Rising star Rayhan Thomas and Jake Shepherd picked up their running battle at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club from exactly where they left it last year, rising to the top of the leaderboard after the opening round of MENA Golf Tour’s Dubai Creek Open.
England’s Shepherd had denied the then 15-year-old Dubai-based amateur Thomas a shot at glory when he won the title last year in a playoff after the two could not be separated in regulation 54 holes.
And in the opening round of what is the 50th tournament in the history of MENA Golf Tour, Shepherd fired a seven-under par 64 early in the morning, while Thomas broke his own amateur course record with a brilliant six-under par 65 in the afternoon.
It was a lip-smacking leaderboard, with Zane Scotland, the most successful player in the history of the Tour with 11 wins, and former Order of Merit champion Luke Joy were both tied for third place at five-under par 66.
Shepherd’s 64 was one short of the professional course record 63 (held by Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke), but Thomas surpassed his own mark of 66, which he achieved in last year’s tournament.
Thomas has been enjoying a superb run of form and recently won the Scottish Boys Open during his trip to the UK in summer. Back home, he has been sweating it out with his coach Justin Parsons at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Dubai Sports City.
On Monday, Thomas made just one bogey – a three-putt on the par-3 16th – but also made seven birdies after hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation.
The 16-year-old, who studies from home, interrupted his Spanish lesson to speak to Sport360 and said: “The confidence is high and I have been missing tournament play for the past month. I was really eager to get back on the course. I have been putting well and I am swinging the best that I have ever done.
“I was expecting a good round, but this turned out to be really solid. I was very happy with the way I played. My ball-striking was really good and I really did not have to make any crazy long putt in the whole round.
“As for my duel with Jake, I get along very well with him. We practiced a lot together at Butch Harmon School of Golf before the tournament. I think there is something about the Creek course that favours both of us.
“No, I am not seeking revenge. But I sent him a message after the round saying this felt very familiar!”
Shepherd made an early bogey on the third hole, but got back with four birdies on the trot after that. He later added an eagle on the 10th and two more birdies coming in.
Pleased with his day’s work, Shepherd said: “It was a bit crazy out there. I had no expectations coming into this tournament as I hardly played any golf in the last three months, but things fell into place, especially my long game, which was in great shape.
“I was fighting big time with my short game, but today I holed some nice putts. Very, very pleased with the start.”
Danny Poulter, brother of Ryder up hero Ian, opened with a level-par 71 while UAE’s Ahmed Al Musharrekh returned a 75.
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