World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges

The 47-year-old American’s performance over 72 holes in the next four days will decide the success of Woods Version 6.0. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges

  • The 47-year-old American returns to action at the Hero World Challenge, a tournament hosted by his eponymous foundation

ALBANY: Like waiting for Apple’s latest software update, there is a buzz of anticipation in the golf world. Tiger Woods is about to make yet another comeback.

The 47-year-old American, a 15-time major champion widely considered the greatest player ever to pick up a club, is back in action this week at the Hero World Challenge, a 20-man limited-field tournament hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Woods is a walking orthopedic textbook. To jot down everything his body has gone through and the number of reasons he has had to go under the scalpel would be a litany of medical conditions. 

But on Tuesday, when he entered the media center for a press conference, it seemed we were seeing a different Tiger Woods. The boxer’s swagger was still there, but there was no sign of any limp in his gait.

A lot has already changed over the past few years. Woods is more approachable, more thoughtful in his replies. He does not brush off controversial questions. He is more actively involved in the future of the sport, instead of passively catalyzing its growth with his individual brilliance.

As his latest comeback begins, the questions swirl. Have all his bugs been fixed? Are there any new features of his swing? Will his swing speed increase? Will his batteries have a longer life?

His performance over 72 holes in the next four days will decide the success of Woods Version 6.0. Nothing can tarnish his impeccable legacy and the world certainly will not end if he fails this week, or even in the foreseeable future. However, it will be a beautiful place if he starts contending again in his trademark Sunday red and black.

The last time he had microdiscectomy surgeries in his spine, Woods managed to put together a swing that alleviated the pressure on his back and made full use of his Popeye-like biceps. This time, it is the subtalar joint in his ankle that has been fused.

Here is what we know after his interaction with the media — Woods is pain-free in the ankle. However, because of the changes he has made, he does feel sore in other parts of his body. And he is as excited as we are to find out how he shapes up with a scorecard in his hand.

“My game feels rusty, I haven’t played in a while. I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or before that in my ankle. Other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little sorer in other areas. The surgery was a success,” Woods said.

As for the future, Woods does not see himself playing more than one tournament a month in 2024. It is likely his season will start with the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, in southern California.

During his time away from the game, Woods has been actively involved as a new player director of the PGA Tour board, sorting out the framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He hinted the board was working towards meeting the Dec. 31 deadline, which would see an infusion of funds into the PGA Tour and the creation of a new for-profit company.

“I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved and also frustrated in some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen,” said Woods.

“And December 31 is coming up very quickly, so there’s a timetable there that we would like to implement some of these changes that have not taken place. All the player directors have spent so many hours and worked tireless hours to make sure we have the best deal for all the players and the PGA Tour,” he said, adding that the Tour was still talking to other potential investors.

Woods will start the first round of the Hero World Challenge on Thursday at 7:52 p.m. Saudi time, paired with Justin Thomas.


Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

Updated 15 April 2024
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Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

  • Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the 2024 Saudi Open
  • Almulla facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer Othman Almulla looked poised to impress at the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, as he entertained media at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the event.

Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the Asian Tour event, including fellow professionals Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. He facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20.

The 37-year-old walked for three holes with journalists as he explained his thought process behind each shot and gave his views to the gathered media on the continued emergence of the game in the Kingdom, plus Golf Saudi’s exciting plans to grow golf further.

The gathered media were also given a professional coaching clinic by Golf Saudi coaches in the Saudi capital, where Golf & More will see an exciting array of onsite activities each day as the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations continue, including live DJ sessions, the authentic Sajaah Bazaar and a dedicated kid zone.

Almulla highlighted the importance of giving both children and adults a gateway into golf by turning the tournament into a festival of activity, and admitted it would be a dream come true to lift the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy on Saturday evening.

Almulla said: “The 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF is set to be another fantastic event here at Riyadh Golf Club and I am excited to compete in my national open once again. In addition to the world class golf on display, there will be attractions to keep fans of all ages entertained throughout each tournament day as the Eid celebrations are extended.

“It is vital that we use the Saudi Open as gateway to golf, and encourage more Saudis to start playing the sport. The sunset sessions put on at the end of the day’s play and the beautiful Sajaah Bazaar will attract more fans to Riyadh Golf Club to see our great sport.

“Spending time with the media today will help to drive increased participation in the sport through their understanding and knowledge of the game when they cover it. It was really interesting to be able to talk to them about some of the more intricate parts of the game. I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Almulla is part of a field headlined by LIV Golf players Henrik Stenson, David Puig, Peter Uihlein and Andy Ogletree at Riyadh Golf Club, where thanks to collaboration with the Arab Golf Federation, 14 golfers from seven different countries in the Middle East and North African region have been invited to compete.

