France's Perez holds on to claim Abu Dhabi title – Arab News

France's Perez holds on to claim Abu Dhabi title – Arab News
ABU DHABI: Victor Perez endured nail-biting drama over the closing stretch of the Abu Dhabi Championship, before edging a one-shot win on Sunday.
The 30-year-old Frenchman holed out his bunker shot on the par-3 17th hole in remarkable fashion to get to 19-under, before visiting the fairway bunker and making a bogey on the par-5 18th hole at Yas Links Abu Dhabi.
Perez finally closed with a six-under par 66 for an overall total of 18-under par 270.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee paid the price of a bogey on the 17th hole when he missed a par putt from less than five feet. He almost holed out his third shot for an eagle on the 18th which could have forced a play-off.
However, his ball rolled back toward the pin and stopped agonizingly close. The birdie saw him finish on 68 and in tied-second place alongside Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg (67).
Ireland’s 51-year-old Padraig Harrington, who was trying to become the oldest winner on the European Tour, was in solo fourth place at 16-under par. He started his round with a bogey, but made seven birdies in his round after that.
The win was Perez’s third on the tour in 91 starts and moves him to the top of the European Tour rankings with 1,335 points. He is likely to climb to 60th place in the world, up from 117th.
“It feels fantastic,” said an emotional Perez. “I thought you always need a bit of fortune and there’s always the deciding shots coming down the stretch that can make or break. To hole that bunker shot on 17 is probably going to be a highlight.
“I was just trying to fly the ball all the way to the hole and if it came up a bit heavy, it was probably going to release down to the hole and probably have an 8-footer for par. I was expecting Sebastian to hole his putt for birdie.
“In my head, I was going best case scenario, probably one ahead or tied going into the last hole, but I come up with a two-shot lead, which is always massive.
“The other person is going to have to do something great and you’re going to have to do something poor to lose a two-shot lead. I almost did, but thankfully, a six was enough.”
Italy’s Francesco Molinari (71) and Sweden’s Alex Noren (68) were tied for the fifth place at 14-under.
The European Tour next moves down the road to Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic, a second Rolex Series event in successive weeks. World number one Rory McIlroy is scheduled to play the tournament at Emirates Golf Club.
BERLIN: Bayern Munich needed a late goal from Joshua Kimmich to salvage a 1-1 draw at home against Cologne in the Bundesliga on Tuesday as the 10-time defending champions were left waiting for their first win of 2023.
Kimmich struck in the 90th minute with a central shot in under the crossbar from around 30 meters.
It denied the visitors a statement victory after taking the lead in the fourth minute and then fending off all of Bayern’s attacks. But after Cologne managed to only half-clear the ball, Kimmich returned it with all the power he could muster from his right boot.
Bayern had been looking for their first win of the year after a 1-1 draw in Leipzig the previous Friday in their first game following the extended winter break.
After 10 straight victories across all competitions before the World Cup, Bayern were keen to kick off another winning run.
Cologne had started 2023 with a 7-1 rout of Werder Bremen — but Bayern is a different caliber.
Still, Ellyes Skhiri stunned the favorites with Cologne’s opener in the fourth minute, going behind Alphonso Davies at the far post to guide in Julian Chabot’s header from a corner.
Bayern’s new goalkeeper Yann Sommer had to be alert to deny Skhiri a second goal on a counterattack.
Both coaches reacted with two changes at the break and Bayern increased its pressure in the second half — only to be met by more resolute defending.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann brought on French forward Mathys Tel for Davies in a final gamble with eight minutes of regular time remaining, but it was Kimmich who provided the breakthrough.
Bayern moved four points clear of Leipzig, who routed last-place Schalke 6-1 away earlier.
Eintracht Frankfurt, Union Berlin and Freiburg can all cut Bayern’s lead to three points by winning their respective games Wednesday. Freiburg host Frankfurt and Union visits Bremen.
Also Tuesday, Hertha Berlin dropped deeper into relegation trouble with a chastening 5-0 loss at home to Wolfsburg, just days before it hosts city rival Union for the derby.
While Hertha and Schalke remained mired in the relegation zone, Stuttgart moved out of it despite conceding an injury time equalizer to Hoffenheim for a draw 2-2.
Stuttgart midfielder Naouirou Ahamada set up Serhou Guirassy for his team’s equalizer in first-half injury time, then Wataru Endo for the equalizer in the 77th.
But Ahamada were sent off with his second yellow card for his celebrations, and Andrej Kramarić scored very late – his second of the game – to end Hoffenheim’s run of four defeats in a row.
KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Kevin Na, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, Jason Kokrak and Talor Gooch have been confirmed for the Asian Tour’s flagship $5 million PIF Saudi International, powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will take place at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club from February 2-5.

The four Golf Saudi ambassadors join a strong field, featuring World No. 3 Cameron Smith and defending champion Harold Varner III, who memorably secured a thrilling last-gasp victory with an unforgettable 90-foot eagle putt on 18 last year. The Asian Tour’s top 30 players at the close of the 2022 season have also earned a spot at the big-money event.

Kokrak secured three PGA Tour titles, the CJ Cup, Charles Schwab Challenge and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, in a 13-month period from 2020-2021, while evergreen golfer Kevin Na has five PGA Tour wins, including the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2021, and one Asian Tour victory — the Volvo Masters of Asia — under his belt in a long and storied career.

American star Gooch, 31, won the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic in 2021, and Spaniard Lopez-Chacarra reached No. 2 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking system before turning professional and claiming his first tournament win in just five starts last season.

Na, who finished T28 at least year’s PIF Saudi International, said: “I really enjoyed playing the Royal Greens course last year, it was a real challenge and I am looking forward to playing here again in the PIF Saudi International this year, it is the perfect tune-up for the coming season.”

