There was immense interest surrounding the tournament when former world No1 Tiger Woods included it in his comeback and McIlroy also signed up.
The Turkish Airlines Open was going to be Woods’ second event after Safeway Open on the PGA Tour, but the 14-time major champion postponed his scheduled return in the first week of October.
And given the political situation in Turkey, McIlroy also withdrew last Saturday. That has hurt the organisers more as the Northern Irishman was clearly the face of the tournament this year – his pictures adorning hoardings and banners everywhere in Antalya.
Agaoglu felt McIlroy was being disrespectful towards title sponsors Turkish Airlines, who are now heavily involved in golf.
“If they are afraid of such kind of things, there is no safe place in the world,” said Agaoglu.
“This is one of the major golf tournaments in the continent of Europe. I think we have to have a little bit of respect for the sponsors. Turkish Airlines is investing a lot in golf – apart from this they sponsor a Challenge Tour event, they sponsor a Ladies European Tour event, and they sponsor one of the biggest amateur events which involve so many golfers across the globe.
“It impacts our tourism also. Just saying that I don’t fine a country safe and pulling out, I don’t think it is a correct approach. You can be a super golfer, you can stand on top of the rankings, but being a super athlete, we need something else.”
Agaoglu was also disappointed that McIlroy did not get in touch with the organisers before announcing it in the media.
“I am little bit surprised…disappointed…because I learnt about Rory pulling out from the media,” he added.
“On the other hand, Tiger sent me an e-mail an hour before he announced that he was going to pull out. He apologized and said he was as disappointed as we were that he was withdrawing. I am very hopeful, and looking forward to, Tiger coming back and playing here next year.
“Frankly speaking, Antalya is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. In its history, not a single person has died or got injured by any terrorist attack here. This is the safest city in the whole of Turkey. This is also the safest hotel and golf course in the world. It recently hosted the G20 summit.”
Agaoglu said the organisers did everything that the European Tour had asked them to do to allay the fears of the players. He hoped a successful conduct of this year’s tournament will send out a strong message to the world about Antalya and Turkey.
“The European Tour demanded and we took a lot of extra security measures for the players who are coming from all parts of the world. We even had chartered flights from Shanghai and Gatwick this year,” he added.
“And there were many other players who came by themselves from all over the world. They also did not face any issues.
“Really, things are going well here. It is absolutely the same as it was last year. There is a campaign going on against Turkey. We all know this and we are doing our best to minimize it. This week will showcase that all is well with Turkey.”
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The Dubai-based teenager once again showed the immense strides he has made in the last few years when he made the cut in his debut Challenge Tour event and posted rounds of 71, 70, 70 and 72 to card a commendable five-under par finish for tied 55th place in the tournament, for which he was handed a sponsor’s exemption by organisers Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).
Thomas, who left straight for Muscat to take part in the MENA Golf Tour Championship which begins on Sunday, could have finished with four straight sub-par rounds, but a lipped-out par putt from six feet denied him that pleasure.
Thomas was still delighted with his effort, even though he felt he left a few shots out there.
“I’m happy, although five-under par is the worst I could have shot in the tournament. I could have done a lot better than this. But I came into the tournament thinking whatever I did, was going to be a learning experience for me. So, the mistakes I made were as important as all the birdies I made,” said the 16-year-old, now ranked 132nd in the world amateur golf rankings.
“That last one didn’t drop but this performance gives me a lot of confidence for next year and the future. The only way is up. If I keep progressing at this rate then the sky is the limit.
“This experience has been invaluable to me and my first Challenge Tour event is something I’ll cherish forever.”
Thomas’ participation in Muscat is a mere formality as far as MENA Tour amateur Order of Merit is concerned. No other amateur can overtake him, even if they win the tournament.
There must be something in the name Jordan. Englishman Jordan Smith, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former world No1 Jordan Spieth, all but ensured himself a European Tour card by winning the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah 2016 Golf Challenge on Saturday.
At Al Hamra Golf Club, a dramatic late surge on the back nine gave Smith a second European Challenge Tour win of the year and secured him the top spot in the Road to Oman ranking heading into the season finale next week.
The 23-year-old Englishman made four birdies in five holes to take a one-shot lead down the final hole, and a steady par helped him beat José-Filipe Lima to the top prize. Smith shot a final-round 66 for a 20-under par total.
“I’m over the moon to be honest, really happy,” he said. “I missed the last two cuts but I knew my game was there or thereabouts and I actually played really well last Friday in China so I wasn’t far away.
“I just came out this week and relaxed, took my mind of things, and gave it my all, and it all paid off today – the course suited my eye and I really enjoyed it, and of course I’m delighted with the end result.
“It feels very similar to that win in Egypt – Ras Al Khaimah and this course remind me a lot of that week, which is probably a good thing. I sweat just as much as anybody else but the heat seems to suit me.
“I did something similar a year ago, winning late to win the Order of Merit on the EuroPro Tour, and I’m really targeting that top spot in the Road to Oman Rankings now.
Smith has now opened up a gap of more than 32,000 points on top of the Road to Oman rankings over Alexandre Knappe, and will fall to third place in the worst-case scenario. With the top-15 players after the Oman tournament receiving European Tour membership, Smith was obviously delighted with his position.
“I definitely want to win the Rankings but I’m just going to go out there in Oman, not think too much about finishing on top, I’m just going to go out there and play my game,” said Smith.
“To be honest I never expected a year as good as this one so early into my Challenge Tour career. I knew my game was in the right shape to compete and that win early on just boosted my confidence and it’s gone pretty well since!”
Lima’s outstanding weekend rounds of 66 and 65 took the Portuguese into outright second and have lifted him into the top 16 of the Rankings.
Former Dubai resident Johan Edfors closed with a 67 to take third place on 17-under par, with his fellow Swede Marcus Kinhult and Spaniard Pedro Oriol sharing fourth place.
(Final scores, par-72 course)
268 – Jordan Smith (ENG) 69 66 67 66
269 – Jose-Filipe Lima (POR) 71 67 66 65
271 – Johan Edfors (SWE) 68 66 70 67
272 – Pedro Oriol (ESP) 69 66 67 70, Marcus Kinhult (SWE) 68 67 65 72
274 – James Heath (ENG) 70 67 66 71, Paul Maddy (ENG) 68 72 64 70, Max Orrin (ENG) 65 70 67 72, Romain Langasque (FRA) 66 67 70 71, Darien van Driel (NED) 71 70 68 65
275 – Charlie Ford (ENG) 68 68 70 69, Pontus Widegren (SWE) 65 69 69 72, Oscar Stark (SWE) 70 69 69 67, David Law (SCO) 68 69 66 72, Jack Senior (ENG) 72 66 69 68