Meanwhile, each evening the fan zone will come alive at sunset as the Golf & More offering takes center stage. Spectators are set to flock to the authentic Sajah Bazaar and enjoy live music from local DJs, all complemented by stunning firework shows and food and beverage options for all the family.


Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Updated 14 April 2024
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Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

  • Saudi owner of Golftec Dubai is offering new avenue to embrace a sport long seen as a male domain

DUBAI: Thirty-one-year-old Haya Ghassan Alsulaiman, Saudi owner of the Dubai-based golf coaching center Golftec, is hoping to encourage more women to play the sport in the Middle East.

Already one of the US’ most popular institutions for golf development, Golftec — with Alsulaiman at the helm — launched in 2023 at Dubai City Walk.

The organization was initially founded in 1995 in the basement of a Denver, Colorado, country club, and has since become a household name around the world, operating in six countries, with more than 210 locations employing in excess of 800 full-time golf coaches.

However, it remains little known in the Middle East.

Alsulaiman is ready to change that across the UAE and wider region and, in the process, empower more women to embrace a sport that has long been seen as the domain of men.

“I am used to being the only woman in a male-dominated industry,” Alsulaiman told Arab News, explaining that she had previously worked for her father’s automotive dealership in Saudi where she was the only female employee among more than 200 men.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alsulaiman would vacation in California with her family every summer, and would regularly play tennis with her father.

When her father injured his knee, he switched to golf and learned how to play with Golftec.

“It was much easier for my father to understand the sport with this type of learning facility,” she said. “Then he encouraged my sister to get involved by first becoming his caddy.

“The more she went with my father, the more she desired to play,” Alsulaiman said. “Then she suggested to take lessons with him at Golftec.”

Haya soon caught the bug and joined her father and sister in taking golf classes.

From 2014 she began playing golf each summer during the family holiday in California.

“The routine was to take a lesson or two at Golftec and then go out on the range to practice what we were taught in the lesson and then, two days after, go play on an official golf course,” she said. “That was our routine, week after week.”

Alsulaiman developed a great love for the sport. However, when she returned to Saudi after the summer, she had nowhere to practice and play.

“In Saudi there were not the facilities for golf that there are today and no coaches, so we could only play in the summer,” she said. “We played from summer to summer. The sport bonded our family. We so enjoyed it. We laughed, had fun and engaged in family friendly competition.”

After the pandemic, Alsulaiman decided to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Dubai. Following her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her own business — Golftec’s first branch in the Middle East.

The business allows her to do what she loves and, she said, encourage more women to play the sport.

While golf has become a popular sport in the UAE, with many golf courses and training centers, Alsulaiman said that there was nothing that matched Golftec’s teaching methodology, with the advanced use of motion technology and video feedback making it easy for trainees to follow. She also finds the learning environment less intimidating than that of a golf club.

“It’s relaxed and fun and is a perfect place to encourage more women to learn,” she said.

Just under a decade ago the idea of a Saudi female golfer would have been hard to imagine. Today, thanks to a slew of social reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, golf and many other sports are increasingly accessible to women across the country.

In 2020, the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund was held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, signaling a turning point for women’s golf in the Kingdom.

The event also launched a comprehensive national golf sustainability strategy that oversees the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sport.

In December 2023, the Royal Diriyah Golf Club was unveiled in an event that saw Saudi women and men take to the Greg Norman-designed golf course for the first time alongside international guests.

Abeer Al-Johani, director of the Federation Office at the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the strides women were making in the sport reflected the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“Saudi women aside, women playing golf need much more sport, more media coverage and more opportunities,” Al-Johani told Arab News. “We need similar encouragement to what men receive but I believe we are beginning to see a lot of change — a lot of women are supporting other women in the sport specifically.”

Alsulaiman and Golftec are more than playing their part in making that happen.


Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Updated 14 April 2024
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Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

  • Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining; the course was tough as ever

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Scottie Scheffler was in the lead and seemingly in control of his game Saturday in the Masters until realizing there was no such thing at Augusta National.

He posed over another beautiful shot at the flag on the 10th hole and was stunned to see it take a hard hop over the green and roll down into the bushes. He made double bogey and suddenly was one shot behind.

“Make another bogey at 11 and all of a sudden I’m probably going from in the lead to a few out of the lead and then,” Scheffler said, “you know, things happen pretty fast out there.”

It was so fast and furious that it was hard to keep up.

Six players had at least a share of the lead at one point. There was a five-way tie for the lead early on the back nine. No one was safe. It was like that to the very end.

