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 Yash Mudgal
Yash Mudgal
Yash Mudgal is a Senior Editor at Gulf Times sports section. Prior to joining Gulf Times in 2012, he was with a leading daily in India. At Gulf Times, Yash mostly covers Olympic sports although his interests include tennis and cricket too.
The silver winning Qatar volleyball team with Qatar Olympic Committee president HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani
Qatar win silver on final day of Beach Games

Qatar ended their ANOC World Beach Games campaign with a valiant silver medal in 4x4 volleyball Wednesday. At the Katara Cultural Village, the hosts went down fighting to the United States 2-0 (18-21, 24-26). It was a golden double for the USA as their women also won gold defeating Brazil 2-0 (21-16, 21-9). Once again it was Cherif Younousse who excelled for the hosts, but this time his side just fell short. With his superb performance in front of the cheering home crowd he scored 23 points, including 18 off the attack. Saif Elmajid scored 10 points and Ziad Benlouaer had two of the seven blocks that Qatar had in the match. The first set was tight, but two huge blocks in a row pushed the Americans firmly in front, and they won 21-18. US men's and women's teams celebrate after winning doubles in volleyball After losing the first set, a sensational double recovery gave Qatar the chance to go 15-14 up in the second and they took it to make it 21-all. Later, the hosts saved four match points in a row, but small errors undid them. “It was a great final. We played superbly but our best was not enough. Though we had beaten the Americans in the pool play, they have changed their tactics and roster. Now they were more balanced than before. If we had taken the second set, anything could have happened,” Qatar coach Mariano Baracetti said. “We tried our best within our limited resources. I feel the silver medal is still a creditable finish for us. We’ll try to build more strongly on this. Also I hope the FIVB would try to develop this format further in future as this has a good potential to grow,” he said. The Qatar team had only three weeks of preparation before the event, and Younousse’s regular partner on the World beach tour, Ahmed Tijan, also had to sit out the competition as he was recovering from a knee injury. “We felt the loss of Tijan throughout the tournament, but it was hurting in the final. We did not have matching bench strength as the Americans had. Still we played a superb game and tried to stretch them as much as we could,” Qatar’s defender Denis Messelmani said. “We’re the number one team in the world right now, so we’re accepting challenges, all around the world,” USA’s Casey Patterson said. “Each of us found our role. Tonight we decided to just ride out that line-up until we needed to switch. Nothing ever happened, everyone was in the zone, so as a veteran I knew that that was more important than playing time. So we tried to keep that flow going, keep the guys comfortable and getting better and better.” The men’s bronze was claimed by Indonesia, who secured a hard-earned 2-1 (21-13, 19-21, 15-11) win over Poland. “This is Indonesia’s first medal of the Games. We only have three teams here and volleyball is the junior team. Our target was top four, so to win the bronze medal was beyond our expectation. This team consists of some very young talent and for everyone this is their very first time in an international event. So after this we will make sure we train harder, we will be more motivated,” said Indonesia’s star player Rendy Licardo. Earlier in the day, the women’s bronze-medal was clinched by Canada, who secured a 17-21, 21-15, 16-14 win over Australia.

(From left) Liman player Alksandar Ratkov, FIBA 3x3 director Ignacio Soriano, Qatar Basketball Federation secretary-general Ali al-Malki and Doha player Nedim Muslic at a pre-event press conference on the eve of the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Doha Masters yesterday. PICTURES: Othman Khalid
Two Qatar teams for Doha Masters

Two Qatar teams — Katara and Doha — are all set to take part in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour season-opening Doha Masters, which will held at the Katara Amphitheater today and tomorrow. This is the first World Tour event to be played in Doha, which has previously hosted the FIBA 3x3 All Stars. The 12 participating teams will compete for $75,000 and points to climb up the World Tour standings. Unlike last year, the Masters events winners will not qualify directly for the World Tour Final. The top 12 teams in the standings after the last Masters event in Utsunomiya, Japan, will head to the final, to be held at the same venue on November 2-3. “It’s a pleasure to be here in Qatar once again. We have been coming to Qatar since 2013, very successfully. It is the first time we are organising World Tour in Qatar. This is the first event of the season and we have a record-high 12 teams for this season, which is an extended one,” FIBA 3x3 director Ignacio Soriano said yesterday. “We have top teams ready for the show, which will be held from April to October this year so that the teams can get year-long exposure for more than US $1 million prize-money in the season,” he said. Talking about the game’s debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics he said: “Yes… next year is Olympic year so this season is important for the players to earn ranking points.” He also expressed his best wishes for Qatar teams in the event. “The entire world will be watching Qatar this weekend. Qatar was 2014 World Champion and again we expect Doha teams to succeed in the event,” he said. Serbian team Liman, who won three Masters events last year, have been seeded No.1 and will be pitted in Pool A against Pasig Chooks from basketball-crazy Philippines. The team will feature familiar faces in ex-Novi Sad player Nikola Pavlovic and French star Angelo Tsagarakis. Local hopeful Katara makes it a very interesting group.  After a bitter end to a brilliant 2018, where they stunningly lost in the quarter-finals in the Bloomage Final in Beijing, Liman will be out to make an early statement and will play Katara to open the event today. However, Liman will be without their star player Stefan Stojacic aka ‘Mr Robot’ who sustained a right calf injury and is out for six weeks. “We are eagerly waiting for the start of the season and are ready for it. We hope to start on a winning note,” Liman’s Alksandar Ratkov said. Liman’s main challengers for the title will be fellow Serbs Novi Sad, who remained unbeaten last year. They won 32 straight games to stamp their authority, but this season they will have to step it up another level to stay ahead of the pack. Novi Sad are seeded second and headline Pool B alongside Tokyo Dime from Japan and Doha. No.3 seed, Riga Ghetto from Latvia, who lost the decider of the Bloomage Beijing Final to Novi Sad last year, are in Pool C and face a mouth-watering clash against No.6 seed Moscow Inanomo while Balanga Chooks from the Philippines round out the group. Pool D looms as the group of death and will be a Slovenian showdown with No.4 seed Piran and No.5 seed Ljubljana headlining. No.12 seed Mount-Royal U McGill from Canada — who won the FISU World University League last year — will be looking to spoil the party. “I am very excited to see World Tour come to Doha. It will be my first time to play at this level. I think it will be very challenging as all the top teams are here,” Doha team’s Nedim Muslic said. Speaking on the occasion, Qatar Basketball Federation secretary-general Ali al-Malki said, “We welcome all the teams for the season-opener in Doha. We also have our teams and hope they will do well in the tournament to start the season on a good note.”

