Time may not be on Nick Cullen’s side but the Australian is desperate to prove he has what it takes amid a fierce and fresh-faced field at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman.
Not only is a cheque for €70,000 on the line this week but a precious European Tour card for next year – a gateway to the money and glamour alongside star golfers such as Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.
The top 15 in the Road to Oman rankings will be able to cash in though, in Cullen’s case, only a top-two finish will be enough for him to leap into the sought-after spots.
It’s still a long shot – the 33-year-old shares a five under-par lead after the first round at Al Mouj Golf with Poland’s Adrian Meronk, Argentina’s Estanislao Goya and Oscar Lengden of Sweden – and he admits experience only goes so far.
“Although I dropped one at the last it was a really good round in what is a really important week for me,” said Cullen, who has twice qualified for The Open Championship.
“Although I have played in Majors I don’t think that any of that will help you this week. The pressure is huge and there are a lot of really good players – lots of young guys coming through – so it is really tough out there and I am just trying to play as well as I can.
“I have been really consistent this year, something that I have been throughout most of my career, but I have gone three seasons without a win. I am desperate to return to the winners’ circle and this week would be the perfect time to do it.”
As things stand…
Lengden, Goya and Cullen would move into the top 15 at the expense of Dantorp, Heisele and Sciot-Siegrist pic.twitter.com/0cYgphMhJ4
— Challenge Tour (@Challenge_Tour) November 1, 2017
Englishman Aaron Rai, who qualified for the European Tour earlier this year, came close to adding his name to the leading quartet but bogeyed a troublesome 18th.
A superb 236-yard drive with the back end of a right-handed club from left-handed golfer Ismail Sharif was the highlight as Jumeirah Golf Estates marked a month to go until the DP World Tour Championship with a ceremonial tee shot on the Earth course on Monday.
His Excellency Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Federation, hit the opening ceremonial shot from the first tee ahead of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai curtain closer beginning on November 16.
A total of $8million (Dh29.3m) is up for grabs at the season-ending showpiece to crown the European Tour’s No 1 player following an arduous campaign spanning 47 tournaments in 26 countries.
To mark the official run in to the event Sheikh Al Qasimi fired a straight drive of 195 yards, but watched on as Sharif, known as the ‘forefather of UAE golf’, surpassed his effort by 41 yards when he realised there was no left-handed club for him to use.
This will be the ninth year that Jumeirah Golf Estates will host the event and CEO Yousuf Kazim insists the venue is always striving to improve the tournament experience for visitors.
Left handed Ismail Shareif, meanwhile, hits a longer drive despite using a right hand wood! 236 yards we’re told! Wow pic.twitter.com/bDYCohFAQU
— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) October 16, 2017
“This is the ninth year hosting this tournament here and it is a very important venue for not just JGE but the whole Emirate of Dubai,” said Kazim.
“We attracted 65,000 people to the tournament last year and it was broadcasted to over 500,000,000 people around the world, so this shows we need to take this challenge further and exceed ourselves and the service we offer our customers who attend the event.
“This year we are upgrading all our facilities so they enjoy it even more. So they can come in and enjoy the event as well as the facilities – like the village. Which has a kids’ zone, food and beverage stands and other facilities.
“This is something that makes us different and with the organisers, the European Tour, it is a constant challenge to make sure we are meeting customers’ expectations.”
Nick Tarratt, the European Tour’s Dubai-based director said excitement is building as they count down to one of Dubai’s most popular sporting events of the year.
“I’m very excited for the tournament. We’ve been planning for 11 months and now we’re a month away we’re ready for four weeks’ time,” he said.
There are four events remaining on the 2017 European Tour calendar, including the HSBC Champions, Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Challenge and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton won the Italian Open on Sunday, which earned him 990,398 points and saw him move from 11th to fifth in the Race to Dubai rankings.
Compatriot Tommy Fleetwood still leads the way with 3,974,247 points, followed by Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm.
Nick Tarratt, director of the European Tour International, Dubai office, is convinced that the renewed partnership with Emirates will only enhance their digital media platform and make it more appealing at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Emirates and the European Tour extended their agreement for another four years until 2021 last week in a deal which sees the Dubai based airline return as an official partner for next year’s Ryder Cup.
The Ryder Cup has gone from strength to strength since it was first played in 1927 and is now considered as not just one of golf’s elite tournaments but as a sporting global phenomenon.
The 2018 event will see the US defend their trophy at Le Golf National in France in September in the 42nd edition. While the game continues to evolve, so does the media platforms and Tarratt believes Emirates adds an extra dimension to reaching a wider fan-base.
Two of the benefits Tarratt outlines are the official Ryder Cup website and app, and other European Tour platforms through advertising impressions and territory activations, as well as access to collaborative databases.
“The digital media platform is moving so fast all the time, so some of these digital benefits are flexible with the event still, or just, 13 months away depending on your perspective,” he said.
“Being on the ground in Dubai we have the advantage and privilege of sharing strategies face to face at short notice with Emirates and other partners and if it is mutually beneficial to both parties we will agree additional enhanced benefits.
“Emirates are such a huge partner for the European Tour on the world stage that they can move the needle with some of their activations. We are happy to join these initiatives when and where appropriate and add our European Tour and Ryder Cup value through players and other television access or invite Emirates to join our initiatives.”
Tarratt says there are also opportunities for sponsor partners to join in FanZones and City Activations.
“As we all know sponsorship is moving at a fast pace with sponsors demanding new forms of benefits, through digital assets,” he added.
“We have to be parallel and, in fact, ahead of the game with these opportunities and be pro-active and not reactive to these new sponsor requests. We have to be always respectful to our sponsor and partners’ wishes and demands; they always have a choice with their sponsorship and marketing spend.
“They must continue to be a number one priority for the European Tour, alongside other huge partners of tournaments in Dubai and the region including DP World, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai Duty Free, our Race to Dubai government partners as well as our Challenge Tour and Senior Tour supporters in Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Destination Authority and the Sharjah Government through Shurooq respectively.
“If the funding model is correct for tournament and other European Tour projects, everything else takes care of itself.”
Emirates are a tour partner of the European Tour and the Race to Dubai and will continue to be a sponsor for the nine existing events which culminate in the prestigious DP World Tour Championship, Dubai: BMW PGA Championship, Nordea Masters, D+D Real Czech Masters, Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, Portugal Masters, Italian Open, Joburg Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge and South Africa Open Championship.