After spending more than a year in golfing wilderness, Australian Daniel Gaunt rediscovered his love for the game and it showed as he moved into a tie for the lead going into the final round of the Troon Series – Al Zorah Open.
At the Nicklaus Design course in Ajman, Gaunt shot a six-under par 66 to move to 10-under par 134 after 36 holes, where he was joined later in the day by Scotland’s Craig Ross, who added a 66 to his opening-round 68 as well.
The leading duo was two shots clear of England’s Todd Clements, who submitted the day’s best card of seven-under par 65, and South Africa’s MG Keyser (66).
England’s Seve Benson (68) and Scotland’s Jack McDonald (67) were tied for the fifth place at 137.
India’s Dubai-based Rayhan Thomas birdied his final two holes and was the leading amateur following a two-under par 70 round that took him to five-under par 139. The 19-year-old was three ahead of England’s Curtis Knipes (70), the amateur champion at Journey To Jordan-1, the inaugural event of the 2019 season.
Another Dubai-based teenager, the 14-year-old Josh Hill (72), was the next best on the amateur leaderboard at one-under par 143.
After windy conditions on day one, things were a lot calmer Tuesday and it showed in the scoring. The cut fell at one-over 145 with 50 professionals and 10 amateurs making it to the final round.
The only blemish in Gaunt’s card was a bogey on the 13th hole, but he more than made up for that with an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole and five other birdies.
“It was really good. I have been playing nicely and hit my tee shots and irons very well. It was about time some of the putts dropped, and they did today,” said Gaunt,
It was a welcome return to spotlight for the England-based Australian, winner of two Challenge Tour events in his career. Frustrated with his poor form and the resulting financial strain on a family of six, he gave up professional golf in the middle of 2017 and joined the maintenance team at his home club, the Burhill Golf Club in Walton-on-Thames.
“My head was not in a right place and I felt I was just throwing away money when I had to take care of my four lovely kids and my house mortgage. But there are friends, including Zane Scotland and a few others – they know who they are and I am indebted for their support – who believed in me and helped me financially to play golf again this year.
“So here we are…I am happy to be in the position I am in. I will go out and do exactly what I did the first two days. Come the last nine holes and we will see if I am in contention…
“But I have full faith in myself. I have won before and I can do it again. I won’t be here if I did not believe I can win.”
Ross, winner of the Clippers Logistics Championship on the EuroPro Tour last year, was bogey-free in his 66 with three birdies on either halves of the golf course.
Thomas was solid for the first 11 holes with two birdies before a wobble cost him shots on the 12th and 14th holes. But a miraculous par on the 16th lifted his spirits and he birdied the last two return to the clubhouse a satisfied man.
“My ball was completely plugged on the 16th hole in the greenside bunker and I left myself a 12-footer for par after hacking it out somehow. Luckily, I made that putt and then stiffed it to two feet on the par-3 17th and got a regulation birdie on the par-5 18th,” said Thomas, who created history on the MENA Tour when he became the first amateur to win a title (2016 Dubai Creek Open).
“It was a good round, but like any golfer, I thought I could have shot a couple better. The conditions were perfect today and I should have taken advantage of it.”
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 2, par-72 course)
134 – Daniel Gaunt (AUS) 68-66, Craig Ross (SCO) 68-66
136 – Todd Clements (ENG) 71-65, MG Keyser (RSA) 70-66
137 – Seve Benson (ENG) 69-68, Jack McDonald (SCO) 70-67
138 – Benjamin David (ENG) 69-69
139 – Rayhan Thomas (IND-Am) 69-70, Lionel Weber (FRA) 68-71, Max Smith (ENG) 68-71, Tom Shadbolt (ENG) 70-69
140 – Antoine Schwartz (FRA) 70-70, Dominic Foos (GER) 69-71, Jack Doherty (SCO) 72-68, Joshua White (ENG) 72-68, Andrew Burmester (RSA) 70-70
141 – Daniel Hendry (SCO) 71-70, Rigel Fernandes (IND) 70-71, Oliver Jacobsson (SWE) 69-72, Robert Dinwiddie (ENG) 71-70
142 – Robin Roussel (FRA) 73-69, Harry Konig (ENG) 72-70, Robbie Busher (ENG) 72-70, Ahmad Baig (PAK) 69-73, Conor O’Neil (SCO) 72-70, Erik Jonasson (SWE) 70-72, Constantin Schwierz (GER) 71-71
143 – Gustaf Kocken (SWE) 72-71, James Allan (ENG) 71-72, Taylor Carter (ENG) 70-73, Maarten Bosch (NED) 74-69, Josh Hill (ENG-Am) 71-72
(PICTURES ATTACHED: Daniel Gaunt (joint leader), Rayhan Thomas (leading amateur), Todd Clements (best round of the day)