Al Rayyan and Police players, coaches and QVA officials pose with the Qatar Volleyball Cup trophy. PICTURE: Jayaram
Bragging rights at stake as Police face champs Rayyan

Police, who have lost only three games this season, faces yet another big test in the Qatar Volleyball Cup final when they take on defending champions Al Rayyan at the Qatar Volleyball Association (QVA) Indoor Hall today. The newly-crowned Qatar Volleyball League champions are high on confidence despite second-placed Rayyan being bolstered by two top-class professional players — Marko Vukosinovic and Kamil Rychlicki — for the match, a repeat of the last year’s final.  “We have played superb volleyball throughout the year and we as a team are a confident lot going into the final,” Police coach Damian Arrendondo told Gulf Times on the eve of the final. This is the fifth clash of the season between the two teams, with Al Rayyan and Police clinching two wins apiece. Police have suffered only three losses this season and two of them have been against Rayyan. First, they lost the Super Cup to Rayyan, before yet another loss in the Arab Club Championships in Tunis. Al Wakrah handed Police their third loss in the second match of the best-of-three semi-finals in the ongoing competition. “Yes, they are an experienced club and have a much stronger side now with the inclusion of two professionals, but we have ammunition to overcome them,” Arrendondo said. Police have defeated Rayyan in their both the league encounters. On the other hand, two-time champions Rayyan are aiming for their second domestic title of the season having won the season-opening Super Cup. Under their Brazilian coach Carlos Schwanke, who guided them to unprecedented six titles last year, Rayyan have a good chance to retain the Cup. Rayyan first won the Cup in 2016 defeating El Jaish but failed to retain after losing to Al Arabi the next year. “Yes, they have the feeling of being there and done that, but after winning the league, my boys are also upbeat and raring to go,” Police coach said. John Chigbo will lead the Police team, which has the firepower of Mikko Oivanen and Willner Riva. Both the finalists held off their respective rivals, winning the third of the best-of-three semi-finals on Tuesday. Police overpowered a gritty Al Wakrah Club 27-29, 25-18, 41-39, 25-19 in two hours and two minutes, while Rayyan defeated three-time champions Al Arabi 25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 25-21 in 110 minutes. Rayyan will be without their regular captain Mubarak Dahi Waleed. “We will be playing without Waleed as he is injured, but we have a very good chance of retaining the Cup,” Schwanke said. QVA board member Mohamed Salem al-Kuwari has announced the winners will get QR300,000 in prize-money, while runners-up will pocket QR200,000.

Commercial Bank Group CEO Joseph Abraham (left) and Qatar Golf Association (QGA) president Hassan al-Nuaimi (centre) present the Mother of Pearl Trophy to South African golfer Justin Harding after his win in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club yesterday. PICTURES: Jayaram
Harding’s nervous wait ends with Qatar Masters win

It took nine years and 54 starts for Justin Harding to taste victory on the European Tour. But he “didn’t enjoy” the “nerve-wracking” 45-minute anxious wait on the final day of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after he carded a final round 66 at the Doha Golf Club yesterday. Harding was one of 15 golfers who started the day three strokes behind 54-hole leader Oliver Wilson, but he made three early birdies to claim a share of the lead, but dropped down the field after two bogeys.  Meanwhile, South Korea’s Jinho Choi notched a 64 to claim the clubhouse lead at 11-under-par. However, Harding rallied to snatch the clubhouse lead with a overall score of 13-under, but was nervous, waiting for the chasing pack to finish, with nine players tied for second at one point. “It feels good. Especially coming off, it’s a situation I haven’t really been in. I didn’t enjoy it but it’s good fun, I’m glad it happened and now we move on,” Harding, who was playing without full playing privileges after finishing third on last season’s Asian Tour, said after his round. Harding was playing on a reduced schedule this year as a category 18 player, with category 17 and lower players having full status. Victory earns him a full card. With the victory he is within sight of securing a Masters debut as he is also projected to move just outside the world’s top 50 when the rankings are updated today. The top 50 on April 1 receive an invite to the year’s first major at Augusta National. The South African, who is one of the most consistent players on the tour who failed to emerge as champions, gave credit to his strong mindset for the win on Qatar Masters debut.  “Yes, quite a bit… seriously quite a bit credit goes to my strong mindset,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s fantastic. It’s still sinking in. I didn’t quite think it was enough, I thought there might be a play-off but I’m happy to get over the line eventually. I’ve been knocking on the door a little recently. It’s rewarding seeing the hard graft and change in mindset – seeing what’s involved and what’s going on. I’m really happy.” Talking about his final round the Harding said: “I had to stay patient. I got off to a good start, made a couple of birdies and lost my head around the turn. My caddie Alan said we’re still in it and to make a couple on the back. I managed to keep myself in it and made a couple. I birdied 17 and 18, which was huge. I didn’t think 13 was clear, I thought there would be a play-off with how scores were looking on the back nine, but I’m happy to get over the line.” The victory which earned him $291,660, his fifth winner’s cheque in nine months from four different countries, having  claimed back-to-back Sunshine Tour wins in May and repeating the feat on the Asian Tour in July. He becomes the fifth South African winner of this event after Darren Fichardt, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Branden Grace - who successfully defended the Mother of Pearl trophy in 2016. South Africans Christiaan Bezuidenhout, George Coetzee and Erik van Rooyen, Spaniards Jorge Campillo and Nacho Elvira, Swede Anton Karlsson, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, England’s Wilson and Choi were locked in a European Tour record nine-way tie for second. Overnight leader Wilson, who was also looking for a full European Tour status, had only one bogey over the first three rounds but was undone by three in the final. A birdie on the par-5 18th gave him a one-under 71 and a share of second. Wilson, who played in the 2008 Ryder Cup, picked up a cheque for $77,265. He began the tournament 45th on the money list, and needs to finish inside the top 110 at the end of the season to earn a card for next year’s European Tour. Leading final round scores 275 — Justin Harding (RSA) 68-68-73-66  277 — Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA) 68-68-71-70, Anton Karlsson (SWE) 72-66-70-69, Oliver Wilson (ENG) 69-68-69-71, Jorge Campillo (ESP) 72-69-68-68, George Coetzee (RSA) 68-68-73-68, Jin-ho Choi (KOR) 72-69-72-64, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (RSA) 72-71-66-68, Erik Van Rooyen (RSA) 69-68-70-70, Nacho Elvira (ESP) 71-67-69-70  278 — Andy Sullivan (ENG) 70-71-69-68, Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) 72-68-70-68, Thomas Detry (BEL) 70-68-70-70  279 — Adri Arnaus (ESP) 67-70-72-70, Maximilian Kieffer (GER) 69-71-72-67, Jeff Winther (DEN) 70-70-72-67, Nick Cullen (AUS) 69-70-68-72

South Africau2019s George Coetzee in action during the second round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. PICTURES: Jayaram
Coetzee shares three-way lead at halfway mark

