Niclas Weiland continued the trend of debutants taking the MENA Tour by storm as the young Swede took a one-shot lead with a sparkling bogey-free seven-under par 65 on an extremely windy opening day of the Abu Dhabi Open by Arena.
At Yas Links Abu Dhabi on Monday, he was one ahead of England’s James Allan, who could not have asked for a better celebration on the occasion of turning 25. The southpaw from Chelmsford, England, submitted a six-under par 66 card.
The players had to battle high wind throughout the day, which was severe in the morning and subsided only slightly in the afternoon. Play was also suspended for half an hour at 4pm local time because of a sandstorm.
Another debutant, England’s Mitchel Sarling, made an eagle on the 18th hole to finish on five-under par 67, where he was joined by Italian veteran Alessandro Tadini and Sweden’s Gabriel Axell.
In-form South African MG Keyser, leader in the Journey To Jordan, played early in the morning when the wind was at its peak, but did very well to shoot a 68, where the English duo of Harry Konig and Matt Killen joined him later in the day.
Dubai-based 15-year-old Josh Hill rediscovered his form with the driver and reaped rich dividends with a three-under par 69 that put him on top of the amateur leaderboard. England’s Jack Floydd, who finished second last week in Journey To Jordan-2, came in with a 70. Robin ‘Tiger’ Williams, who sensationally won last week by eight shots, started his campaign with a 73.
The 24-year-old Weiland turned professional this year after finishing his college at Barry University in the US. He played a few events on the Nordic Golf League where his best finish was a T-6 in Landeryd Masters. His mother took up a new job in Abu Dhabi recently, and Weiland was quick to request the Tour for spots in a few events on the Autumn Schedule.
He made the most of his exemption, getting off to a hot start with three straight birdies and never let that momentum slip away.
“I played solid and made very few mistakes. I made good putts on the first three holes. After that, I was able to recover well whenever I made any mistake,” said Weiland, who will become the second straight debutant to win on the Tour after Williams last week if he holds on to his lead.
“The conditions were pretty tough out there. The wind switched when we were on the back nine, so I think it was slightly tougher for us.”
Allan, who qualified for the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School last week, made the long-winding travel from Milan to London and on to Abu Dhabi, and was feeling the effects.
“I am very pleased with that. I started well with two birdies in the first two holes, but it was from the fourth hole to the 14th that we seemed to be playing continuously into the wind. I was feeling tired on the back nine, and that could be the reason why I made a bogey from the middle of the fairway on the 15th. But overall, I am chuffed with that round.
“I will spend the evening with some friends and celebrate, but I have a late tee time tomorrow, so I should be fresh. There will be no excuse about my round tomorrow.”
Keyser was among the earliest to go out and he faced the full brunt of the wind, but that was something that helped him play better on a golf course on which he has not done very well before.
“I have never played well on this course. I tend to overthink here a bit, but it was so windy today that you just can’t do that. I tried to play a little safe. And it also helped that we were in Ayla Golf Club last week, which was again very windy on all four days,” said Keyser.
Four players were tied for the ninth place at three-under par 69, including Hill, Daniel Hendry (Scotland), Harry Ellis and Paul Dwyer (both England).
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World number five Jon Rahm will be one of the star attractions as he defends his home title at the Open de Espana in Madrid this week.
Rahm followed in some famous Spanish footsteps as he joined the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia as a winner of the event when he triumphed in the capital last year.
The 24-year-old is now hoping to retain a title for the first time as the event moves to the Club de Campo Villa, following his two-shot win over Paul Dunne at Centro Nacional in April 2018.
Rahm told europeantour.com: “There are some weeks when I really want to win. I’d love to be a multiple winner of the Open de Espana, and I’d love this to be the first time I successfully defend a title.
“It won’t be more pressure than last year. That was the first time I played the event, I was fourth in the world, I had just played well at Augusta.
Rahm will tee off alongside countrymen Rafa Cabrera Bello and Adri Arnaus on Thursday while Garcia, Alvaro Quiros and veterans Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez are among the other Spanish entrants.
More to follow…
Danny Willett claimed his seventh European Tour title and a first on home soil after overcoming Spain’s Jon Rahm in a final-round duel at the BMW PGA Championship.
Willett carded a closing 67 at Wentworth to finish 20 under par, three shots ahead of fellow overnight leader Rahm, with South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout a shot further back.
Rory McIlroy, who made the cut with nothing to spare, added a 67 to his third round of 65 to finish in a tie for eighth, his 16th top 10 in 21 events this season.
After missing the cut at Wentworth last May, Willett was ranked 462nd in the world as he struggled with a loss of form precipitated by a number of injuries. The 31-year-old from Sheffield will be just outside the top 30 when the rankings are updated on Monday.
“It doesn’t get much better than this, does it?” Willett told Sky Sports. “It was a battle out there, with myself more than anyone else, and it’s nice to come through the other side.”
Willett and Rahm began the day tied for the lead and the Englishman struck the first blows with birdies on the second and third before Rahm made a gain on the fourth to halve his deficit.
A birdie on the eighth restored Willett’s two-shot lead but he looked set to surrender it after hitting a tree with his recovery shot following a wild drive on the 11th and then gouging his third shot out of the heather into a bunker.
The former Masters champion appeared to have hurt his right wrist in the process but, after finding the green with his fourth, he holed from 40 feet to drop just one shot.
Rahm bogeyed the 12th after misjudging his pitch to the green and seeing the ball roll back towards him, but the Ryder Cup star bounced back immediately to birdie the next.
However, after debating which club to hit on the par-three 14th, Rahm chose the wrong option to come up short of the green in a bunker and was unable to get up and down for par.
Both players came up just short of the green in two on the par-five 17th and Willett struck the killer blow by chipping to within inches of the hole.
Rahm’s chip ran five feet past and although he holed the putt for a birdie, Willett tapped in to take a two-shot lead to the 18th tee and any doubt about the result was removed when Rahm found the water short of the green with his approach.
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