With a performance that belied his age and experience, 15-year-old amateur Rayhan Thomas made the most of home advantage and surged to the top of the Dubai Creek Open leaderboard with a superb round of five-under par 66.
Thomas, a member of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club and the reigning men’s Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) Order of Merit champion, put the established MENA Tour stars to shade with a round that included an eagle and four birdies.
It was his best round at Dubai Creek, bettering his three-under par 68 shot during a monthly medal round last year. It also made him the youngest ever to lead a MENA Tour tournament.
Jake Shepherd of England, who was Thomas’ playing partner for the day, and Cyril Suk of Czech Republic were tied second at four-under par 67. Defending champion Luke Joy and the defending Order of Merit champion Josh White were tied fourth at three-under 68, along with Austria’s Florian Praegant.
Zane Scotland, the most successful player in MENA Tour history with nine titles in the last four years, was among those tied seventh at two-under par 69.
Thomas started with three straight pars, but it was his second shot into the par-5 fourth hole that turned it all around for him.
“The fourth was playing a lot longer today. They were using the back tees. I hit a good drive and was left with 280 yards to the pin. I just smashed a three-wood as hard as I could, and it turned out to be a really good shot. I was left with a 15-footer for eagle,” said Thomas.
“That hole just kickstarted my round. I then made birdies on the next two and was four-under par after six. It was just the kind of start I was hoping for.”
Thomas then three-putted from 35 feet for his only bogey of the day on the seventh, but made up for that mistake by dropping a 25-foot birdie putt on the eighth.
After making the turn in four-under par, he picked up his final shot of the round on the par-5 13th.
“I really played solid and I stuck to my strategy. Coming in, I played the two difficult closing holes of Creek a little conservatively, but I did have a couple of other chances on the back nine, so it could have been a bit better,” said Thomas who hit 15 greens in regulation and completed the round in 29 putts.
“Obviously, I am happy to be in the position I am in. There are still two days remaining, but I am leading a MENA Tour event. This is going to do wonders to my confidence.
“More importantly, Creek is one of the toughest courses on the Tour. I think the winning score last year was seven-under par, so for me to shoot a five-under is fantastic.
“I have my strategy for the course, and I am going to follow them without changing anything. I hope I can have a similar round tomorrow.”
Former European Tour winners, England’s Malcolm Mackenzie and Miles Tunnicliff, made their MENA Tour debuts. Mackenzie, 53, shot 72, while Tunnicliff opened with a 75.
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