South African George Coetzee is blooming again at Doha Golf Club as he fired his second straight four-under round of 68 at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. Coetzee rode his momentum into a relatively calmer day two, firing three birdies on the front nine, and another one on the par five 10th, before keeping the slate clean on the rest of the holes. “I’m happy to be playing some better golf, making some putts and hitting some good shots,” said Coetzee, who has scored four top-ten finishes in the Qatar Masters. The South African was making his seventh consecutive appearance at the event having finished second in 2013. The 32-year-old golfer has missed his last two cuts on the European Tour.  “I’m in a better place mentally. I played well in parts in the WGC-Mexico Championship and hit some good shots in Oman last week – mixed in with a couple of blunders – but I feel like things are falling into place this week.” All four of Coetzee’s European Tour wins so far have come in Africa but he has found himself a happy hunting ground in the Middle East as he looks for win number five. Coetzee reached a career-high 41st in the world after finishing second in Qatar in 2013, but started this week ranked 243rd after just one top-20 finish in his last 25 events. “I feel like everything is slowly getting into place. I don’t know when it’s going to be there for four rounds but hopefully I’ll be awake and ready to reap the rewards,” he said. South Africa has been the most successful nation in the history of this event, claiming five wins out of 21 stagings and Justin Harding was alongside countryman Coetzee and France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera at eight-under after round two.  The 33-year-old Harding sound satisfied with his performance. “I’m very happy,” said Harding. “It was a tough day starting out but the wind settled down a bit later on. I hit some good shots and could have holed a couple more putts but I’m happy to put myself in this position after two days and we’ll see what happens.” Earlier, Lorenzo-Vera took advantage of moderate morning conditions to set the clubhouse target with a second successive 68, mixing five birdies with a sole blemish. “Today, I had a lack of energy in the middle of the round. I had a three-putt from eight metres for an eagle on the 18th, and then made a bogey on the first after a poor tee shot and an even worse lay-up,” said Lorenzo-Vera, who is looking for his first European Tour win following some near-misses in recent years. He suffered a mid-round stutter before bouncing back with birdies on both the par-3s on the front nine but handled it well to make a comeback. “I’m happy with how I handled it and played my way back into the round.” “It was nice at the beginning. We were downwind on the 10th, so had a short second shot into the green which were really good – very grainy, but still very fair. It was just a bit harder in the middle of the round. It was a really early wake-up call and I lost a bit of focus, but that was the only difference compared to yesterday,” the Frenchman said. Another South African, 2003 champion Darren Fichardt, also had his share of limelight yesterday as he carded an impressive eight-under, the lowest score of the day. England’s Oliver Wilson, who has lost his European Tour card twice before, was hoping to take full advantage of his opportunity with a 68 yesterday following a 69 on Thursday to sit alongside three other players on 7-under-par. “I’m very pleased and to be bogey-free for two days is something I’m delighted with,” said Wilson, who won twice on the Challenge Tour last year. “I have experience around this course, which helps, and I’ve been playing solid, hitting a lot of fairways and finding the middle of the greens. “Last week, I got one step closer to getting into the field for the Qatar Masters each day. I’d already booked my flights to Doha so I was prepared and to get the nod after my final round was great. It’s hard not to put pressure on yourself. It’s a different position when you can plan a schedule and you know you have 25 or 30 events, you can be a bit more patient – but I don’t have that, I don’t know how many events I’m going to get in. “I’m just trying to improve. I’m really pleased with what I’ve done in the last year, I’m moving in the right direction and getting more confidence in my game. There’s still a long way to go but, hopefully, the results will come and at the end of the year I can look back, be pleased, and have a schedule for next year.” Wilson is joined by South Africa’s Erik Van Rooyen, Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura and Spaniard Adri Arnaus one stroke adrift the leaders while a group of eight players are on 6-under-par including Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Australia’s Deyen Lawson, who made his second hole-in-one of the season at the 17th. The first one came at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December. LEADING SECOND ROUND SCORES 136: George Coetzee (South Africa) 68-68, Justin Harding (South Africa) 68-68, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (France) 68-68 137: Adri Arnaus (Spain) 67-70, Masahiro Kawamura (Japan) 69-68, Erik Van Rooyen (South Africa) 69-68, Oliver Wilson (England) 69-68 138: Kristoffer Broberg (Sweden) 71-67, Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium) 68-70, Thomas Detry (Belgium) 70-68, Nacho Elvira (Spain) 71-67, Anton Karlsson (Sweden) 72-66, Jacques Kruyswijk (South Africa) 71-67, Deyen Lawson (Australia) 70-68, Richie Ramsay (Scotland) 68-70 139: Alejandro Canizares (Spain) 71-68, Nick Cullen (Australia) 69-70, Bradley Dredge (Wales) 68-71, Kurt Kitayama (USA) 69-70, Jordan Smith (England) 71-68, Paul Waring (England) 69-70 140: Thomas Aiken (South Africa) 71-69, Gaganjeet Bhullar (India) 69-71, Ashley Chesters (England) 70-70, Jens Dantorp (Sweden) 72-68, Darren Fichardt (South Africa) 76-64, Oliver Fisher (England) 73-67, Gavin Green (Malaysia) 71-69, Maximilian Kieffer (Germany) 69-71, Hugo Leon (Chile) 68-72, Yusaku Miyazato (Japan) 69-71, Sebastian Soderberg (Sweden) 72-68, Justin Walters (South Africa) 67-73, Jeff Winther (Denmark) 70-70, Fabrizio Zanotti (Paraguay) 72-68

South Africau2019s Darren Fichardt. (Twitter/Darrenfichardt1)
Fichardt’s eight-under round puts former winner back in spotlight

Former champion from South Africa Darren Fichardt had his share of limelight yesterday as he shot a superb eight-under par, the lowest score of the day, in the second round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The 44-year-old, who had only four top-ten finishes last year and finished tied 40th in last week’s Oman Open, produced eight spectacular birdies in the morning session at the Doha Golf Club to finish the day tied 22nd at four-under. “Today I found something on the greens before I teed off and I managed to make a nice putt for birdie on the first hole and the third hole, and just carried on and it all started getting bigger and bigger,” said Fichardt, who had back-to-back birdies twice — on fifth-sixth and 13th-14th holes. Talking about his poor first round on Thursday where he carded a four-over with five bogeys, the five-time winner on the European Tour said, “Yesterday, I hit the ball really well. But I putted horrendously. I was very disappointed on the greens. “I wasn’t releasing. I was trying to hit out on it to start the ball rolling sooner, but I was hitting it down into the grain and it was jumping all over the place.” Remembering his 2003 victory here at the Doha Golf Club, he said: “The guys here have been giving me a lot of uphill this week, saying how much hair I had. I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since I last lifted the trophy here. Time has certainly flown.” India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is also in the Fichardt bunch, was a bit disappointed with his one-under second round. Bhullar made a fine start in difficult conditions with a three-under 69 after the first round. “I hit the ball really well today… I think I hit better then yesterday. But I missed a lot of putts today. Though I managed to finish the day with a birdie and hope to keep the momentum till Sunday,” the 30-year-old, who won his maiden European Tour title in Fiji last August, said. However, the only other Indian in the fray, four-time European Tour winner SSP Chowrasia’s wretched run continued as he failed to make the cut.

Gaganjeet Bhullar
Bhullar cards 69 in quest for second European title

Gaganjeet Bhullar was within striking distance for his second European Tour title, carding a three-under in the opening round for the $1.75mn Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. The 30-year-old held his own and shot a 69 in difficult conditions to stay tied 10th with 18 others after a windswept first round. Starting on back nine yesterday, Bhullar looked like he was going to emulate his opening day 67 from his 2014 Qatar debut, when he went five-under after the first 10 holes. However, a double bogey on the 11th set him back. Five years ago, Bhullar was unable to reproduce the same form, battling his way to aggregate a nine-under for tied 22nd place, while Spanish star Sergio Garcia claimed the title with 16-under. “It was a good opening day. I started off well from the 10th and I was minus five in the first 10 holes. Then I was a bit unlucky and had a double bogey, losing an odd ball. That was the only blemish I had today and off the remaining holes I parred to finish with three-under,” Bhullar told Gulf Times. Bhullar is the most successful Indian golfer on the Asian Tour after winning the co-sanctioned Fiji International last year. The 30-year-old broke the tie with Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal, who have eight titles on the continental circuit. Talking about his first round scores, he said: “It is a decent score, I would say. I feel it is a good start to the tournament. The course played in good shape – fairways, greens and bunkers. The greens are firm but a little bit dry and you have to hit the ball a little high to stop it,” he said. “The conditions were tough. Right from the morning, it was windy. It wasn’t calm. We guys teed off at 7:45 and the wind picked up and turned into gusts around 8:30 or 9. It is supposed to be like this for the rest of the day.” The other Indian in the fray, SSP Chowrasia, finished the round tied 82nd with one-over.

