Matthew Baldwin cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in the Journey To Jordan-1, the opening event of 2019 season of the MENA Tour by Arena, winning by a record margin of eight shots at Ayla Golf Club.
The 32-year-old from Southport left the field in his wake with his second successive round of six-under par 66 to tally a 19-under par 197 for three days.
Sweden’s Erik Jonasson matched Baldwin’s 66 in the final round but that could only take him to 11-under par. The consolation prize for him was a spot in the Challenge de Espana, an event on the European Challenge Tour in first week of May.
Scotland’s Conor O’Neil (70) and Belgium’s Christopher Mivis (70) were tied for third place at 10-under.
England’s Curtis Knipes (71) capped off a fantastic two weeks in Jordan by finishing as the Leading amateur, a week after he secured a full card through the Qualifying School. Jack Floydd struggled on the final day and slipped down with a four-over 76 to finish second, three shots behind Knipes.
Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill finished third among amateurs with an even-par round for a two-under par total, while good friend Arjun Gupta, another 14-year-old from Dubai, shot a bogey-free six-under par 66, matching the best round of the day.
The previous record for the largest margin of victory in a 54-hole tournament on the MENA Tour was by Frenchman Lionel Weber, who won the 2017 Mountain Creek Open by seven shots. Baldwin’s dominance broke that record by one.
Winner of the B Stage of the Qualifying School earlier this week at the same golf course, Baldwin was simply unstoppable on the front nine, even though he made just four birdies in his first 10 holes. He missed at least another couple of chances from less than six feet.
With no-one in the field making a charge, he could afford to take it easy on the back nine, but after a slight wobble that saw him make a fighting par on the 11th hole from the left waste area and a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 12th, he rolled in three more birdies coming in.
“It’s been a great three days here. It’s nice to be able to play golf with a clear head. Last year was a bit of a struggle and I took a long break of two months and did not touch my clubs. So, it was good to come out and play the kind of golf I think I can play,” said Baldwin.
Jonasson never had a chance to catch up, but he was delighted with his runners-up finish, having turned professional only late last year.
The 23-year-old from Stockholm, like Baldwin, had just one bogey on his card and said: “It feels amazing. I made a birdie on the first hole, and that just got me going. I am beyond happy to make such a strong start to the season.”
The 54-hole Journey To Jordan-1 featured 117 players battling it out for a total prize purse of US$100,000, the largest in the history of the Tour since its inception in 2011.
Ayla Golf Club is the first championship-size green golf course in Jordan and opened to public play in September 2016. The club will host three events on the 2019 season’s Journey to Jordan, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
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Phil Mickelson wrapped up his fifth victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Monday after play was extended into an additional day.
The 48-year-old five-time major winner finished on 19 under after returning to the California course play the closing two holes of his final round.
Third-round leader Paul Casey finished second on 16 under with Mickelson’s fellow American Scott Stallings a shot further back.
Mickelson, who had also led by three when play was suspended due to bad light on Sunday, finished with a birdie at the last to sign for a closing seven-under 65.
Casey, who had been three ahead after 54 holes, also birdied the last to put some shine on an otherwise frustrating one-under 71.
Mickelson’s win equalled Mark O’Meara’s record number of victories in the tournament and saw him become only the second man after Tiger Woods to surpass 90million US dollars (£70million) in career earnings.
Mickelson, whose victory was also his 44th on the PGA Tour, told reporters: “This is a special place to win at.
“I have so many incredible memories and recollections here over the years and to be able to add to them is something special.
“To play some of my best golf on a Sunday and catch such a good player as Paul Casey means a lot to me.”
Former world number one Jason Day finished in a tie for fourth on 13 under with Kim Si-woo.
After creating history on the MENA Tour when he became the youngest player to secure his card through Qualifying School, Dubai-based Josh Hill has now set his sights on further glory when the season starts with the first tournament at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan, from Saturday.
The 14-year-old Hill, who was a runaway winner of the 2017 Emirates Golf Federation Men’s Order of Merit, finished tied 27th at three-over 219 in the 54-hole B Stage, from which the top 34 players qualified at five-over 221.
Hill’s effort is even more remarkable because he had a nightmarish start with an eight-over 80 in tough playing conditions on day one.
No other player who shot worse than 77 on the opening day could qualify. He then added a three-under 69 and 70 in the final two rounds on the par-72 Greg Norman-designed golf course.
When told that he was the youngest ever to secure a full card on the MENA Tour, Hill was taken by surprise and said: “I did not know that. That’s pretty cool.
“But to be honest, I thought I’d finish a bit higher. Having said that, the field was very good, much better than what I thought it was going to be. Considering that I got a full card in a field that had so many Challenge Tour and other established players, it was a pretty good effort.”
Hill, who also won the European Under-16 Faldo Series title and is coached by Joe Marshall at the Claude Harmon III Performance Institute in Dubai Sports City, said he would cherish the experience of playing a Qualifying School so early in his career and feels the teaching will give him a definite advantage when he plays the first tournament, Journey to Jordan 1.
“I did feel a bit of pressure,” said Hill.
“I wanted to guarantee that I had a card for myself so that I can play all nine or 10 events that I want to play this season. So, I did feel a bit of pressure…not much, not like what the pros must have felt.
“It has definitely prepared me for the first tournament. I know how the course plays now and how I need to play it under tournament pressure. In any other tournament, I would not have so much information before teeing off on day one. I am really pumped up for the tournament and can’t wait for it to start.”
Hill has set himself some lofty goals for the season.
“My expectations are to top the Amateur Order of Merit and get at least one top-five finish. I want to win a lot of world amateur golf ranking points and compete against the top players in the region,” revealed Hill, who is currently ranked 1,753 in the amateur world rankings.
Not the weather we expected at @AylaOasis, but we have been told sunshine has been ordered for the tournament days! Overcast, intermittent rains, chilly winds - this could have been Scotland if not for those palm trees!! pic.twitter.com/4lCnu5Qxyu— MENA Tour (@theMENATour) 7 February 2019
“I hope to gain a lot of experience of what the professional game is like. There is a lot more etiquette and rules around the game that I need to be aware of. I think the MENA Tour is going to be great preparation for my future career as a pro golfer.”
Ayla Golf Club is the first championship-size green golf course in Jordan and opened to public play in September 2016.
The condition and its scenic setting adjacent to the Red Sea and at the foothills of the Shara Mountains have wowed the critics and golf fans ever since. The club will host three events of the 2019 season’s Journey to Jordan, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
The MENA Tour is returning to the world schedule after a year of restructuring and will feature 10 tournaments in 2019.
It will continue to provide official world golf ranking points, thus making it a perfect pathway for ambitious young professionals to the bigger tours, and for the players from the region to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.