pakistan Cricket Board has had four chairmen, the selection panel has been overhauled, and the experiment with Shaheen Shah Afridi as skipper was quickly aborted.

A new head coach for the limited-overs formats joined the squad in England just weeks ahead of the June 1-29 World Cup in the US and Caribbean.

And to top it off, Pakistan will be the last team to confirm its 15-member World Cup squad as it continues to experiment with various combinations.

Babar is urging supporters to be patient, and there’s a plan in place for success.

Babar stepped down from all-formats captaincy during the tenure of Zaka Ashraf as head of the PCB after Pakistan failed to qualify for the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup in India last year.

But he was reinstated as T20 captain by Mohsin Naqvi — the fourth PCB chairman in less than 14 months — ahead of home series against New Zealand in April after Afridi lost the series in New Zealand 4-1.

Allrounder Imad Wasim and fast bowler Mohammad Amir came out of international retirement in the hope that their experience of playing in the Caribbean Premier League will benefit Pakistan in the West Indies.

South African Gary Kirsten, who was appointed last month as head coach, will gain some first-hand knowledge of the Pakistan squad during a four-match series in England that both teams are using to rehearse for the World Cup.

All these off-the-field happenings have impacted Pakistan’s preparations for the tournament.

It badly lost the away series to New Zealand, scraped to a drawn 2-2 series at home against the Black Caps and lost a T20 series against Afghanistan 2-1. A shock loss to Ireland in Dublin preceded back-to-back wins and 2-1 series result.

And so unpredictable Pakistan enters another world tournament as a team to watch because of its rich history in the T20 World Cup. It has featured in three finals, winning the title in 2009, and also reached the semifinals three other times.

One of Kirsten’s coaching tips has already resonated with the players.

“Gary told us, don’t play for the name on the back of your jersey but for the badge in front of your shirt,” Afridi told a PCB podcast. “And that stayed with me.”

The depth in its pace bowling, with the likes of Afridi, fit-again Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Amir, can pose a threat to any team. But Pakistan’s top-order batting was still unsettled going into the series in England. Left-hander Saim Ayub is yet to fire in his role after selectors decided to separate the successful T20 opening pair of Babar and Mohammad Rizwan.

Babar has faced criticism for not pushing the scoring rate in the T20 power play, particularly while batting first. Pakistan has mostly aimed for totals in the 170-180 range while other teams have crossed 200 on regular basis.

Political tensions between Pakistan and India means there hasn’t been a bilateral series for over a decade, but the ICC tournaments always attracts a huge TV audience when the archrivals meet.

Pakistan and India will play a group game on June 9 at a newly built 34,000-capacity Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York that will be the center of attention for South Asian communities.

Both teams are expected to advance to the Super 8 stage from a group that also contains tournament co-host US, Canada and Ireland.

Babar has twice gone close to lifting the trophy as captain, losing to eventual champion Australia in the 2021 semifinals and to England in the final in the Melbourne final the following year.

And for that, he’ll get the distinction of becoming the first player to lead a country in three successive T20 World Cups and will be aiming for third time lucky if his Pakistan lineup can reach the June 29 decider in Barbados.

Jeddah Superdome to host return of WWE King and Queen of the Ring

Updated 22 May 2024

Jeddah Superdome to host return of WWE King and Queen of the Ring

  • Likes of Cody Rhodes, Logan Paul and Becky Lynch will take part in the action this weekend

JEDDAH: WWE is set to return to Saudi Arabia with the double-header of SmackDown and King and Queen of the Ring this weekend at Jeddah’s Superdome.

The action will kick off on May 24 with the Kingdom’s inaugural SmackDown event, which will be broadcast live globally.

WWE superstars will battle it out in the semifinals of the the King and Queen of the Ring, with the finals taking place on May 25.

The Superdome, the world’s largest pillarless structure of its kind, will host the first King of The Ring event to take place since 2015, and the first crowning of a Queen of The Ring since the inaugural Queen’s Crown Tournament, which took place at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh in 2021.

The match card for this weekend includes:

Undisputed WWE Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Logan Paul

WWE King and Queen of the Ring is set to be headlined by Cody Rhodes and Logan Paul in a Championship vs. Championship match. Rhodes will be mounting a defense of his new Undisputed WWE Championship after he solidified his reign at WWE Backlash: France.

WWE Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Liv Morgan

Women’s World Champion Becky Lynch will put her title on the line against Liv Morgan. Lynch won the title in a battle royal after Rhea Ripley was forced to vacate the title after suffering an injury from Morgan backstage. Lynch last eliminated Morgan in the battle royal, but The Liv Morgan Revenge Tour continues with her latest shot at dethroning the champion.

Intercontinental Champion Sami Zayn vs. Chad Gable vs. Bronson Reed (Triple Threat Match)

Sami Zayn will put the Intercontinental Title on the line in a Triple Threat Match against Chad Gable and “Big” Bronson Reed at WWE King and Queen of the Ring. After ending Gunther’s historic title reign at Wrestlemania 40, Zayn was challenged by Gable despite his help in ending the longest Intercontinental Title reign in WWE history. Reed also attacked Zayn and Gable to set his own claim to the title. As a result, all three will battle for the championship.

Queen of the Ring final

There is just one match left until the Queen of the Ring Final, and Bianca Belair and Nia Jax will battle it out to make it there. Belair bested Candice LeRae and Tiffany Stratton, setting up a meeting with Jax, who took out Naomi and Jade Cargill in the tournament.

Belair and Jax have never faced each other one-on-one and with the crown just inches away, each Superstar will be out to prove herself. The winner will face Lyra Valkyria, who won her place in the final after Monday Night Raw this week, in a match against Iyo Sky.

King of the Ring final

On Friday Night SmackDown, Randy Orton and Tama Tonga will compete for a position in the King of the Ring final against Gunther, who defeated Jey Uso in the semifinal match on Monday Night Raw.

Orton made his way into the semifinal after taking out AJ Styles and Carmelo Hayes, while Tama Tonga bested Angelo Dawkins and LA Knight. Before this year, Orton had not yet won a single King of the Ring Match in his career. Now he is set on making his promise to eliminate The Bloodline to advance to the final match on Saturday night.

Saudi Arabia gears up for first Esports World Cup

Updated 22 May 2024

Saudi Arabia gears up for first Esports World Cup

  • The competition will bring together more than 2,500 gamers
  • The tournament will support the Kingdom’s efforts to elevate the world of esports and highlight its positive impact on society

RIYADH: Riyadh is set to host the first-ever Esports World Cup.

The competition, which will take place at Boulevard Riyadh City from July 4 to Aug. 25, will bring together more than 2,500 gamers representing elite teams and clubs. The event features a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in esports history.

Powered by the Esports World Cup Foundation, the tournament aims to propel the e-gaming industry forward while creating promising opportunities for players and multi-team clubs.

The largest event in esports history, it will unite a global community that includes players, fans, game producers and publishers, with a focus on fostering connections and collaborations.

The unprecedented size of the prize pool means the cup is poised to become a milestone for the EWCF, which seeks to attract top talent and celebrate the popularity of esports.

The tournament will support the Kingdom’s efforts to elevate the world of esports and highlight its positive impact on society.

It will play a vital role in promoting cultural exchange and encouraging brands and companies to invest in the sector.