Indiau2019s Gaganjeet Bhullar will be appearing at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters only the second time.
Bhullar aims to ride European Tour momentum in Doha

India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar will be eyeing his second European Tour title in Doha when he tees off at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters today at the Doha Golf Club. Bhullar has been one of India’s top golfers for over a decade but he won his maiden European Tour title by a single stroke over a charging Anthony Quayle of Australia at the Fiji International in August 2018 to join Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri as the only Indians to win on the European Tour. The victory was also his ninth on Asian Tour and 10th overall, becoming the most successful Indian player on Asian Tour and the first Indian to win on Australasia Tour. The 30-year-old golfer, who is playing for the third time in Doha, feels the important thing this week is going to be coping up with conditions. “Well… like any other week, I will try to play well and try to win,” Bhullar said. “I think this week the most important thing to cope up with would be the weather because mainly it gets very windy and once it gets really windy you know you’ve got to keep the ball and play the ball low,” he said. Bhullar is coming from last week’s storm-hit Oman Open where he slipped after spending some time in the top three, a disastrous start in the final round leading to a tied-27th finish. After handling difficult conditions, he was hit by a bogey-bogey start followed by a double on fourth. From four-under after 54 holes, he fell to even par in a matter of four holes. Bhullar went on to finish the day at six-over 78 as he birdied the 12th, but again double-bogeyed 15th and bogeyed the 16th. Bhullar first played in the Qatar Masters in 2014 and he was a member of the silver medallist Indian team in 2006 Asian Games. He is paired with England’s Gregory Scott and Korea’s Park Hyowon for the first two rounds. “Greens are quite treacherous this year, I mean looking at the weather they had in the last few months, few dry patches on the green but other than that greens are good.” Talking about the current golf scene in India, he feels it’s getting better. “It’s definitely getting better. More and more players are stepping on the Asian Tour and then slowly graduating but we are still lacking in terms of infrastructure. Back in India we don’t have too many world-class golf courses where we could actually produce the next generation stars but the government is definitely doing their hundred percent,” he said. “You know golf is a very elite game and you need at least 200 acres of land to lay the golf course, so it’s not an easy job for any private player and for the government. But having said that I think golfers are doing pretty good,” the Arjuna awardee said. Bhullar will head to Kenya after the Qatar Masters, and has plans to play in the Malaysian Open and the Indian Open. Bhullar’s compatriot SSP Chawrasia, who missed the cut in Oman, is also in the fray.

Mikkel Mathiesen (centre) poses with his trophy and Qatar Golf Association general secretary Fahad al-Naimi (left) and board member Mohamed Faisal al-Naimi after winning the Qatar Open Amateur Golf Championship yesterday. PICTURES: Jayaram
Local boy Mathiesen claims Qatar Open amateur title

The kid who used to play at the Doha Golf Club will return next month to take on the world’s best in Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Danish boy Mikkel Mathiesen, who has been a junior member at Doha Golf Club (DGC) for the last ten years, clinched a European Tour event berth by winning Qatar Open Amateur Golf Championship yesterday. The 18-year-old played remarkably well over the last three days and his final round 70 with a birdie and a bogey earned him a seven-shot victory. He aggregated one-under 215, with the next closest player, England’s William Shucksmith, at six-over. “It’s great. It is a big win for me. To win in Doha in front of my people is indeed a big win,” Mikkel told Gulf Times. Talking about his last round performance, the rising star said, “I had a two-shot lead to start the day and I did not really give that up. I am happy to win today. The field was very strong this year as 22 professionals were also participating. “I know so many of these guys; they all are good golfers and to beat them and to come out as winner gives me a lot of confidence before the Qatar Masters,” the Doha College student said. Mathiesen’s victory means a lot for DGC, where he nurtured his golf skills. “It is a very big win for our club. Mikkel is our boy… he is one of us. He has won many tournaments at our club. We all are very proud of him,” DGC general manager Gary McGlinchey said. Mathiesen has recently secured a golf scholarship in the US; he will start at Wright State University in Ohio in September 2019. In the professional category, it was Poland’s Adrian Meronk who triumphed with a 72 in the final round, taking his aggregate to an eight-under 208. “I played really well from the beginning and today was the toughest day for sure and I tried to stay focused and be patient,” Meronk said. “I am very excited to play in Qatar Masters. The set up will be different and it will be tougher. It is a big challenge and I think I am ready for it.” He made his professional debut in 2016 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and finished runner-up in the Pro-Am competition. He and his partner shot an impressive -37 at St. Andrews which left them only one behind the eventual winners. The 24-year-old Meronk earned QR7,000 and will also get to play the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters as a reward for his efforts. Sweden’s Nicklas Johansson and the Netherlands’ Mike Toorop came second and third to book their Qatar Masters spots. As expected Saleh Ali al-Kaabi and Jaham Jassim al-Kuwari were the best among the Qataris in contention and will get to play in the Masters. Al-Kaabi, who finished second in the 2017, carded 73 his best of the tournament, for a seven-over 223 to finish joint 15th overall, while al-Kuwari was a joint 22nd after a third-round 77 to aggregate 11-over 227. The third wild card for Qatar Master was been given to Ali al-Shahrani, who missed the tournament as he was under the weather. The prizes were given by Qatar Golf Association general secretary Fahad al-Naimi and board member Mohamed Faisal al-Naimi.

Qatar Squash Federation secretary-general Tareq Zainal (left) and Professional Squash Association CEO Alex Gough address a press conference in Doha yesterday. PICTURE: Jayan Orma
Qatar to host men’s Worlds for fifth time next season

