Frenchman Lionel Weber, a past champion on the MENA Tour, showed his class when he climbed to the top of the leaderboard on the opening day of the Troon Series – Al Zorah Open despite playing the course blind.
At Al Zorah Golf Club in Ajman, windy conditions prevented players from going low as a group of five players tied on top at the four-under par 68, but Weber’s effort was remarkable as he arrived in the city late on Sunday and today was the first time he saw the golf course.
Joining Weber at 68 later in the day were Australian Daniel Gaunt, Scot Craig Ross, England’s Max Smith and Guatemala’s Jose Rolz.
India’s Dubai-based Rayhan Thomas was the leading amateur with a round of three-under par 69. He could have been joined there by another Dubai-based teenager, the 14-year-old Josh Hill, but the English youngster had to give up two shots as a penalty for an inadvertent rules infraction.
India’s Arjun Gupta, also 14, was the second best among the amateurs with a round of two-under par 70.
There were five other players tied for the sixth place at 69 apart from Thomas, including Pakistan’s promising young star Ahmed Baig. The others were England’s Benjamin David and Seve Benson, Germany’s Dominic Foos (GER) and Sweden’s Oliver Jacobsson.
Weber, a winner of the 2017 Mountain Creek Open in Thailand, seemed surprised with his score.
“I arrived in Ajman late and did not even have time to play a practice round. I just thought that I should go out and enjoy myself and before I knew it, I had made four birdies in my first four holes!” said the 28-year-old, who is attached to Black Mountain course in Hua Hin, Thailand.
“I was very annoyed that I did not have a decent finish. I doubled the 16th hole and then made another bogey on the 17th. But apart from those two mistakes, I am really happy with my first day.”
Gaunt, who missed birdie putts from four feet on two par-5 holes, said: “The conditions were definitely much tougher than when I played a practice round. On one of the holes, I hit a driver and a 9-iron yesterday, and today it was a driver and a 5-iron.”
Thomas was happy with his 69, but it could have been much better considering he three-putted for a bogey on the seventh hole and then three-putted again for a par on the par-5 18th hole.
“It was a good round overall. I drove the ball really well, but did not have the best day on the putting greens,” said Thomas, who created history on the MENA Tour when he became the first amateur to win a tournament (2016 Dubai Creek Open).
The stunning Al Zorah Golf Club, managed by Troon Golf, was opened in December 2015. A world-class par-72 course, it is designed by the Nicklaus Design group and situated amidst beautiful one million square metres of mangroves and features a plethora of native sandy areas, an abundance of wildlife and 12 km of waterfront.
The MENA Tour by Arena is returning to the world schedule after a year of restructuring and will feature 10 tournaments in 2019. It will continue to provide Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points, thus making it a perfect pathway for ambitious young professional to the bigger tours, and for the players from the region to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
(After round 1, par-72 course)
68 – Lionel Weber (FRA), Craig Ross (SCO), Max Smith (ENG), Jose Rolz (GUA), Daniel Gaunt (AUS)
69 – Benjamin David (ENG), Ahmad Baig (PAK), Dominic Foos (GER), Rayhan Thomas (IND-Am), Oliver Jacobsson (SWE), Seve Benson (ENG)
70 – Jack McDonald (SCO), Joshua Grenville-Wood (ENG), MG Keyser (RSA), Arjun Gupta (IND-Am), Tom Shadbolt (ENG), Andrew Burmester (RSA), Cameron Phillips (ENG), Antoine Schwartz (FRA), Taylor Carter (ENG), Erik Jonasson (SWE), Rigel Fernandes (IND)
71 – Robert Dinwiddie (ENG), Constantin Schwierz (GER), Elliott Oxlade (ENG), Josh Hill (ENG-Am), Steve Webster (ENG), Todd Clements (ENG), Daniel Hendry (SCO), James Allan (ENG), Jack Floydd (ENG-Am)
72 – Pavan Sagoo (ENG), Jack Doherty (SCO), Conor O’Neil (SCO), Daniel Scourfield (ENG) Joshua White (ENG), Jake Ayres (ENG), Peter Stojanovski (MAC), Gustaf Kocken (SWE), Gabriel Axell (SWE), Ben Davies (ENG-Am), Daniel Kay (SCO), Curtis Knipes (ENG-Am), Louis Campbell (ENG), Daniel Suchan (CZE), Harry Konig (ENG), Robbie Busher (ENG), Arkesh Bhatia (IND-Am)