Record entries, two first-time winners and the emergence of a new talent from Morocco highlighted the opening two events on the 2014 MENA Golf Tour schedule in the Moroccan cities of Mohammedia and Rabat.
England’s Joshua White buried the disappointment of finishing runner-up to Monaco’s Piaget in Oman last year to complete a thrilling wire-to-wire victory at the Royal D’Anfa Open while France’s Edouard Espana overturned a two-shot deficit on the final day to win the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam Open a week later.
White followed his maiden MENA Golf Tour victory with a tied 30th finish to top the Order of Merit with earnings of $9,490, just ahead of Espana, who claimed a cheque for $9,000 for winning the event in his debut on the tour.
With a second and a top-7 finish under his belt, England’s Ross McGowan ($7,290) is placed third, closely followed by Morocco’s Faycal Serghini ($6,814) and Italy’s Alessandro Tadini ($5,634) as the tour takes a summer break.
Serghini kept things interesting when he led by four shots with just four holes to go at Royal D’Anfa Open in Mohammedia, near Casablanca, but White birdied the 15th and eagled the 16th to deny the Moroccan his first victory on the tour.
The leading Arab professional also set the early pace at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam Open in Rabat, taking a one-shot lead after opening with a four-under 69, but subsequent rounds of 78 and 76 meant he finished in a tie for 12th on four over 223.
Serghini, however, twice topped the Arab division for the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation Award, which recogonises the region’s top-3 amateur and professional performances, winning an additional $1,500 from each of the first two events.
Englishman James Allan seized the early lead in the Amateur Order of Merit with 51 points from the first two events, just ahead of Morocco’s Ayoub Lguirati, who emerged as a refreshing surprise package.
The 20-year-old prodigy from Agadir, who plans to turn professional in 2016 after competing his management studies, flashed a glimpse of his burgeoning talent when he shot a three-under 70 in the second round on the 7,330-yard Red course, which was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam.
“His natural talent and an excellent work ethic shows he has a great future ahead of him,” said Mohammed Makrone, one of the most experienced Moroccan players, having the sport for 52 years, 32 as a professional.
In total 103 players, 24 of them amateur, lined up for honours at Mohammedia, and 104, including 23 amateurs, were the starting field at Rabat, representing a 70 per cent increase in the field for each event from 2013.
The tournaments’ growing strength was further highlighted by the presence of a bevy of experienced players, which includes the likes of Italy’s Tadini, the English trio of McGowan, Yasin Ali and Zane Scotland and Wales’ Stephen Dodd as well as the leading Moroccan professionals and amateurs.
The 2014 MENA Golf Tour resumes in mid-September with the eight-week ‘Gulf Swing’ including four stops in the UAE and one each in Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia before returning to the UAE for the season-ending Tour championship in November at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club.
MENA Golf Tour Order of Merit standings after the first two events in Morocco:
1. Joshua White (England) $9,490
2. Edouard Espana (France) $9,000
3. Ross McGowan (England) $7,290
4. Faycal Serghini (Morocco) $6,814
5. Alessandro Tadini (Italy) $5,634
6. Tyler Hogarty (South Africa) $4,445
7. Sebastian Heisele (Germany) $4,343
8. James Housby (England) $4,268
9. Stephen Dodd (Wales) $4,240
10. Yasin Ali (England) $2,628
1. James Allan (England) 51 points
2. Ayoub Lguirati (Morocco) 41
3. James Yeomans (England) 40
T4. Karim El Hali (Morocco) 23
T4. Mohamed Khallali (Morocco) 23.