Qatar will host the 2019-20 edition of the men’s world championships as the prestigious tournament returns to the country for the fifth time, Professional Squash Association (PSA) announced yesterday. The 40th edition of the iconic championships, the most prestigious and lucrative tournament of the PSA Tour Calendar, will take place from October 31-November 8, 2019, at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex. In all, 64 players including 56 highest ranked players and eight wild card entrants will compete for a share of the $325,000 total cash prize at the tournament. Qatar had previously hosted the sport’s pinnacle tournament in 1998, 2004, 2012 and 2014, with the 2014 final between Egyptian duo Ramy Ashour and Mohamed ElShorbagy going down in history as one of the sport’s greatest ever matches. Ashour won the final in five tense sets (13-11, 7-11, 5-11, 11-5, 14-12) in 90 minutes of edge-of-the-seat action. “We are delighted to announce that the 2019-20 PSA Men’s World Championships will take place in Qatar next season and are looking forward to seeing the world’s greatest players return to the country for what promises to be an exciting week of action,” PSA chief executive Alex Gough told Gulf Times. “Qatar is a major destination on the international squash scene and has hosted some incredible tournaments and matches down the years. There is also a promising crop of young Qatari players starting to make their mark on the PSA Tour, including Abdulla al-Tamimi, who is on the verge of making the world’s top 20.” “The Qatar Squash Federation (QSF) has taken the tournament to another level in terms of the presentation and production values of the event in recent years and we are looking forward to working with them over the coming months,” he said. Talking about expectation from the championships, Gough said: “In 2014, we saw one of the greatest finals between Mohamed ElShorbagy and Ramy Ashour. If anything like that is repeated we will be very proud. Here in Qatar, players are so well looked after as QSF’s hospitality is second to none.  “Everything from venue to physio facilities and press is so fantastic. Qatar has always produced best quality tournaments. I am sure (tournament director) Tariq (Zainal) and his team will make it an exciting world championships. We are looking forward to an exciting event.” Tournament Director Tariq Zainal said: “Hosting the PSA Men’s World Championships for the fifth time is another proof of Qatar’s commitment to the development of our sport. Over the years, Qatar has grown to be a global destination for top sporting events of which squash occupies a major place in the top hierarchy. We are happy and prepared to host once again a memorable event that promises to be the best ever. “I’m sure all the players and participants are looking forward to the wonderful hospitality and superb organisation. We believe the championships will be another opportunity for squash fans, especially in the region, to enjoy watching their beloved players compete at the topmost level of the game. It will also provide an opportunity for upcoming stars to gain valuable experience which a tournament of such nature provides. We are delighted to host this tournament and we look forward to welcoming the world in 2019,” Zainal added. World No 1 ElShorbagy thanked Qatar for supporting squash by organising big events.  “I just heard that we will play the World Championships here next year, and I want to thank the Qatari federation for the hard work they are doing to get us here every year, and for supporting squash for so long.” India squash star Sourav Ghosal is also excited with the development. “It’s great news. Qatar Classic is a classic example for other hosts as to how PSA World Tour Platinum events should be held. I have played here (Qatar) in a World Championships in the past and have enjoyed the hospitality and the organisation has been of the top order. Qatar has done a fantastic job in the past and I think they have the capacity to organise big events like world championships and I am sure they will deliver a perfect championships next year.” The 2019-20 PSA Men’s World Championships will replace the Qatar Classic, PSA World Tour Platinum event on the PSA Tour calendar next season. The Qatar Classic will return to the calendar for the 2020-21 season.

Eddie Pepperell of England lifts Mother Of Pearl Trophy after winning Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club yesterday. PICTURE: Jayaram
Title wait’s over for relieved Pepperell

Five years on the European Tour. 128 tournaments. 22 top ten finishes. And after all that grind, when you win your first title, the first thing, Eddie Pepperell says, you feel is “relief”. Second, you perhaps feel rich. Richer by USD291,000 to be exact. Pepperell celebrated his first European Tour victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. The 27-year-old Pepperell carded a final round of 70 and held his nerve over the closing stages to fend off compatriot Oliver Fisher by a single stroke for the win at the Doha Gulf Club. “Relief, I guess is the number one emotion, as is always the case with a win – although I haven’t had many,” Pepperell said. The victory saw him rocket from 188th to 13th in the season-long rankings. Pepperell and Fisher were tied for the lead going into the final round, with the former making a steady start and going one-under at the turn. Fisher could only card a three-over on the front nine, following a hat-trick of bogies, which left him four shots adrift halfway through the round. But Fisher bounced back with five birdies on the back nine and, when he stood on the final tee, was only a stroke behind his compatriot. At the closing 589-yard, par-five 18th, both reached the green in three shots, with Pepperell 25 feet from the pin, while Fisher was just over three yards away. After Pepperell had left his opening putt 18 inches to the right of the hole, Fisher’s birdie attempt agonisingly slipped wide and with that his chance to force a play-off. This left Pepperell to confidently tap in for par and collect his maiden Tour success at the 129th attempt. His previous best finish had been a tied-second in Ireland in May 2015. “What a day?! Oli made it really tough and I made it tough for myself at the end with the second shot on the 18th,” the Oxfordshire player said. “But I felt good all day, I was in a great place mentally and kept telling myself I’m going to win this and Oli certainly made life more interesting.” The victory was a reward for Pepperell’s mental fortitude and hard work that saw him fight back from losing his Tour card and returning to Q-School in 2016. “This will give me confidence,” he said.  Swede Marcus Kinhult finished at 16-under for the tournament after a 68. Spanish duo Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Renato Paratore were tied fourth at 15-under. Englishman Josh White of the MENA Golf Tour, who qualified through winning the Professional Division of the Qatar Open, shot a final round 75 for a four-round score of four-under par to finish in tied 61st position alongside two-time Commercial Bank Qatar Masters champion Paul Lawrie, former Ryder Cup player David Howell and six others. For Fisher, it was his first top-three since the 2014 Africa Open but he will have to wait a little longer to add to his 2011 Czech Open title despite finishing his round with 32 blows on the back nine after a forgettable front nine of 39. “It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for,” he said.  “I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today – four in total – so you’re never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way,” the 29-year-old Londoner said. Pepperell won the Allianz Open Cotes d’Armor Bretagne en route to graduating from the Challenge Tour in 2012 and then enjoyed three consistent seasons before losing his card. His bounce-back season was a triumph, securing four top-fives and three top-tens in his last ten events in 2017 before a slow start to the current season saw him miss cuts in his first two outings before signs of improvement at last week’s NBO Oman Open. “The last nine months have been great. The start of the season has been a little bit sloppy, haven’t really had my game in a good spot. I worked with somebody slightly different this week and it made a nice difference. I found it a little easier out there today to go and trust the feeling that I had,” Pepperell said. “When you win, you know you can win. I’ve always felt and believed I will win out here but it hadn’t happened before today. You’ve always got to take that step and that’s uneasy but at some point in everyone’s career they’ve got to do something for the first time. Hopefully this is not my last.” LEADING FINAL ROUND SCORES 270 — E Pepperell (ENG) 65-69-66-70 271 — O Fisher (ENG) 66-69-65-71 272 — M Kinhult (SWE) 68-69-67-68 273 — G Havret (Fra) 65-69-70-69, G Fernandez - Castano (ESP) 68 68 69 68, R Paratore (ITA) 71-66-70-66, P Larrazabal (ESP) 68-67-70-68 274 — G Coetzee (RSA) 69-66-71-68, S Heisele (GER) 67-68-71-68 275 — M Baldwin (ENG) 68-70-68-69, M Lorenzo-Vera (FRA) 68-68-69-70, A Otaegui (ESP) 67-66-73-69 276 — M Foster (ENG) 71-68-68-69, C Wood (ENG) 68-69-68-71, S Han (USA) 69-71-69-67, D Horsey (ENG) 71-68-65-72, M Nixon (ENG) 69-68-69-70, A Pavan (ITA) 68-69-67-72 277 — A Bjork (SWE) 70-69-69-69, J Scrivener (AUS) 70-70-67-70, A Quiros (ESP) 66-70-70-71, R Wattel (FRA) 71-69-71-66, C Shinkwin (ENG) 68-69-70-70, A Rai (ENG) 65-73-69-70, P Waring (ENG) 68-70-70-69, M Wallace (ENG) 69-71-67-70, S Fernandez (ESP) 69-70-71-67 278 — W Ashun (CHN) 69-70-70-69, C Bezuidenhout (RSA) 68-72-71-67, M Siem (GER) 73-66-68-71, S Crocker (USA) 67-68-67-76, H Tanihara (JPN) 70-69-66-73, M Pavon (FRA) 68-69-71-70 279 — R Cho (KOR) 69-70-67-73, N Geyger (CHI) 71-69-69-70, L Gagli (ITA) 67-70-67-75, N Colsaerts (BEL) 71-69-69-70, A Sullivan (ENG) 69-70-73-67

