Joost Luiten is hoping to continue his impressive run of form as the Dutchman gets set to defend his Oman Open crown when the second staging of the Sultanate’s biggest ever sporting event gets underway at the stunning Al Mouj Golf tomorrow (February 28).
The 33-year-old, who won the inaugural title after a thrilling final-round battle with good friend Chris Wood, arrives in Muscat in red-hot form after a string of solid performances on the 2019 Race to Dubai schedule.
Having started the season with a third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, Luiten went on to share sixth place at the Saudi International powered by SBIA before recording his best result at a World Golf Championships event, as he shared tenth place with former World No.1 Tiger Woods at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
“I’ve been playing great this year,” said the six-time European Tour winner. “Hopefully I can bring that form to this golf course and do well – but its golf, you never know what you’re going to get when you start the week.
“It was very special last year, and when you win you need to go back and defend. I love this place and this golf course. It feels a bit tougher than last year, especially into the greens. We’ll have to see what happens when we get out there, especially when the wind starts blowing.”
Wood, who will be starting his 2019 season at the tournament after an injury-hit end to 2018, is targeting a return to the winner’s circle after finishing runner up on three occasions in 2018 – at the Oman Open, HNA Open de France and KLM Open.
“I’ve not played for a while – I was injured at the end of last year and then we had our second child a few weeks ago,” said the 31 year old. “It was always the plan to start the season here; I missed the first part of the Desert Swing so I’ve been doing a lot of practice at home – but Bristol isn’t the same as the Middle East in January or February.
“Nobody has the right to moan about this course this week, it’s fantastic,” he continued. “The greens are up there with the best we play on all year. The golf course is immaculate and the facilities are great. This tournament will only grow and grow because of the strength of the course and the facilities.”
Along with last year’s champion and runner-up the stellar Oman Open field also includes Ricardo Gouveia, Bernd Ritthammer and Clemént Sordet, all of whom have fond memories of Al Mouj Golf after previously winning the European Challenge Tour Grand Final at the venue in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
“It’s a great venue and I have some great memories from 2015 on the Challenge Tour,” said Gouveia, who sealed the title with a one-stroke triumph over 2018 Road to Ras Al Khaimah champion Joachim B. Hansen, who will also be in the field this week.
“The course is very similar and it’s always in great condition. It’s key that you have good distance control with the winds we have. It’s normally a windy course, so you need to control both your distance and ball flight. The greens are firm and fast and rolling really nicely too.”
Other notable names competing for the $1,750,000 prize-fund include two-time Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher, former Ryder Cup players, Edoardo Molinari and Victor Dubuisson as well as history-making Oliver Fisher, who became the first man to shoot 59 in a European Tour event last season at the Portugal Masters.
Meanwhile, the Oman Gas team triumphed in the Pro-Am with super Spaniard Jorge Campillo leading Mike Rennardson, Mohammed Al Namaani and Mark Evans to victory on an outstanding total of 31 under par.
Play gets underway at 6:45am (GST) tomorrow from the first and tenth tee while Oman’s No.1 amateur Azaan Al Rumhy kicks off his Oman Open from the first tee at 11:40am alongside Kieren Pratt and Gouveia.