Zane Scotland, who hit the first shot of the tournament which marks a new chapter in the Tour’s history with the introduction of the world ranking points, and Craig Hinton shot identical rounds of five-under par 67s to hit the front.
Veteran Miles Tunnicliff occupied solo third with a four-under par 68, followed by a group of eight men tied for the fourth place at 69, including Thomas.
It really wasn’t the best of starts for Thomas, who opened with a double bogey six when he overshot the green with a wedge and then three-putted.
But Thomas showed terrific mental strength to make three birdies and turn at one-under, before picking up three more shots on the back nine that contained just one bogey.
“I really played well and made very few mistakes after a disappointing start,” said the 16-year-old reigning EGF Order of Merit champion, who nearly won the Dubai Creek Open last year.
“If I can keep the momentum rolling all the way through, it will be great, but I don’t want to get ahead and will take things as they come.”
Thomas also leads the amateur division by one shot over Abu Dhabi-based Brazil’s Tiago Lobo with Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla third on level-par.
Scotland rode on a fluent start to string together a solid round that included eight birdies, with four of them coming in the first five holes.
The 10-time winner on the MENA Tour said: “I made some good putts early in the round and that kind of set the tone for the day.
“Overall, it was a pretty solid round, especially my approaches were very close and that helped me keep going.”
Hinton later joined him on top of the leaderboard, and he also made four birdies in five holes, but unlike Scotland who made them in the beginning of his round, Hinton made his over the closing stretch.
Welsh ace Stephen Dodd, the Scottish duo of Paul Doherty and Daniel Kay, England’s Jake Shepherd, Jesper Alm of Sweden, India’s Manish Goel and Carlos Balmaseda of Spain completed the group tied for fourth on three-under 69.
Three birdies in a row from the first hole highlighted the round of Dodd, a three-time winner on the European Tour, who also topped the MENA Golf Tour Order of Merit in 2012.
Tunnicliff, a two-time winner on the European Tour, picked up four shots in six holes after making opening with a bogey to close out a fabulous front nine of 33. He bogeyed the 11th, before finishing strongly with birdies on the 15th and 17th to move into contention for his maiden Tour title.
The 47-year-old Englishman said: “I played pretty solid golf. Drove the ball well and hit some very good iron shots close to the pin, especially on the front nine. I struggled a little bit on 11, 12 and 13, but managed to finish strongly with two late birdies.”
Andrew Marshall, a two-time winner on the European Tour, returned a two-under 70 to take a share of 11th place.
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Moving on, and in the same action-packed opening episode of #WeAreTroonInternational, Troon Golf International also discuss the following topics:
• What is on offer at the Arabian Ranches Golf Club in Dubai while their Ranches Terrace closes for a miraculous makeover for the summer.
Leading MENA Golf Tour players have spoken of their delight at the landmark decision of the Governing Board of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to award ranking status to the fast-growing tour, calling it a “major step forward”.
Ahead of the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, which starts today at Tower Links Golf Club, England’s Andrew Marshall, a two-time champion on the European Tour, said: “Certainly, it’s a big thing for the Tour. If you play well on a consistent basis, you will be rewarded for your efforts, which is great.
“If you can rack up a couple of good wins along with some top-10 finishes, there is always a chance of breaking into the world’s top 200 which will open the door to more playing opportunities on some major Tours.
“For me, personally, it’s my first season on the tour, but I am really enjoying it. The atmosphere is pretty relaxed and the organisation just great. Unlike some other tours, it’s not that expensive to play.
“With the Tour offering plenty of incentives, including multiple European Tour starts and playing privileges on the Sunshine Tour, it’s an added bonus. It will be great if other tour events in the region also come forward and offer spots to leading MENA Golf Tour players,” added the experienced 42-year-old, who is currently second on the Order of Merit following his second, first and seventh place finishes in the first three events of the season and the highest ranked player in the field at world No. 718.
Marshall’s compatriot and the most prolific winner on the Tour, Zane Scotland felt the world ranking status is massive for the players.
“It has really put the tour on the map in global golf — an apt recognition it deserves with all the good tournaments they have,” said Scotland, who boasts 10 wins and four runner-up finishes and was also the winner of the inaugural event in 2011.
“I have been playing on the tour since day one and know how quickly it has grown over the years. The world ranking status has given me a real drive to grab the points and improve my standings.
“In 2013, I had a great season on the MENA Golf Tour, winning five tournaments but my performance didn’t match up to my world ranking which was around 1,200. With the ranking points now in place, it’s just fantastic.”
Calling it an “awesome” development, Saudi Arabia’s leading amateur Othman Almulla said: “The region’s players should be proactive in grabbing the playing opportunities that the tour offers.
“The experience that you gain from playing alongside an international field is something unique for the region’s players, especially the amateurs. “It is the best thing that can happen to the region’s golf.”
With the ranking system coming into effect this week, the MENA Golf Tour becomes the 19th Eligible Golf Tour from around the world.
In the tournament, Scotland is paired with fellow Englishman and a four-time winner Lee Corfield and Sweden’s Per Barth, who won the Sheikh Maktoum Dubai Open last year, in the day’s first group, going out at 7am while the last three-ball will tee off at 11.30am.