Oliver Fisher lines up a shot at the Doha Golf Club yesterday. At right, Eddie Pepperell in action. PICTURES: Jayaram
Advantage Fisher and Pepperell as thrilling finale looms in Doha

A final day thriller is in the offing with Englishmen Oliver Fisher and Eddie Pepperell well-placed for victory and a host of others hoping to gatecrash their party in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. While Pepperell is looking for his first career title, Fisher is aiming for his second win on the European Tour since 2011. At yesterday’s third round, Fisher reeled off eight birdies, out of which four came on consecutive holes, to end the day with a superb 65 to sit level with Pepperell on 16-under 200 on a cold but calm day at Doha Golf Club. The USA’s Sean Crocker is two shots behind on 202 while a bunch of five players on 204 also fancy their chances. “I’m very pleased with my day today and looking forward to tomorrow,” said Fisher, who last won on the European Tour in 2011 at Czech Open, six years after becoming the youngest Walker Cup player at the age of 16. “The important thing for me is to make sure I give myself enough time with things, to make sure I’m aware of what I’m doing and try and enjoy it as much as I can, I did that today. My caddie was great. I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,” the 29-year-old said. “We’ve still got one round to go, a lot of golf to be played out there. I’m good friends with Eddie so hopefully we’ll have a bit of fun out there,” he said. Pepperell took a share of top spot on the first hole and maintained that position until Fisher finished with four birdies in a row to card a 65 and set the clubhouse target at 16 under. He chipped in for a remarkable bogey on the 12th after hitting the rocks in front of the green three times but he would soon lose his lead to a sensational finish from Fisher. Pepperell then fought back with birdies on the 16th and 18th in his 66 to move two ahead of Crocker, who is two strokes back at the end of the round, representing the English duo’s closest challenge.  The pair has not enjoyed the best of starts to the season, with six missed cuts from 10 combined events, but they found their form in Qatar. Final-hole birdies for both the leaders highlighted their coolness, while a solitary bogey apiece showed their consistency. “I would say that was my best round, especially with the position I was in going into the day. I hit a lot of good shots, I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn’t let it bother me,” said Pepperell. The 27-year-old has been working with a new coach recently and it looks to be paying rewards as he shares the lead after 54 holes for the second time at a European Tour event. “That’s a nice score on a Saturday and coming down the last few holes, certainly down the last seeing Oli on 16 under, I didn’t want to finish behind the leader so I’m happy to be at least tied.” David Horsey started with an eagle en-route to matching Fisher’s score (-6) for the day, leaving him four adrift, while Adrian Otaegui, who began the day in the lead is now five shots back after a disappointing 73. Italian duo Lorenzo Gagli and Andrea Pavan, Frenchman Grrgory Havret and Swede Marcus Kinhult were then two shots further back at 12 under. Gagli had also shared the lead after birdies on the second, fourth, fifth, ninth and tenth but parred his way home in a bogey-free 67. Pavan had a birdie-birdie-birdie finish as he also posted a 67, Kinhult eagled the 16th and birdied the last en-route to the same score, while Havret made a single bogey in his 70. Spanish duo Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal, English pair James Morrison and Chris Wood, Swede Joakim Lagergren, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Japan’s Hideto Tanihara are at 11 under. MENA Golf Tour professional Josh White of England, who qualified by winning the professional division of the 2018 Qatar Open, has performed superbly. Having made the cut with rounds of 67, 73, White shot an impressive third round of 69 yesterday to sit in a share of the 43rd place at seven under par. The final round gets underway at Doha Golf Club at 6.30am with the lead group of Oliver Fisher, Eddie Pepperell and Sean Crocker teeing off at 8.30am.

Englandu2019s Chris Wood in action at the Doha Golf Club yesterday.
Making Ryder Cup team a tough task, says Chris Wood

He may have been amidst the familiar sights and sounds at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, but Chris Wood was anything but comfortable, having finished round three tied ninth with an aggregate score of 11-under yesterday. “It was a scrappy round for me. It is frustrating as I had the opportunity to be among the leaders,” Wood said after finishing the round five stroke behind Oliver Fisher and Eddie Pepperell of England. Wood had a poor end to the last season, finishing 68th out of 72 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and 57th out of 60 in the DP World Tour Championship, although he was sick on the course during the final round in Dubai. And 2018 got off to an even worse start with three consecutive missed cuts before last week’s second place behind good friend Joost Luiten at the NBO Oman Open proved there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Riding on his confidence-boosting second-place position in Oman, Wood entered the Qatar Masters with the aim to repeat his 2013 title victory and in the process belatedly kick-start his bid for a Ryder Cup return. “The season has not been great for me. I finished second last week in Oman, which is a good result to be here with some confidence,” he said. “It’s a nice time to put in a bit of a result the week before you come back to somewhere you’ve won, because whenever you come back somewhere you’ve won or done well there’s always a little bit of confidence you take from that. But after three rounds, I am just hanging in there,” the three-time European Tour title winner said. Wood, who eagled the 72nd hole to win his first European Tour title at Doha Golf Club in 2013, is currently a lowly 39th in the Ryder Cup standings as he chases a place on the European team which will try to regain the trophy at Le Golf National in Paris in September. The 30-year-old from Bristol was one of the six rookies who made their debut two years ago, winning one point from his two matches at Hazeltine. Now having the experience of team golf at the highest level, he is very keen to become a Ryder Cup mainstay but Wood also feels that at the moment he is not there. “I have been there and tested the action so I want more of it. I don’t want to be somebody who is just going to play one Ryder Cup. “But, at this juncture, I am a way off from my Ryder Cup chances. I need couple of wins to consolidate my chances,” admits Wood. He termed his first title victory at the Qatar Masters, which he sealed in impressive style one-stroke win over Sergio Garcia and Geroge Coetzee with three superb shots on the daunting par-5 closing hole, an special one. “It was pretty special to win it with an eagle. I hadn’t looked at the leaderboard all day, and when I got to the last hole and knew I was there or thereabouts, although I didn’t actually realise what I needed to do until I walked in the green, just before I hit my putt. “I think I actually felt the weight lift off my shoulders when that ball disappeared in the hole. Every time I played the 18th, I remember that shot I hit there to win about 10 feet. It’s always gonna live long with me that one,” he said.

Adrian Otaegui of Spain watches his tee-shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. PICTURE: Jayaram
Otaegui ahead as players enjoy calm Doha conditions

