Rising teen-star Victoria Tip-Aucha will create history when she tees it up at the MahaSamutr Masters, thus becoming the first woman golfer to play on the MENA Tour.
Born and brought up in the United States, the 15-year-old Victoria, of Thai heritage, has her game trending in the right direction following a string of firsts in the junior golf circuits both in the US and Thailand that has propelled her to be called a future champion by critics.
Victoria’s achievements on the other side of the Atlantic include victories at the 47th VSGA (Virginia State Golf Association) Championship and the Junior All-Star at Chantilly National, both in 2016.
Victoria remains unruffled at all the hype and the prospect of going up against stronger players under pressure when the tournament starts at MahaSamutr Country Club in Hua Hin from Tuesday.
“This is a new challenge for me and I love challenges because they offer me an opportunity to grow in some way and stretch my creative muscles. Really looking forward to it,” said the in-form Victoria, who has already won five times on the Thailand girls golf circuit this year, including wins at the International School Junior Golf Tournament and ASB Eagle Cup.
“I’m grateful to MahaSamutr Country Club for inviting me to compete in this year’s tournament. I truly value their gesture. I’m not playing to prove anything, but just loved the idea of playing in a men’s event. Simple as that.
“I hope the experience of playing alongside MENA Tour players will stand me good stead and that will be the biggest takeaway from the tournament.
“Obviously, my immediate goal is to post a strong finish, but I can’t really control all of it. What I can control is how hard I try and what I can do. What I can do is to have fun out there and just play the best I can.”
There is no rule against women playing in men’s tour events, but only a few, including Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson have attempted the feat since Babe Didrikson Zaharaias, the first woman to play against men in a PGA Tour event in 1938.
“We are really delighted to have Victoria join our tournament. She is charismatic, she is skillful and her presence will keep the atmosphere buzzing,” said Veeranat Limprasutr, Head of Business Development and Director of Operations at MahaSamutr Country Club in Hua Hin.
“Golf is a game you play against yourself, so it’s going to be a Victoria vs Victoria show in her quest to improve and test her abilities. If you look at her achievements, it’s so impressive. Our invitation is a step in the process of making her a better player.”
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Tour, commented: “It’s indeed ground-breaking for the Tour as Victoria is making her first foray into a men’s event. She is a special talent, one who combines feminine grace with power and technique, making her a suitable candidate for a strong ambassador for the future of women’s golf.
“I wish her the very best and, like every one, we will be watching her progress during the tournament with keen interest. We just want her to play well and enjoy every moment.”
A guaranteed spot on the PGA Tour’s 2018 DEAN & DELUCA Invitational (for the MENA Tour champion), multiple European Tour starts, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Hassan II Trophy, Maybank Championship Malaysia, and the KLM Open, are just some of the added incentives that await MENA Tour members, in addition to playing privileges on the Sunshine Tour, and exemptions into the Final Stage of the Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour Q-Schools.
Daniel Owen fired back-to-back six-under 66s to move within touching distance of an elusive breakthrough victory on the MENA Tour going into the final round (Wednesday) of the Ras Al Khaimah Classic at Tower Links Golf Club.
The Bahrain-based Englishman kept it clean, rolling in six birdies, three in each half, to reach 12-under for the tournament, five shots ahead of a five-man group which included European Tour veteran Stephen Dodd, who carded a second-round 67.
Overnight joint leader Max Williams, along with fellow Englishmen Jordan Garnish and Jamie Elson and Australia’s Peter Stojanovski, joined Dodd, a three-time winner on the MENA Tour, for a share of second.
Spain’s Francisco Perez and England’s Paul Dwyer, who were among a four-way tie for the lead overnight, left themselves with some work to do, though, after carding respective rounds of 73 and 72.
On a hot day, it was Owen who took charge of proceedings with a near-impeccable all-round game.
The 27-year-old said: “Played pretty solid and drove the ball very well. “I have been coming here since 2011 and know the course pretty well. It suits my eye. “I did miss a couple of greens, but never really got into much trouble. I gave myself good opportunities and made a few putts.
“Obviously, it’s hard to ignore where I am, but at the same time the game plan doesn’t change. I will try and make some early birdies to kind of settle the nerves and, hopefully, get the job done this time around.”
A three-time European Tour winner, Dood, who mixed six birdies with a lone bogey on the third in his second-round 67, could pose a significant threat to the leader if he manages to keep the momentum going all the way through.
