Frenchman Antoine Schwartz played a stunning first round of 10-under par 62 in tough conditions at Dubai Hills Golf Club on Tuesday to open up a five-shot lead in the Troon Series – Dubai Open presented by Turkish Airlines.
Despite playing in a steady afternoon wind, the 29-year-old Parisian went on a birdie binge and was an incredible 11-under par through his first 12 holes. That included nine birdies and an eagle from 30 feet on the par-5 11th hole.
A late bogey on the 16th put paid to his hopes of shooting the first-ever 59 on the MENA Tour, but the 62 was good enough for a five-shot advantage over England’s Benjamin David, Scotland’s Craig Ross and Dutchman Pierre Junior Verlaar (all 67s).
Seven players were tied for fifth place at four-under par 68, including Zane Scotland, the most successful player in the history of MENA Tour with 10 wins.
In the amateur category, England’s Jack Floydd was the best with a two-under par 70, followed by his compatriots Curtis Knipes and Ben Davies (both 71).
Schwartz’s effort matched the lowest round ever on the Tour, previously held by South Africa’s MG Keyser and India’s Rayhan Thomas (both 61, 2017 Dubai Creek Open). It also matched the largest 18-hole lead, which was what Scotland enjoyed at the 2013 Royal Golf Dar Es Salam Open.
Schwartz, who topped the Pro Golf Tour Order of Merit in 2016 and qualified for the European Challenge Tour last year, was two-under par after four holes with birdies on the first and third, before unleashing a flurry of stunning shots over the next eight holes.
The 10-under par 62 round was his best as a professional, bettering an eight-under par 62 four years ago in Austria.
“It was just an unbelievable day. I hit so many good shots today. Everything was just perfect,” said Schwartz, playing his first season on the MENA Tour.
“Of course, you are thinking about a 59. The last five-six holes here are tough, and even more in the windy conditions that we faced almost throughout the day. I just tried to stay aggressive and I even gave myself a couple of chances, but it was not to be.
“I’d love to shoot 62 every day, but this one was very special because the golf course wasn’t playing easy because of the wind.”
As part of MENA Tour’s commitment to enhance the playing opportunity for its members, the champion this week gets an invite to the Slovakia Challenge (July 4-7), on the European Challenge Tour.
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.
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.