It got crowded at the top after another calm day saw Young Spaniard Adrian Otaegui finish with a flourish and take a one-shot lead at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The Spaniard birdied the last three holes to card a six-under 66 and move out in front on 11-under as golfers had a field day at Doha Golf Club yesterday. Dozens of players notched up sub-par scores but five – the South African rookie Erik van Rooyen, Enganad’s Eddie Pepperell, former Ryder Cup player Scot Stephen Gallacher and three time European Tour winner Frenchman Gregory Havret - are hot on Otaegui’s heels at 10-under as the European Tour event looks set for a frantic weekend. “I started nicely with a birdie at the first and then lots of pars, although I gave myself lots of chances. Then I had another birdie at the seventh, started well on the back nine at ten and then birdied 11 and dropped a shot at the 13th, but I played great after that and finished birdie-birdie-birdie so I’m happy with my round,” Otaegui said. “I think it was similar out there today to the first round. There was no wind, it’s a low scoring course this year so I think there was no real difference in the first two days,” the 25-year-old golfer, who won his only European Tour title at the Paul Lawrie Match Play last year, said. Pepperell, who shared the lead after his seven-under-par 65 on the first day, made a slow start to his second round by going out in one-over-par 37. But a super eagle three at the tenth kick-started a superb back nine, in which he birdied the 16th and 18th holes for the second successive day for a round of 69. “I’m happy with that really. I played amazing tee to green the first 12 or 13 holes but holed nothing. Then I felt like my swing crept away from me a little at the end and I made the most of the finish, so I’ll take that to be honest,” the Englishman said. Havret, who finished second at the 2010 US open, stayed bogey-free for the week, making birdies on the first, 12th and 16th. “So far, so good, another clean sheet. It’s always good to start a tournament like this. I didn’t play as well as yesterday, I had a lot of putts and a few chips, I struggled to find as many fairways as yesterday and as soon as you are in the rough it’s tough because those greens are really rock hard and with a touch of breeze it’s not an easy thing playing from the rough,” the 41-year-old Frenchman said. Gallacher was unblemished in his 66, the highlight being a 50-foot putt on the 13th to add to birdies on the first, fourth, ninth, 14th and 17th. South African George Coetzee also signed for a 66 to sit in a group at nine under that also included American Sean Crocker, England’s Oliver Fisher, German Sebastian Heisele and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal. Crocker eagled the 16th and last in a spectacular end to his 68, while Heisele also picked up two shots on the 18th in matching his score. Fisher signed for a round of 69 in the morning, with Larraz?bal posting a 67 from the second wave. Former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who is aiming for hat-trick of title in Doha, is tied 38. France’s Raphael Jacquelin made the third albatross on Tour in four weeks when holed a two-hybrid from 245 yards on the tenth to sit at eight under alongside countryman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Spaniards Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Alvaro Quiros and England’s Ryan Evans. The low scores were evident in the cut which, at four under, was two shots lower than the previous record for the event. MENA Tour player Josh White of England took full advantage of his invite following his Qatar Open professional victory to make the cut on the mark. Pakistani amateur Ahmed Baig, who won Qatar Amateur Open last month, shot an impressive three under par 69 in the second round but missed the cut at one under for 36 holes. Also missing the cut was defending champion Jeunghun Wang and India’s Shubhankar, the only multiple winner on the European Tour this season, and 2011 champion Tomas Bjorn. Moroccan professional Ahmed Marjan shot a two round total of one over par while local and regional amateurs Ali Saleh al-Kaabi of Qatar shot eight over par, Shergo al-Kurdi of Jordan nine over par and Ali al-Shahrani of Qatar 13 over par for their respective two round scores. The third round tee times begin at 06:55am with the last group of Pepperell, van Rooyen and Otaegui out at 11:20am.

Sharma, Chawrasia miss out in Qatar

Rising Indian golfer Shubhankar Sharma lasted only two days at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters as he missed his second cut in back-to-back tournaments yesterday. Sharma playing for the first time here, overcame a double-bogey to post a three-under 69 in the opening but started the second round with a bogey. However, he quickly made up on the next hole. Seven pars followed that before he bogeyed the par-5 ninth. After four pars, he was still 2-under and seemingly out of the cut. But a birdie on 16th gave him a chance as he was back at 3-under. Sharma, who was struggling with his drive at the Doha Golf Club’s narrow fairways, needed a birdie on either 17th or 18th to get to 4-under, which was the cutline. But he failed with both, managing only pars and finished tied-38th. “The conditions are good, but you have to hit the fairways, which are very narrow,” Sharma said. It was his second successive missed cut after his superb win at Maybank Malaysian Championships early this month. He also failed to make cut at the NBO Oman Open. Sharma is next going to play in Mexico, where he makes his WGC debut. “I am due to play in WGC, my biggest tournament next month,” said the Chandigarh golfer. The 21-year-old, who is on top of both the European and Asian Tour Order of Merit lists by virtue of two wins in less than two months. Things did not pan out too well for another Indian in the fray SSP Chawrasia, who defends his Hero Indian Open title in just over two weeks from now. Chawrasia shot a 1-over 73 for the tied-105th spot.

Italyu2019s Chiara Cainero (centre) won the womenu2019s skeet event ahead of Franceu2019s Lucie Anastassiou (left) and compatriot Diana Bacosi at Qatar Open Shotgun yesterday.
Cainero, Tomacek win skeet gold at Qatar Open Shotgun

Italian women dominated the Skeet event of the Qatar Open Shotgun championship as Chiara Cainero and Diana Bacosi won gold and bronze respectively. On the last day of the nine-day championship hosted by Qatar Shooting and Archery Association (QSSA), 39-year-old Cainero overcame stiff challenge of Lucie Anastassiou of France to collect the $7,000 cash prize. Beijing Olympic Games winner Cainero scored 52, one more than Anastassiou, the Rio games winner, in the final and clinched the top spot at the Losail Shooting Range.   Bacosi of Italy took the bronze medal with a score of 43, while 2016 winner Amber Hill Great Britain finished fourth with 33 hits. Cainero was delighted to finish on the podium along with Bacosi. “It was difficult because of the wind, but I am happy to be in the final along with another Olympic champ and teammate (Bacosi) as we are used to finishing on the podium,” she told Gulf Times. Incidentally at the last Olympic Games in the Brazilian city, the Italians made it 1-2 in the skeet event. The four-time Olympian also praised the facilities at Losail. “It is always a nice experience to start the season in Qatar. The facilities are excellent here. The Losail Shooting Range is same as any Olympic shooting ranges you will find in any part of the world. It is one of the best. We love to compete here and the weather here is fantastic as it is winter in Italy at this time of the year,” Cainero, who has been a regular at the shot gun event, said. “I first took part in an event in 2006. I was very young at that time,” she recalled. Cainero said she will be taking part in an event in South Korea and the victory here will serve as an ideal preparation of the season ahead. “I am happy with my form and the training we had here,” she said. Anastassiou was very happy to finish on the podium with two Olympic champions. “The competition was tough and I am happy that I had the privilege to share the podium with two Olympic champions. I am glad.” Hill, who was aiming to repeat her 2016 gold medal winning effort found the going tough. “It was a strong field with two Olympic champions. But I am happy with my performance. Although, I was aiming for a repeat of 2016, when I won the event, but overall I am happy with my performance and the result,” said the 20-year-old. In the men’s section, 26-year-old Jakub Tomacek of Czech Republic topped the Skeet event followed by Jesper Hansen of Denmark. The 2008 Olympic Games bronze medal winner Anthony Terras of France finished third. Qatar’s Sheikh Mohamed al-Thani and Nasser al-Attiyah finished 12th and 25th respectively. In the men’s junior section, Qatar’s Abdulla Rashdan and Mohamed Ahmed al-Khulaifi finished one-two, with Lithuania’s Tomas Vaitekunas winning bronze. In the women’s junior section, Alisa Bogdanova of Lithuania won gold, while Britain’s Madeleine Boyd and Qatar’s Fatma al-Muraikhi claimed silver and bronze, respectively. RESULTS (top three) Women’s Skeet 1. Chiara Cainero (ITA) (23 24 25 23 25) 120+6 (Q) & 52 (Final) 2. Lucie Anastassiou (FRA) (25 24 25 23 24) 121+4 & 51 3. Diana Bacosi (ITA) (25 24 25 24 20) 118 & 43 Men’s Skeet 1. Jakub Tomacek (CZE) (25 25 24 24 24) 122+13 (Q) 54+6 (Final) 2. Jesper Hansen (DEN) (24 25 25 25 25) 124 & 54+5 3. Anthony Terras (FRA) (25 24 25 24 24) 122+6 & 45 Jr Men’s Skeet 1. Abdulla Rashdan (QAT) (22 22 24 22 23) 113 2. Mohamed al-Khulaifi (QAT) (22 20 21 20 23) 106 3.  Tomas Vaitekunas (LTU) (22 20 18 21 19) 100 Jr Women’s Skeet 1.  Alisa Bogdanova (LTU) (23 23 21 22 23) 112 2.  Madeleine Boyd (GBR) (23 18 20 24 23) 108 3. Fatma al-Muraikhi (QAT) (24 20 16 17 20) 97

