Teenager Oliver Lindell proved he’s a sharp shooter on day two of the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final after jetting into Oman fresh from military service.
Lindell has just started his compulsory military duties in Finland, where male nationals are obliged to complete six months of service after they turn the age of 18.
There is no get-out clause even if you’re a professional on the European Challenge Tour – though special conditions apply when you’re competing on the Road to Oman.
And Lindell has clearly not let an extraordinary week get on top of him as his magnificent eight birdies on day two at Al Mouj Golf catapulted him into second, just one shot behind leader Estanislao Goya.
“I think (military service) is good for me,” said the 19-year-old. “We do pretty normal and basic things like shooting, getting the bed made – it’s long days starting from six o’clock and ends at quarter past nine. I’m on the sports side so we get free time from 5pm until 9pm.
“It’s good that I get out because for the first two weeks everyone has to be in, but I came from China so I said I had to practise for the next week.”
Even if Lindell gathers enough points to enter the top 15 and qualify for a European Tour card this week there’s no escaping what awaits him back home.
Low round of the week ✔️#NBOGrandFinal co-leader ✔️
Well played @LindellOliver
— Challenge Tour (@Challenge_Tour) November 2, 2017
“Let’s see how the road continues from here because over the next two or three weeks depends on how I play these last two rounds. It will be interesting,” he added.
“If I’m in top two I will go back to military service, but if not I have the European Tour qualifying final.”
Of the four day one leaders only Argentina’s Goya remains at the summit, sinking a birdie at the 18th that nudged him just ahead of Lindell at 11 under-par after another fantastic round.
However the Argentine, who was a Grand Final winner on the Challenge Tour nine years ago, insists he cannot afford to rest on his laurels.
“It was a really good day for me today,” said Goya.”It was a little bit hotter so I had to keep hydrated a little bit more, and it was a little bit more tricky in terms of the wind, so we had to be very careful and focus, make sure we were in the right places.
“I think these days the Challenge Tour is getting more and more difficult, the standard is getting even stronger. You can see that from the players who have won this year, so many different winners, and it truly is the Challenge Tour.
“You have to play really well to get yourself into the top 15. I’m in a good position, I still have chances, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it this weekend.”
Two Frenchman in Thomas Linard and Clement Sordet – who hit a hole in one on the eighth – currently share third place.
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.