Scheffler made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-under 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who has largely disappeared from the elite in golf and now is one round away from the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Bryson DeChambeau looked to be on the verge of a meltdown when he drove into the trees right of the 18th fairway, punched out to the short grass and then hit wedge from 77 yards that spun back into the cup for a birdie to sum up a wild Saturday.

“Easier than putting,” DeChambeau, adding that he was joking although there was some truth to that. He three-putted three times on the back nine.

Max Homa has gone 32 holes without a birdie and he was only two behind after a round of 17 pars and one bogey for a 73. Xander Schauffele has gone 25 holes without a bogey, and that goes a long way. He was five back after a 70.

Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining. The course was tough as ever, with a wind that would have felt scary if not for the day before. The greens made players feel as though they were putting on linoleum floors.

Scheffler was at 7-under 209 as he goes for a second Masters green jacket and tries to extend a dominant stretch that includes two wins on tough courses (Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass) and a runner-up finish in his last three tournaments.

“It’s nice to have that experience, but going into tomorrow, that’s really all that it is,” he said.

Morikawa made two tough pars to finish off a 69 — of those was a long birdie putt that hit the lip and spun 12 feet away. He is the only player to break par all three days at this Masters. Not bad for a someone who only found a swing key on Monday, switched putters after the first round and hasn’t had a top 10 since the first week of the year.

“If you asked me at the beginning of the week I’d be one back heading into Sunday, I would have taken that any time,” Morikawa said. “You give yourself a chance with 18 holes left, that’s all you can really do.”

Another shot back was Homa, whose last birdie was on the fourth hole of the second round. He has made 32 pars in his last 36 holes.

Eight players were separated by five shots going into the final round, where the greens are likely to be even faster, crispier and more frightening.

Tiger Woods was not among them. Neither was Rory McIlroy.

Woods, having made his Masters-record 24th consecutive cut Friday, started the third round seven shots out of the lead and hopeful of at least making his massive following think there might be more magic left in that battered 48-year-old body.

Instead, Woods posted his highest round in three decades playing the majors. He shot an 82, the third time he has failed to break 80 in a major, and the first since the 2015 US Open.

“Just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it,” Woods said.

McIlroy came to the Masters thinking this might be the year he finally got the last leg of the career Grand Slam. All he could muster was a 71 that left him 10 shots behind with 20 players in front of him.

There were no shortage of challengers.

Ludvig Aberg, the rising Swedish star playing in his first major, was among those who had a brief share of the lead until missing a pair of short par putts on the back nine. He still managed a 70 and was only three shots behind.

Another newcomer to the Masters, Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark, had the lead to himself with three straight birdies around the turn. He celebrated that good fortunate by running off five straight bogeys, putting the ball in the water on both par 5s.

And then there was DeChambeau, who started the third round tied with Scheffler and Homa.

DeChambeau kept making enough birdies to hang around and was only one shot behind until he decided to go for the green from the trees on the par-5 15th. He went well right toward the 17th fairway — the second time in as many days he played a par 5 from two holes — only this one didn’t work out so well.

He chunked his wedge and watched it tumble into the pond. He took a penalty drop, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey. And then he three-putted for bogey on the 16th. And right when it appeared to be falling apart, he made his surprise birdie to limit the damage to 75. He was four shots behind.

Scheffler didn’t escape the craziness. He reached 8 under quickly by chipping in across the green on No. 1 and making a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 3. But all it took was two holes to make it feel like his head was spinning.

What saved his day was a 7-foot par putt on No. 12 and then a 30-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th that dropped on its final turn and elicited rare emotion from Scheffler.

“C’mon, baby!” he yelled when the putt dropped.

“Things got a little dicey in the middle,” Scheffler said. “On No. 10, I hit what I thought was a decent shot 8 feet from the hole and it wound up in the bushes. I did a good job of staying patient.”

He’ll need another dose for Sunday, even with the experience of winning a Masters. Two years ago, he had a three-shot lead going into the final round and spent the morning in tears as his wife gave him soothing words of confidence.

Now his wife is home in Dallas expecting their first child at the end of the month. Scheffler brought in his best friends from home to stay with him.

“I didn’t want to be in the house all by myself this weekend. Didn’t really seem that exciting to me,” Scheffler said.

There’s plenty of that inside the ropes.


Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans

Updated 13 April 2024
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Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans

  • Sajah Bazaar to headline 2024 Saudi Open fan zone at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Fan zone will provide food, drinks from around the world

RIYADH: Visitors to this year’s Saudi Open golf tournament will also be able to enjoy live music and fireworks at the Riyadh Golf Club.
The four-day championship starts on Wednesday and as well as top-class sport promises plenty of family fun.
LIV Golf captain Henrik Stenson will headline the field, which also includes some of the leading players on the Asian Tour, like last year’s Saudi Open winner Denwit Boriboonsub.
Each day of the tournament, from 4-11 p.m., visitors will be able to visit the Sajah Bazaar where they can buy local goods like textiles and jewelry.
There will also be lots to do in the fan zone, including golf driving and putting challenges, Panna soccer, Teqball, food and drink from around the world and a children’s area.
There are also some great prizes up for grabs, with Al-Rajhi Takaful donating 50 car insurance vouchers worth SR1,000 ($267), while two lucky ticket holders will see their general admission tickets upgraded to hospitality tickets and get the chance to watch world class golf from the best seats in the house.
Two winners will be randomly selected daily, while each person who takes a photo of a golfer on the Al-Rajhi teebox and posts it to social media with #Golf&More will be entered into the prize draw to win car insurance.
The fan zone opens on Wednesday and Thursday from 1-11 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.


Scheffler, DeChambeau and Homa share lead at windy Masters

Updated 13 April 2024
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Scheffler, DeChambeau and Homa share lead at windy Masters

  • Blustery conditions played havoc with the world’s top golfers at Augusta National
  • 15-time major winner Tiger Woods grinded out a 23-hole walk to set a record by making his 24th consecutive Masters cut

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler shared the lead with fellow Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa after battling fierce winds in Friday’s second round of the 88th Masters.

Blustery conditions played havoc with the world’s top golfers at Augusta National, where 15-time major winner Tiger Woods grinded out a 23-hole walk to set a record by making his 24th consecutive Masters cut.

Scheffler, the 2022 Masters winner, fired a par 72 to stand on six-under 138 after 36 holes alongside Homa, who shot 71 in quest of his first major title, and DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion and round-one leader who shot 73.

“It was very difficult out there,” DeChambeau said of the brisk breeze. “It was a good challenge. I had to back off quite a few times. I’ve never experienced anything like this out here at Augusta National before.”

Scheffler had three birdies and three bogeys but was proud of seven back-nine pars while tree limbs danced while brutal winds gusted.

“Conditions were really tough out there,” he said. “Proud of how I fought and kept myself in the tournament. I was trying to make a bunch of pars to stay in the golf tournament. Proud of how I did that.”

PGA Tour star Scheffler and Saudi-backed LIV Golf’s DeChambeau, from opposite sides in golf’s civil war, were set for a weekend showdown on a major stage, the only avenue for such a clash in a divided era.

“It’s different, not being able to play most of the same events and seeing how successful he’s been out there,” DeChambeau said of Scheffler.

“He’s the best player in the world and it’s going to be a lot of fun competing and seeing what he can do compared to what the rest of the field can do, what I can do. I’m looking forward to it, I really am.”

Scheffler, who could join Woods as the only players to win the Masters twice while ranked world number one, plunked his approach into Rae’s Creek at the par-5 13th and made bogey to fall out of the solo lead.

Homa birdied two of the first four holes and made his lone bogey at 11.

“I struck the ball really well,” Homa said. “Most proud of our course management and just controlling thoughts and expectation.”

Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard, among 20 Masters newcomers trying for the first rookie win since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, closed with back-to-back bogeys to fire a 73 and stand fourth on 140.

Woods, meanwhile, had a second-round 72 to share 22nd on 145, breaking the old Masters cut streak record he shared with Gary Player and Fred Couples.

“(I’ll) text Freddy and give him a little needle,” Woods said.

Five-time Masters winner Woods had to play his last five holes of round one on Friday after storms delayed Thursday’s start.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve been out for a while, competing, grinding. It has been a long 23 holes, a long day.”

Woods has struggled to walk rounds since suffering severe leg injuries in a 2021 car crash, but went to practice after his hefty walk.

“Just need some food and some caffeine, and I’ll be good to go,” Woods said.

Woods, whose only missed Masters cut was as an amateur in 1996, is in his first major since right ankle fusion surgery last April due to injuries from the accident.

Spain’s Jon Rahm, the 2023 Masters champion, struggled to a four-over 76 to stand on 149, one inside the cut line, and stretched the longest active streak of made cuts in majors to 18 events.

“Fighting it all day, never comfortable. I had to play really good golf and get lucky a couple of times with gusts. It was a bad day not to have it,” Rahm said. “I still made cut. Two rounds to make up 12 shots. It has been done.”

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who needs a victory to complete a career grand slam, fired a 77 to stand on 148 despite a double bogey and three bogey.

“I still think I can go out tomorrow and shoot a low one, get back into red numbers, and have half a chance going into Sunday,” said the Northern Irishman.

Among 29 players missing the cut were fourth-ranked reigning US Open champion Wyndham Clark, Norway’s sixth-ranked Viktor Hovland and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth.