Gary King birdied the first extra hole to win the MENA Golf Tour’s Ascorp Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on Wednesday.
A good three shots in front overnight, the Englishman closed with a level-par 72 to force a playoff with his compatriot and playing partner James Allan, who shot a 69, on nine under, thanks to a monstrous putt he holed for birdie from 35 yards on the closing hole.
Both the players hit the green in regulation at the first extra hole with Allan settling for par while King held his nerve to hole his birdie putt from 10 yards to claim his first win on the tour in four appearances.
“I kept my composure and neverallowed the situation to get the better of me and that was the key,” said a delighted King after receiving the winner’s trophy and a cheque for US$9,000 from Khalfan Al Kaabi, chairman of the Ascorp Holdings.
Mohamed Juma Bumaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, Mark Chapleski, senior vice president of Troon Golf, and Scott McCaw, Director of Club Operations, were also present.
England’s King, who trailed by two shots at one stage, felt it was his birdie on the 15th that hauled him back into contention and kept the momentum going thereafter.
“I hit my five-wood from 240 yards and holed the ensuring short putt which was crucial.
“Standing on the 18th tee, I was one shot behind, but got a bit lucky when I holed that long putt. I thinkJames really played very well, and it’s just a matter of time before he starts winning on the tour. He’s such a hot prospect,” said King, who earlier this season won two events on the Euro Pro Tour.
Young Allan congratulated King on his what he called a well-deserved win.
“To be honest, Gary played brilliantly, especially on the back, holing so many great putts and certainly deserved to win,” said the 20-yearold prodigy from Chelmsford, who topped the amateur division, well ahead of India’s Rayham Thomas.
“I am really happy with myself, that way I played under pressure. It’s really a shame that I justcouldn’t get over the line. I birdied the 17th to take one-shot lead going into the 72nd hole, but there is nothing much I could do as Gary held a long putt to take extend the play.
“It was a great learning curve today and, hopefully, I will able to win very soon."
Earlier, England’s Jake Shepherd, who won the Dubai Creek Open last week, had made things interesting, taking a two-shot lead at the turn, but three bogeys on the back nine prevented him from making it two in a row.
Morocco’s Ahmed Marjane carded a 73 to top the MENA Division for the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation on two-under, three shotsahead of Faycal Serghini and five clear of Amine Joudar.
Elsewhere, defending champion Luke Joy finished in a tie for the 13th. The MENA Golf Tour travels to Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai next week for the Shaikh Maktoum Dubai Open, starting on Monday.
Regular contenders and ‘golf in DUBAi’ ambassadors Faycal Serghini and Joshua White shot matching rounds of five-under 67s to set the pace alongside Scotland’s Gary King after the opening round of the Ascorp Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open.
At Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Morocco’s Serghini, a three-time runner-up on the tour, made six birdies, including three in a row from the 13th, against a lone bogey, while England’s White mixed seven birdies with two bogeys.
King, who was seven-under par after the 15th and looked all set to snatch the lead, unfortunately double bogeyed the 18th to fall back to five-under par.
The English duo of Jake Shepherd and Tom Boys, along with Australian Paul Bucan, were tied fourth one shot behind the leaders.
Scotland’s Daniel Kay and Thriston Arthur Lawrence of South African shared the seventh place on 69, with eight players, including three time MENA Tour winner Lee Corfield, tied for the ninth place on two-under par 70.
The conditions were extremely demanding, with the heat and humidity adding to the challenges thrown up by the Gary Player-designed golf course. As many as 23 players broke par, but as Serghini pointed out, it was a constant battle.
“I stayed patient out there and that was the key,” said Serghini. “I may not have struck the ball as sweetly as I would have liked to, but putted very well.
“I was off to a good start, going two-under after the first three holes and managed to keep the momentum rolling all the way through. That three successive birdies certainly made my day,” said the experienced Moroccan, who celebrated his 39th birthday last week.
The 2014 MENA champion, White, who finished third at the
— Saadiyat Beach GC (@SaadiyatBeach) August 31, 2015
Dubai Creek Open last week, said: “I am playing good golf at the moment and it reflected on my scores. The goal is the same: to get into contention week in and week out.
“I felt pretty relaxed and every part of my game fell into place, which was quite pleasing,” said the 23-year-old, whose opening round was highlighted by three consecutive birdies from the 15th.
England’s Todd Clements led the amateur division with a two-under par 70, two ahead of his compatriot James Allan and Rayhan Thomas.
In the MENA Division, Mehdi Saissi carded an even-par 72 to move to second place behind Serghini as Younes El Hassani, Amine Joudar and Ahmed Marjane each settled for rounds of 74.
Defending champion Luke Joy of England opened with a two-over 74 while Miles Tunnicliff, a two-time winner on the European Tour, shot a 76 and Zane Scotland, the most prolific winner on the MENA Golf Tour with nine wins, returned a 75.
Following a solid start to the ‘Gulf Swing’ of the MENA Golf Tour, defending champion Luke Joy returns to Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, confident of retaining his Ascorp Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open title.
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The Englishman finished tied for seventh place at last week’s Dubai Creek Open, and sounded confident of going the full distance this time around.
“Overall, I made a positive start to my time in the Middle East. I need to work on my short game a little as I feel I left a lot of shots out there around the greens,” said Joy, who will be joined by 10 former winners on the tour, including perennial contenders Zane Scotland and Joshua White, both of England.
The strong field comprises a record 127 players, including 26 amateurs.
The Dorset-based Joy has his work cut with the likes of compatriot Lee Corfield, a three-time winner, and in-form Jake Shepherd joining the fray along with Austria’s Florian Praegant, who will want to get over the heart-break of making a last-hole bogey in the final round of the Dubai Creek Open, when a par would have won him the title on his MENA Tour debut.
Having knocked a bit of rust off their game at the Dubai Creek Open, Miles Tunnicliff and Malcolm Mackenzie, both former European Tour winners from England, will also be hoping to get their ‘A’ game going, along with Asian Tour veteran Yasin Ali.
Young Rayhan Thomas, who narrowly missed out on a historic feat of becoming the first amateur to win a MENA Tour event last week, will remain a potent threat given his recent run of form.
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Tour, said: “We have again assembled a very strong field and that’s a good reflection on the growing strength of the tour.
“The fact that the first three events on the tour this season has produced a new winner shows the increasing depth of talent.
“As we plan to further expand next season, we need corporate houses to come forward and support the tour, which is aimed at the overall development of golf in the region.
“I am grateful to Khalfan Al Kaabi, chairman of Ascorp, for backing the tournament. Being a golfer himself, Khalfan knows what it takes to string together an event of this stature. We value his support.”
Meanwhile, Scott McCaw, Director of Club Operations at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, said: “We look forward to welcoming back the MENA Golf Tour party. The course has been set up nicely to provide a fair all-round test for the players.”