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Gaunt rediscovers his love for the game

Australian Daniel Gaunt regains his love for the game as he moves into a tie for the Troon Series – Al Zorah Open lead

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).

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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.

LEADING SCORES
(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)

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