With their putters running hot, Jonathan Porteous and Sean McNamara made most of the scoring opportunities to take an early lead in the season-ending Tour Championship of the MENA Golf Tour at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club on Monday.
On a bright, sunny day, the duo carded an identical six-under-par 65 in the first round at the elegantly laid-out 6,612-yard layout for a one-shot lead over a charging trio that included Order of Merit leader Peter Richardson, Jake Shepherd and Geoff Lound of New Zealand.
Dubai-based amateur Michael Harradine and Zane Scotland, the winner of the Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open, were a further shot behind the leaders on a four-under-par 67, raising the prospects of another absorbing battle when the second round gets under way on Tuesday.
Among the notables, experienced Yasin Ali of England signed off with a 70 while Morocco’s Faycal Serghini posted a three-under 68, one shot better than England’s Ross Canavan, who, at present, is placed second on the Order of Merit.
UAE’s leading amateur Khalid Yousuf did well to go two-under on the opening day while Ahmed Al Musharrekh settled for a level-par 71, which included an ugly triple bogey on the par-five 10th.
With 34 players in a field of 50 breaking par, the day belonged to those who smashed their approaches close to the flags and putted with precision. “I played steady and didn’t make much mistakes,” said England’s Porteous.
“I made just one bogey when I three-putted on the par-3, thirteenth, the only disappointment of the day. The course is playing really well and anyone who can go low. It feels nice to make such a solid start, but I will have to keep the momentum going in the remaining rounds,” he added.
His compatriot McNamara was equally pleased with his day’s work. “I putted well and most of my approaches were within 10 feet of the pin and that made the difference,” said the Englishman, who reeled off seven birdies, including four on the front nine, against just one bogey (on the ninth).
Young Shepherd, who squandered a massive five-shot in the final round at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, has also put himself in a good position. “There are plenty of scoring chances out there and it will all depend how you grab them.
“I am pretty happy with my start, but I know a lot of guys will be doing well in the next two rounds. Nothing can be taken for granted at this moment,” said the 21-year-old who turned professional early this year.
Michael Harradine finally did some justice to his talent, shooting a tidy 67, the best by an amateur in the field on Monday. “I hit a lot of fairways and that was the key to posting a good number,” he said.
“Of late I have not been playing that well, but I hope things would be much better after this round. That fact that I had just one bogey on my card shows I pretty much played very steady golf,” added the son of a well-know golf course architect, Peter.
Pakistan’s Aadil Jehangir was shaping well for a good round until a double bogey on the 18th spoiled his efforts. “It’s pretty frustrating when you walk off with a double (bogey) on the last. I was striking the ball well and rolled in many good putts. But that’s golf – you can always expect the unexpected,” said the Pakistani after shooting three-under-par 68.
Leading first round scores (par 71):
65 – Jonathan Porteous (England), Sean McNamara (US)
66 – Geoff Lound (New Zealand), Jake Shepherd (UK), Peter Richardson (UK)
67 – Michael Harradine (AM-Switzerland), Zane Scotland (UK)
68 – Abdelhak Sabi (Morocco), Gary Birch Jr. (Germany), Greg Nicolson (UK), Aadil Jehangir (Pakistan), Chris Chamberlain (UK), Shahid Murtaza Javed Ahmed (Pakistan), Faycal Serghini (Morocco)
69 – Khalid Yousuf (AM-UAE), Mohammed Bellaroussia (AM-Morocco), Ahmed Marjan (AM-Morocco), Joel Neale (UK), Willy Gift Elemenya (Nigeria), Cennydd Mills (UK), Ahmed-Reda Rhazali (Morocco), Shafiq Masih (Pakistan), Younes El Hassani (Morocco), Dale Marmion (UK), Ross Canavan (UK)
70 – Mukhtar Mirza (AM-Canada), Mustapha El-maouas (AM-Morocco), Nabil Abdul (Australia), Kamal Bensouda (Morocco), Abdel Kader El Hali (Morocco), Simon Dunn (UK), Matloob Ahmed (Pakistan), Yasin Ali (UK), Charan S Thethy (Kenya)
71 – Ahmed Al Musharrekh (AM-UAE), Charles Tetlow (UK), George Perry (US), Trevor Marshall (New Zealand).