Top shots: Britainu2019s Aaron Rai and Eddie Pepperell in action during the first round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club yesterday.
British duo, Havret share lead in Qatar

It was an unusually calm day at the Doha Golf Club yesterday. The trademark gusty winds, which have almost become synonymous with the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, stayed away.  These are conditions most golfers like and the British duo of Eddie Pepperell and Aaron Rai and Frenchman Gregory Havret were the ones who made the most of them. The trio fired opening rounds of seven-under par 65 to share the lead at the end of the first round of the prestigious European Tour event. Former champion Alvaro Quiros from Spain, Italian Edoardo Molinari, German Marcel Schneider and England’s Oliver Fisher were in second one shot off the pace. The Oxfordshire native Pepperell, who missed his first two cuts of the season but made the cut in Malaysia and Oman, started at the 10th yesterday and was four-under through his opening nine holes having seen five gains undone slightly by one bogey, and he picked up a further three shots on the way home. “I surprised myself out there today. It’s been pretty nice on the range. I got some good shots today and I’m looking forward to the weekend but even more so moving forward to the rest of the season. I want to push forward and I just feel like my game has been hitting ceilings a bit. I want to break through that,” the 27-year-old Pepperell said. Havret’s round was more dramatic as he scored five birdies in six holes. He then went toe-to-toe, with Pepperell, who put an approach on the fifth to six feet and the Frenchman holed from eight feet after an excellent tee-shot on the par three 13th. “I was putting well and that’s definitely the key,” Havret, who has a 50 per cent success-rate from six cuts so far this season, said.  “Last week I didn’t play much different and I missed the cut by a lot.” His smart approaches to the seventh and 16th respectively had the duo in the clubhouse where they were joined by Rai in style. Rai made an eagle at the last to join the leaders. He registered five birdies through 16 before finishing with a three at the par-five 18th, his completed his best round of the season. “I drove it well and then gave myself a lot of opportunities with the approach play, didn’t miss too many greens,” said Rai.  “Gameplan-wise, you have to be doing something right and playing some good golf to shoot a 65 so I’ll just continue in the same vein and try not to change too much,” the 22-year-old said. Starting on the back nine, the leader of the 2018 Order of Merit Rankings, India’s Shubhankar Sharma overcame a double bogey to post a three-under. Sharma had five birdies and was lying tied-38th. He began with birdie-birdie, but then a double-bogey on par-5 15th played spoilsport. He quickly recovered with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and the 17th. One more birdie against no bogeys on his second nine, which was the front side of the course, saw Shubhankar finish at 69. “I think it is not a bad round at all. I was not driving the ball well off the tee and had a lost ball on the 15th hole. My drive went to the right, hit the rocks and I could not find the ball,” Sharma told Gulf Times. “After that I played well. My driving could have been better. Considering everything, I think it was a good round. The conditions were good and the key here is that you have to hit the fairways, which are very narrow. If you don’t, there are not many opportunities then. “The minus three card on the first day is not a bad round. I need to work on my hitting tomorrow so that I can catch up with others,” Sharma, who has won two titles so far, said. His compatriot SSP Chawrasia, who defends his Hero Indian Open title in just over two weeks from now, shot one-over 73 and was lying way down at tied-105th spot and in danger of missing the cut. The 1999 Open champion and two-time champion in Qatar Paul Lawrie is four under par, after round one. England’s Chris Wood, who is 2013 champion, also finished on four under par, along with defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea. Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Tomas Bjorn opened with a three-over 75. Today’s second-round action starts at 6.30am, with the last groups teeing off at 12.40pm. LEADING FIRST ROUND SCORES 65: Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Grégory Havret (FRA), Aaron Rai (ENG) 66: Oliver Fisher (ENG), Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Marcel Schneider (GER), Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 67: Detry Thomas (BEL), Sean Crocker (USA), Lorenzo Gagli (ITA), Joshua White (ENG), Sebastian Heisele  (GER), Adrian Otaegui (ESP),  Mikko Ilonen (FIN).

Indiau2019s Shubhankar Sharma gets a feel of the Doha Golf Club yesterday. PICTURE: Jayaram
Young gun Sharma aims for the skies

Shubhankar Sharma’s golfing story is very much an organic one; from a kid going to the golf course with his father, rising through the amateur ranks, turning professional at 16 and now leading both the European Tour Race to Dubai and the Asian Tour Order of Merit. There was no master plan to create a golfing star; it was simply an offer of guidance and support to help an enthusiastic boy pursue his dream.  Today, more than 11 years after he first set foot on a golf course at the age of six, he has achieved a career-high rank of 71 following two European Tour wins this year,  and is now hoping to fulfill his dream of becoming World No 1. “Enjoying being at the top and I’m really happy at the moment, but not surprised by my victories as I was always confident of winning at this level,” Sharma told Gulf Times yesterday on the eve of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, his 15th European Tour event Two European Tour titles in three months (Joberg Open in December and Maybank Championship this month) is a dream-come-true for Sharma but the Indian youngster is trying to stay confident but grounded as he prepares for the World Golf Championship (WGC) in Mexico next week and The British Open in July. “Feeling great, it’s early in the season but it’s great start. Joburg was fantastic, I just played really well all four days and even pushed it into a Monday finish. I was really calm throughout and it was fantastic. I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as possible. On the other hand, in Malaysia, I was not expecting to win on the last day, I just had a crazy final round and got it done,” the 21-year-old from Chandigarh said. His latest success also helped him join the exclusive club of Indians who have achieved two wins in the same European Tour season, the others being Jeev Milkha Singh (2006) and Anirban Lahiri (2015). “I am young, but I am very comfortable playing against top players as I am playing professional golf since last six years. I hope I will achieve my dream to crack into world top 50 and probably become world No 1, a dream of every golfer,” the 21-year-old added. Apart from Qatar event, Sharma’s focus is on the WGC next week with the intention of keeping his career trending upwards and  playing on the PGA Tour. “Right now I am focusing on the Qatar Masters and after that I will play in my biggest tournament, the World Golf Championship in Mexico. I’m really excited as it was a goal of mine to get into one WGC event this year.” Talking about his first appearance in Qatar against two major winners and six past winners he said: “European Tour is always tough. It’s a new course form me, but a fantastic one. I think the greens are firm, but it will be difficult to put a big spin as the fairways are narrow. “All the courses on which I will play this year are new to me, apart from India of course, and maybe Malaysia, because I played there last year. Just fantastic, it just adds to my experience.” Sharma is a product of India’s developing golf culture and he believes more players would come out of it. Sharma missed the cut at last week’s NBO Oman Open as he was struggling with his putting speed. He is paired with former champion Chris Wood of England and Romain Wattel of France in the first two rounds.