Ahmed-Reda Rhazali and last-minute entrant Jake Shepherd shot a blazing five-under-par 67 each to set a course record on the opening day of the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, the second event on the MENA Golf Tour, at the Tower Links Golf Club on Monday.
The 24-year-old Morocco rattled up seven birdies, including five on the back nine, and two bogeys in his career-best round since turning professional in January 2010 while England’s Shepherd dropped just one shot en route to his 67 as the duo established a good two-stroke lead over Aadil Jehangir of Pakistan and Canada’s Lindsay Renolds.
Experienced Moroccan professional Faycal Serghini and Andy Andrews, a UAE-based professional from Sri Lanka, were tied third on one-under-par on a hot and humid day when seven players broke par.
Big guns Yasin Ali and Ross Bain had their chances to match pace with the leaders, but stumbled on the back nine. Yasin, who finished runner-up to England’s Zane Scotland in the Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open last week, carded a level par 72 after making the turn at two under par while Bain, who settled for a 74, was left ruing a disappointing bogey-double bogey finish.
The day, however, belonged to Rhazani and Shepherd, who both played with the maturity of a seasoned professional. “I played solid golf and hit about 15 to 16 greens,” said the Moroccan, adding: “My putting was equally good. And it’s because I turned to my tried and trusted belly putter.
“For some strange reasons, I didn’t use this putter during the Abu Dhabi event and that proved to be a costly mistake,” said Rhazali, who finished tied 32nd in Abu Dhabi on 12-over-par 288.
“I did miss a couple of shots here and there, but you can’t complain after shooting a 67,” said the Moroccan, who started with a birdie and finished with a birdie. “If I can keep the momentum going, anything is possible,” said Rhazali, said the Moroccan.
England’s Shepherd, who arrived just 48 hours before the start of the event from London, said it was Zane Scotland who encouraged him to compete in this event.
“I didn’t know about it, but Zane spoke highly of the Tour and convinced me to compete. I am glad that I made the right decision. I played pretty well, just one bogey and that says it all,” said the 21-year-old Englishman, who turned pro in January this year.
Canada’s Renolds, who is based in Thailand and plays conditional on the Asian Tour, made a brilliant start to his round, going two under after four holes and that set the tone for his superb round.
“I hit the ball well and also my misses were very good,” said Renolds, who last week qualified for the second stage of the European Tour’s Q-school in Milan. “Overall, everything was just fine.”
Pakistan Jehangir, who also shot a 69, attributed his round to “perfect hitting” throughout the day. “My driving, iron play and putting was just solid. I three putted on the first hole, but after that everything was just fine. Hopefully, things would as good in the coming rounds.”
Morocco’s Serghini felt he could have done much better out there, but missed at least eight birdies putting, ranging between four and 10 feet. “I putted poorly. “It was just one those days when the putts just refused to sink in,” said Serghini after carding a 71.
Andy Andrews, who matched Serghini’ score, was, however, pleased with his overall efforts. “I scrambled for par when I needed to and that’s was the highpoint of my game. Things are shaping well for me. No regrets,” said Andrews, who learned the basic rudiments of the game at UAE’s Junior Development Programme.
England’s UAE-based professional Yasin Ali said a few mental lapses on the back nine prevented him from posting a good score. I just couldn’t finish the way I started (with a birdie) and made some silly mistakes. My game plan, however, will remain the same: hit as many green as possible.”
Morocco’s Ahmed Marjan continues to the amateur division, carding a solid level par 72, just one shot ahead of his compatriot Mustapha El-maouas and Daniel Owen of Bahrain.
Leading scores after the first round (par-72):
67 – Ahmed-Reda Rhazali (Morocco), Jake Shepherd (UK)
69 – Lindsay Renolds (Canada), Aadil Jehangir (Pakistan)
70 – Shahid Murtaza Javed Ahmed (Pakistan)
71 – Andy Andrews (Sri Lanka), Faycal Serghini (Morocco)
72 – Yasin Ali (UAE), Sean McNamara (US), Ahmed Marjan (Am-Morocco), Chris Chamberlain (UK), Peter Richardson (UK)
73 – Nabil Abdul (Australia), Ross Canavan (UK), Mustapha El-maouas (Am-Morocco), Daniel Owen (Am-Bahrain), Matloob Ahmed (Pakistan), Simon Dunn (UK), Anil Shah (Kenya), Madufor Kingsley (Nigeria), Andrew Odoh (Nigeria)
74 – Ross Bain (UK), Wira Salleh (Brunei), Simon Payne (Australia), Ganeev Giddie (Kenya).