Saudi star Othman Almulla ready for Oman Open challenge

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Othman Almulla will compete in his second European Tour event of the month when the Oman Open kicks off on Thursday and Saudi’s first professional golfer is determined to not just make up the numbers at the stunning Al Mouj Golf.

The 32-year-old will join the likes of defending champion Joost Luiten, 2018 winning Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn and Oman’s No.1 amateur Azaan Al Rumhy in the Sultanate after receiving an invitation to play from event promoters, the Oman Golf Committee.

“Azaan is one of my closest and dearest friends so I spoke with him about participating in the tournament and from that conversation the Oman Golf Committee sent me an invitation which was nice,” said Almulla. “I think it’s important for the GCC countries to support each other in golf and give the guys opportunities to play in these events.

“It still feels like I’m living a dream when competing in such prestigious tournaments but I want to do something to make myself and my country proud. If I can give myself a chance to make the cut that will be a surreal week for me. If I play the golf that I can play I know I’m good enough to be out there. I’m not here just to make up the numbers; I want to be competing with these guys week in week out so hopefully I can put myself in a position to do that.”

Almulla’s first professional start came at the ground-breaking Saudi International, the first-ever European Tour event in Saudi Arabia, which featured four of the world’s top five golfers in the world – Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson Dechambeau.

Despite missing the cut at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Almulla was delighted to be a part of history in the Kingdom and help inspire the next generation.

“The Saudi International went way beyond expectations for me,” he said. “Obviously the scoring didn’t reflect the level where I want to be but it was one week where the scoring wasn’t as important for me. It was all about inspiring people and putting smiles on kids faces. It’s such an honorable thing to inspire the future generation to do something and if I have a little part to play then I’m happy to do it.”

Almulla tees off at 12:20 on Thursday with Denmark’s Kristoffer Reitan and Englishman Scott Gregory.

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Nick Marsh takes two-shot lead into final round of the Ghala Golf Club Open

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In control: Nick Marsh.

Nick Marsh battled hard in windy conditions and did his scoring as soon as things calmed down to take a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Ghala Golf Club Open on the MENA Tour by Arena on Tuesday.

Playing only his second event on the Tour, the 24-year-old Smith parred his way through the front nine, and like in the opening round on Monday, he made five birdies on the back nine to finish on five-under par 67 and 11-under 133 for the first 36 holes.

That gave Marsh, looking for his second win as a professional after a very successful amateur career that saw him climb as high as No14 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a two-shot advantage over Australia’s Daniel Gaunt (68), winner last week at Al Zorah, and England’s Max Smith (69).

Scotland’s Craig Ross shot the day’s best round of 65 to move into a tie for fourth place at 137 alongside his compatriot Jack McDonald (70), Frenchman Robin Roussel (68), Canadian Oliver Tubb (69) and England’s Todd Clements (70).

Among the amateurs, Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill shot a brilliant five-under par 67 to enjoy a one-shot lead over England’s Curtis Knipes (70). Hill was at six-under par total. Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al Sharif and England’s Jack Floydd were in third place after identical rounds of 73 and 68 over the first days.

The cut was applied at two-over 146 and 54 professionals, along with nine amateurs, have made it to the final round on Wednesday.

Marsh, who won the Dawson and Sanderson Classic on the EuroPro Tour in 2017, qualified for the Challenge Tour last year, but lost his card after a forgettable season.

Asked what changed on the back nine after making birdies on the 10th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes, Marsh said: “Well, the wind dropped. And my putts also started to drop.

“I made a long putt from almost 35 feet on the 15th, and birdied both the par-5s as well. I hit it quite close and it feels good to have two solid days. I am just going to have the same gameplan, same routine, same warm-up tomorrow, and let’s see where that takes us.

“I really don’t remember when was the last time I was leading going into the final round. Must be during my amateur days. But I know I just have to play good golf and take it one shot at a time.”

It’s just the third competitive event Gaunt is playing after quitting golf for almost 18 months, and he seems to be in a hurry to make up for the lost time.

“I am playing well. Almost bogey-free again today except for a three-putt on the eighth, and if I can keep doing the same thing, we might be in with a shot tomorrow,” he said.

“My attitude to golf has changed. I am not thinking about technique or things like that when I am playing. I am at a stage where I don’t think about the result. I am just trying to have fun.”

Twickenham resident Smith continued to take advantage of the par-5s at Ghala Golf Club and is now seven-under on them.

“I played really solid. I hit a couple of wild ones, but my short game has saved me. My good has been very good, and my bad has been OK. I have played the par-5s especially well,” said the 27-year-old, who was third in the MENA Tour event in Kuwait in 2017.

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.

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Richard Bland charges into joint lead on opening day of the Ghala Golf Club Open

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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.

Nick Marsh is one of three players leading the way.

Nick Marsh is one of three players leading the way.

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.

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