Kokrak, who also finished in the top 50 at Royal Greens last time out, added: “The PIF Saudi International is a highly regarded event which always draws a strong field and it is a great privilege to be teeing it up in the tournament again this year.”
MELBOURNE: Stefanos Tsitsipas closed in on a first Grand Slam title by reaching the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday in impressive fashion, as Victoria Azarenka also powered into the last four.
Tsitsipas was a convincing 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 winner over unseeded Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic and faces Karen Khachanov next.
The 24-year-old Tsitsipas is the highest remaining seed left at three and with Melbourne’s large Greek community roaring him on, his title charge is gathering pace.
“I’m feeling great with my tennis. I don’t think I felt so good in a long time,” said Tsitsipas, after making the Australian Open semi-finals for a fourth time.
“I’m a different player, playing different. My mentality is different.”
Tsitsipas, who will become world number one should he win the title, was pretty much in control throughout against the 71st-ranked Lehecka.
But he did lose his cool at one point in the third set, smacking the ball into the wall after losing a point as a ball boy went to collect it nearby.
“What I did, definitely I’m not happy about that. I shouldn’t have done it,” Tsitsipas said about the incident.
The other quarter-final at Rod Laver Arena between Russia’s Khachanov and Sebastian Korda had been warming up nicely until the American hurt his wrist.
The 18th seed went through when Korda retired in the third set, down 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 3-0.
The 22-year-old Korda, who had been attempting to emulate his father Petr’s Australian Open victory in 1998, said afterwards that he could barely hold the racquet.
He said he first felt the injury while playing the Adelaide International this month, where he made the final and forced a championship point before being beaten by Novak Djokovic.
But it had not bothered him in the opening four rounds at Melbourne Park until he hit a return in the second set.
“Volleying was almost impossible for me, so it was a little tough,” he said.
For Khachanov it is a second consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, having reached the last four at the 2022 US Open.
Nine-time Melbourne champion Djokovic is still on the scene, with a quarter-final against Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.
The other quarter-final is an all-American clash between Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul.
Azarenka is back in the last four in Melbourne for the first time since she won the tournament in 2013 and will face big-serving Elena Rybakina.
The Belarusian Azarenka, who also triumphed in 2012, secured an impressive straight-sets victory over Jessica Pegula.
Third seed Pegula was hotly tipped to win the title but the American simply had no answers to Azarenka’s pounding forehand groundstrokes.
The 33-year-old Azarenka rolled back the years in a surprisingly one-sided quarter-final to triumph 6-4, 6-1.
“Well, it hurts to beat her because I always want her to do well,” the 24th seed said of Pegula, a close friend and practice partner.
Asked how her young son Leo would receive his mum’s latest achievement, Azarenka said: “He’s more worried about his football and when we’re going to play again.
“He definitely wants his mum to be home.”
Leo will have to wait at least a few more days because Azarenka faces Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina on Thursday for a place in the final.
Rybakina blasted her way into the semi-finals with a ruthless 6-2, 6-4 win over Jelena Ostapenko.
The 23-year-old Rybakina sent down 11 aces to blow former French Open champion Ostapenko off court in 79 minutes.
The 22nd seed has blasted 35 aces so far, more than any other woman at the tournament.
Ominously, she said her serve is better now than when she won Wimbledon last year.
“I gained even more power. It’s my weapon on the court and of course we are trying to work on it,” she said.
GAZA: In Gaza’s only boxing club for girls, 15-year-old Farah Abu Al-Qomsan is practicing her moves, trading jabs and punches with the other girls training with coach Osama Ayoub at the Palestine Boxing Center.
Since taking to the sport at the age of nine, Farah has found a release from the daily stresses of life in Gaza, a narrow coastal strip where some 2.3 million Palestinians live blockaded by both Israel and neighboring Egypt.
“We used to train in a small garage. Now we train according to the full rules and release bad energy,” the 15-year-old girl, at the territory’s first women-only boxing center.
Six years ago, Ayoub, started with two girls. As more joined, they moved out of the garage and began training on the beach or in rented spaces before moving into the new club building.
“The girls are ready. I trained them hard for five years,” said Ayoub. “We are setting an example.”
Now around 40 girls train in the center with its full-size boxing ring, training equipment and posters of boxing heroes such as Mike Tyson on the walls, defying expectations in a region where boxing has traditionally been a sport for men.
“Some people used to tell me ‘Why boxing, what are you going to benefit from it, go and learn something girly’,” Farah said. “I benefit a lot from boxing and today my ambition is to represent my Palestinian people and take part in world championships.”
Riyadh: Australian professional golfer Cameron Smith has joined a growing list of top international players confirming their participation in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.
The event will be hosted by the Royal Greens in King Abdullah Economic City between Feb. 2 and 5 and will have a total prize pool of $5 million.
Smith, the third-ranked Australian winner of the 2022 PGA Championship, and The Open champion will take part alongside a group of elite golfers including American Harold Varner, winner of last year’s tournament, and the top 30 players from the Asian Tour.
Although he finished fourth last year, Smith has been tipped as a title contender this year following his victory in The Open, held at St. Andrews, in Scotland in July.
Smith said: “The Saudi International championship is one of the tournaments that includes the biggest names in the season, and it is great to participate in a tournament of this size.
“I am looking forward to meeting some familiar faces alongside the stars of the Asian Tour. My experience was distinguished at the Royal Greens last year,” he added.
Last year, Golf Saudi entered a 10-year partnership with the Asian Tour. As a result of that alignment, the $5 million PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers has become the opening event on the Asian Tour’s annual calendar.


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