Richard Bland showed there was no substitute for experience when the former European Tour star charged into joint lead on the opening day of the Ghala Golf Club Open on the MENA Tour by Arena on Monday.
In his first start on the MENA Tour and calling himself a “46-year-old rookie”, England’s Bland shot a six-under par 66 to go on top of the leaderboard, where he was later joined by compatriots Nick Marsh and Max Smith.
Australia’s Daniel Gaunt, a winner last week at Al Zorah – a result that catapulted him 862 places in the world golf rankings to 1,147 – continued his good form and shot five-under 67. He was in tied fourth place with England’s Todd Clements and Scotland’s Jack McDonald. All three players were bogey-free in their rounds.
Among the amateurs, England’s Curtis Knipes led at three-under par 69. Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill was the next best at one-under par 71 with India’s Arkesh Bhatia, Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al Sharif and England’s Jack Floydd on 73.
Bland was solid throughout, except for a stretch of three holes where his tee shots abandoned the fairways and found the waste area. One of those holes – the par-4 11th – resulted in his only bogey of the day.
After playing 14 consecutive seasons on the European Tour, where he recorded 46 top-10s, Bland lost his Tour card last year.
“I think 66 is a great start. I definitely felt like I left a couple out there but hopefully, 66 puts me in good position going into the last two rounds,” said Bland, who will be playing the Challenge Tour later this year in an effort to get back his playing rights on the main tour.
He also has one eye on the seniors’ circuit for which he will become eligible in four years.
“The MENA Tour have been kind enough to give me some invites and I did not have to go through the Qualifying School. It’s a great set-up and playing with a scorecard is much better than sitting back home in the rain. I am grateful to them for the opportunity,” he added.
“I am planning to play next week in Dubai and then Bahrain and we will see where we are after that with my schedule. I am 46 now, but I still think I can do something on the European Tour. Just because you’ve had one poor year, you don’t become a bad player overnight.
“I also have to look at the bigger picture. I am four years away from 50 and I want to stay competitive when that time comes.
“So, the MENA Tour is a great fit for me, especially at this time of the year when we don’t have anything to play back home and the Challenge Tour is a few weeks away.”
Marsh, who lost his Challenge Tour card last year, made early bogeys on the second and sixth, but eight birdies in the round ensured a back nine of 31 in his 66.
“I made a three-putt bogey on the second hole and then another bogey on the sixth and gave myself a bit of talking to,” said the 24-year-old Marsh, who rose to world No14 in his amateur days.
“I just told myself to stay patient and do the simple things well – like finding fairways and greens – and the birdies would come. And they did.”
The tournament, with a prize purse of $75,000, is the third event of the 2019 season and features a full field of 114 players, including 10 amateurs.
As part of enhancing the playing opportunity for its members, the champion this week earns an invitation to the Andalucia – Costa del Sol Match Play (May 17-20) on the European Challenge Tour.
Six birdies on the back nine were not enough for Rory McIlroy to get close to Dustin Johnson, who won the WGC-Mexico Championship by five shots.
McIlroy did his best after making the turn one-over par, but though he made six birdies in seven holes before a bogey on the last, Johnson was every bit as good.
The American recorded five birdies in seven holes in a final-round 66 as he collected his 20th PGA Tour win and sixth World Golf Championship crown.
Things started well for McIlroy as he capitalised on an early bogey from Johnson to cut the gap further with a birdie on the second.
But dropped shots on the fourth and the sixth cost him momentum and by the time he rediscovered it, Johnson was matching him shot for shot.
The pair finished well clear of the rest of the pack, with McIlroy five shots ahead of a three-way share of third place, split between English duo Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Casey moved up 10 places on the leaderboard with a final round of 65, sparked by four birdies on the opening six holes.
Round of the day belonged to Justin Thomas, who carded a nine-under 62, while Tiger Woods had three birdies in a closing round of 69.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox won his first European Tour title with victory in the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in Perth.
Fox defeated Spain’s Adrian Otaegui 3&2 in the final at Lake Karrinyup after earlier narrow victories over Jazz Janewattananond, Kristoffer Reitan and Paul Dunne.
Dunne claimed third place after beating Zimbabwe’s Scott Vincent on the first extra hole of the play-off for third/fourth place.
Fox, who lost a play-off to Russell Knox in the Irish Open last year, said in an interview broadcast on Sky Sports: “I’ve been close a couple of times and it’s certainly nice to get one over the line today in a place I hold pretty special. I’ve played a lot of golf here and always enjoyed myself.
“Adrian didn’t quite play to his best this afternoon but I’m quite happy to take advantage of that.
“I played great this afternoon and felt probably under the most control in all the matches so it was nice to finish in style.”
Dunne, who partnered Gavin Moynihan to victory in the GolfSixes event last year, added: “I’m good friends with Ryan so I’m happy for him. His first win has been coming for a long time. Obviously it’s at my expense so it’s a little bittersweet, but if I was to lose to anyone this week I’m happy it’s Ryan.”
Ryan Fox is the 2019 ISPA Handa World Super 6 Perth Champ! 🏆🇳🇿 pic.twitter.com/BXLG6IORSf— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 17, 2019