The Welshman, who made his Senior Tour debut at the Senior Open Championship in July last year, won the 2016 Senior Italian Open, a feat which showed his hunger to scale the mountain is still as keen as ever.
Elsewhere, England’s Lee Corfield, a four-time winner on the MENA Tour, moved into a tie for 10th on five-under after a second round 71, one ahead of Craig Hinton, the winner of the 2016 MENA Tour Order of Merit title, as experienced Andrew Marshall settled for a tied 17th after a shooting a two-under 70.
England’s Todd Clements carded a 69 to top the amateur division on three-under, four shots ahead of Switzerland’s Dubai-based Michael Harradine, who backed his opening 71 with a 74.
The UAE’s Ahmed Al Musharrekh returned a second-round 75 for a total of seven-over-par 151, missing the cut, which was made at two-over, by five shots. A total of 54 professionals and nine amateurs have made it to the final round.
The final-round battle for the green jacket between Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose at Augusta National Golf Club last week turned out to be a real humdinger. The Spaniard needed one extra hole to break his major drought, and his fans the world over can now heave a sigh of relief.
Garcia’s stunning shot-making, and his duel with Rose, without doubt, were the talk of Augusta National last week, but there were several other stars who impressed, and some who disappointed. As we do after every major championship, here is the report card on some of the big names at the Masters…
Sergio Garcia (9.5):
The only reason we did not give him a 10 was for the four-hole spell he had on Sunday, starting from the bogey on the 10th to the Houdini-like par on the 13th.
Apart from that, he played 69 perfect holes, including the first extra hole against Justin Rose. He had just one three-putt, and was second in the field in both greens in regulation and fairways hit. That just shows how much he was in control of his game throughout.
Justin Rose (9):
We were tempted to give Rose an extra point for the graciousness with which he accepted defeat to Garcia.
On the golf course, the Englishman made as many as 21 birdies to lead the list, but was undone by his eight bogeys on the opening two days. With five top-11 finishes in his last six starts, Rose has shown his game is a natural fit at Augusta.
Charl Schwartzel (8.5):
The South African showed he is back in form after a knee injury kept him out for nearly nine weeks at the beginning of the year.
Displayed glimpses of his run in 2012 which netted him the green jacket – this time making four birdies in the last 10 holes. In 2012, he famously birdied four of his last four holes.
Was a great week for me, I tried hard but came up a little short. Big congrats to @TheSergioGarcia, well played my friend— Charl Schwartzel (@CA_Schwartzel) April 10, 2017
Thomas Pieters (8.5):
The Belgian is proving what a massive talent he is. Rookies rarely do well at Augusta, but Pieters seemed at ease. His displays on US soil indicate he is at home in those conditions.
Definitely saw this coming a few years ago. When you combine world-class talent with purpose, you get @Thomas_Pieters! Great finish TP!— Mike Small (@MikeSmall4) April 9, 2017
Matt Kuchar (8):
It was another top-five finish in the majors for the American, although one lucky shot played a big role in ensuring that happened. But if you shoot a 67 on Sunday in a major, the chances are that you were hitting shots good enough to result in aces.
Jordan Spieth (6):
There definitely are some scars from last year’s debacle at the 12th. Spieth made a nine on the par-5 15th on the opening day, and then fought his way back into contention. But the last-round 75 matched his worst effort at Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy (6):
The wait for a Grand Slam continues for the Northern Irishman for yet another year. He finished tied seventh without once looking his dominating self. Clearly, he has to be patient for his time to don the green jacket.
2 unbelievable players and 2 great friends, but I couldn't be happier for @TheSergioGarcia. You deserve it all amigo!!— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) April 9, 2017
Jason Day (4):
The Australian world No3 finished tied 22 at two-over par. Not great by his usual high standards, but considering he was under extreme mental duress because of his mum’s cancer situation and did not practice much, it was an okay result.
Henrik Stenson (1):
The Swede once compared playing the Masters as four intense rounds of boxing with the golf course.
This year, the reigning Open champion was knocked out in just two rounds.
Bubba Watson (1):
The two-time champion gets a zero for what he did on the golf course, a minus one for taking a cheap shot at a journalist after missing the cut, but two points for realizing his mistake, and making fun of himself while tendering an apology.
Danny Willett (0):
The Englishman had the worst title defence since Mike Weir in 2003, missing the cut and continuing a dismal run of form.
His 151 included 14 on the first hole. Willett never recovered from his double and quadruple bogey starts.