Former Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke will compete in the Dubai Creek Open starting Monday, in a significant boost for the MENA Tour.
Now in its sixth year, the event at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club continues to gather strength, and the presence of Clarke, a patron of the MENA Tour, will be one of the many storylines leading into the week.
The 49-year-old who won the Open Championship in 2011 is grouped with reigning champion Rayhan Thomas and Sweden’s Fredrik From, with the trio going out at 11am.
Of the many stars on show, much attention will fall on the shoulders of 17-year-old Dubai-based Thomas, who has climbed to 50th in the world amateur rankings. Should he defend his title, will become the second player after Zane Scotland to win the tournament on two separate occasions.
Speaking of Rayhan’s spectacular rise, Clarke said: “Rayhan is a special talent. What he has achieved and the way he is going it is very easy to heap pressure on him. He’s got a huge future in front of him.
“To win here last year in the way he did, that’s another marker in his career and I’ll certainly be watching what lines he’ll be taking off the tees this week.”
He added: “All the people looking in can see what Rayhan has achieved and then hopefully follow in his footsteps.”
In the third year of his role as patron, Clarke provides strategic input into the planning, implementation and management of the Tour’s programmes.
“With a lot of fresh talent coming through the ranks, the MENA Tour is headed in the right direction and now has an increasingly cosmopolitan feel as reflected in the roll of honour which has seen 46 different winners from 19 countries,” said the Ulsterman, who was also instrumental in attaining Official World Golf Ranking recognition for the tour last year.
“The next step to take the MENA Tour forward is some local support from the UAE to realise how special this tour is.
“The UAE needs more support, from word of mouth around the world to more financial backing. These events are expensive to run.
“The players are being tested on proper courses which can only be a good thing. I think the MENA Tour has made golf – from a professional point of view – more attractive for guys to play in the UAE.”
Christopher May, CEO of Dubai Golf, said: “We look forward to welcoming players from different nationalities on the MENA Tour. With the great Darren in the field, the event has taken on a special significance. I am sure the script will have some exciting twists and turns.”
“Our golf course operations team have spared no pain in ensuring the (par-71) course is in great condition for the big week,” he added.
Emirates is set to become an official partner of The 2018 Ryder Cup as part of a four-year renewal of the airline’s existing European Tour Agreement which will run until 2021.
The 42nd edition of The Ryder Cup, one of the highlights of the sporting calendar, will take place at Le Golf National in France in September 2018.
The agreement renewal means that Emirates will continue to be a sponsor for the existing nine European Tour events which culminate in the prestigious DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.
“Emirates partnering The 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris is huge news for the region,” said Nick Tarratt, Director European Tour International Dubai Office.
“The renewal of the partnership between Emirates and the European Tour until 2021 is also exciting for us. This long-term agreement enables us to properly plan and collaborate in a visionary and mutually beneficial partnership.”
Emirates currently supports nineteen events on the European Tour International Schedule, as well as the Race to Dubai.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “We are delighted to continue our partnership with Emirates on the European Tour until 2021 and we also welcome them on board as an Official Partner of The 2018 Ryder Cup.
“I have no doubt our continued partnership with such a well-established and iconic global brand, and one which has vast experience in the sports sponsorship market, will be hugely beneficial not just to the European Tour but also to The Ryder Cup.”
The 2017 European Tour will feature the ninth edition of the Race to Dubai, the winner of which will be crowned European Number One at the end of the season.
The reigning Race to Dubai champion is Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, while other players to have held the honour include former World Number Ones Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy is “excited” at the prospect of a three-month break to focus on his health and his game, even though it means he’ll miss the European Tour’s season finale.
“I’m excited for it,” McIlroy said Wednesday on the eve of the Northern Trust — the first of four tournaments in the US PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
“To have three months where I can focus on myself, my health, my game and just improvement — I don’t think I’m ever going to get a chance like this in my career again where I get this opportunity to take three months to re-evaluate things.”
McIlroy continues to battle the after-effects of a broken rib suffered early in the season.
Although the rib has healed, he said a ligament where the rib attaches to his spine has “become quite lax” leading to inflammation in his back.
“It’s something that I’m going to have to address,” McIlroy said. “If I manage it over these next few weeks, I can’t do any damage to it.”
That fact helped him make up his mind to tackle the FedEx Cup playoffs. He had said after finishing 22nd in the PGA Championship this month that he might take off the rest of the season.
Instead he’s hoping he can replicate his FedEx Cup performance of last season, when he came into the playoffs ranked 36th and without a US win in 2016 and went on to win the series.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I had a chance. I’m here and I know I’ve done it before, and hopefully I can give myself a chance to do it again,” he said.
Once the four PGA Tour playoff events are over, McIlroy said, he’ll play the Dunhill Links Championship in October and step away until 2018.
That rules him out of three elite European Rolex Series events and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.
“I feel like it’s a tremendous opportunity to improve as a golfer and with my health and with everything,” he said. “I’ve already sat down with the team and we have a three-month plan going forward.”