Duncan Stewart matched the course record with a six-under 66 to take a healthy two-shot lead after round one as Morocco’s ace amateur Mustapha El Maouas led the region’s challenge with a solid 71 in the MENA Golf Tour’s American Express Dirab Golf Championship on Monday.
In glorious sunshine, the Scot fired six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle to tie the course record set by Pakistan’s Shafiq Masih and Craig Smith of Wales in the final the round of last year’s championship.
Defending champion Masih, looking to atone for missing the cut at last week’s Dubai Creek Open, made good use of his ‘local knowledge’ to shoot a solid 68 and join hot favourite Zane Scotland and Greg Nicolson in second place, one shot ahead of Tommy Mou.
The English duo of Daniel Owen and William Harrold, Michael Harradine of Switzerland and Sweden’s Fredrik Quicker were tied for sixth on a two-under 70.
“I really was playing as good a golf as I have played for a while,” said Masih, a former teaching professional at the Dirab Golf and Country Club. “My putting was a lot better today. I know what it takes to shoot low on this course. You never know what tomorrow holds, but I feel like I’m in great position,” he added.
The day, however, belonged to Stewart, who found his groove quickly and made the turn four-under before dropping his first shot on the 10th. He picked up two more shots – on the 11th and 15th – and eagled the 13th to end the round with a broad smile lighting up his face.
“It was a good day at work,” he said. “I struck the ball well and created many birdies opportunities, which was good.”
With two wins and a second from the first three events of the tour this season, England’s Scotland continued his hot streak, reeling off seven birdies in his 68, but double-bogeyed the par-4 eighth after hitting his tee shot out of bounds before dropping another shot on the 16th.
The dropped shots may have undermined his day’s work, but the Englishman was pleased with his overall effort. “No complaints. I played pretty solid golf,” he said.
Scotland’s Nicolson admitted to “feeling great” after going bogey-free in his 68. “If I can maintain the same momentum in the next two rounds, I think I stand a good chance of posting a strong finish come Wednesday,” he said.
In all 15 players broke par in first round with Switzerland’s Dubai-based golfer Harradine producing the best score in the amateur division with a 70, one ahead of Morocco’s El Maouas. Bahrain’s Sultan Al Hakam and the Moroccan duo of Ahmed Marjae and Amine El Malki were tied on 1-over 73 in what is shaping up as a healthy rivalry between the region’s top amateurs.
Among the notables, Younes El Hassani of Morocco shot a level-par 72 along with England’s Ian Keenan.
Leading scores after Round One (par-72):
66 – Duncan Stewart (Scotland)
68 – Greg Nicolson (Scotland), Zane Scotland (England), Shafiq Masih (Pakistan)
69 – Tommy Mou (US)
70 – Daniel Owen (England), William Harrold (England), Fredrik Quicker (Sweden)
71 – Nicholas Mullhaupt (Switzerland), Jonathan Fransson (Swden), Tyler Hogarty (South Africa), Andrea Friis (Norway)
70 – Michael Harradine (Switzerland)
71 – Mustapha El Maouas (Morocco)
73 – Sultan Al Hakam (Bahrain), Ahmed Marjan (Morocco), Amine El Malki (Morocco)
74 – Abdulla Mubarak (Bahrain)