MUSCAT (OMAN): Richard Bland showed there was no substitute for experience when the former European Tour star charged into joint lead on the opening day of the Ghala Golf Club Open on the MENA Tour by Arena on Monday.
In his first start on the MENA Tour and calling himself a “46-year-old rookie”, England’s Bland shot a six-under par 66 to go on top of the leaderboard, where he was later joined by compatriots Nick Marsh, who is playing his second event on the Tour, and Max Smith.
Australia’s Daniel Gaunt, a winner last week at Al Zorah – a result that catapulted him 862 place in the world golf rankings to 1147 – continued his good form and shot five-under 67. He was in tied fourth place with England’s Todd Clements and Scotland’s Jack McDonald. All three players were bogey-free in their rounds.
Among the amateurs, England’s Curtis Knipes led at three-under par 69. Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill was the next best at one-under par 71 with India’s Arkesh Bhatia, Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al Sharif and England’s Jack Floydd on 73.
Bland was solid throughout, except for a stretch of three holes where his tee shots abandoned the fairways and found the waste area. One of those holes – the par-4 11th – resulted in his only bogey of the day.
After playing 14 consecutive seasons on the European Tour, where he recorded 46 top-10s, Bland lost his Tour card last year.
“I think 66 is a great start. I definitely felt like I left a couple out there but hopefully, 66 puts me in good position going into the last two rounds,” said Bland, who will be playing the Challenge Tour later this year in an effort to get back his playing rights on the main tour and also has one eye on the seniors circuit for which he will become eligible in four years.
“The MENA Tour have been kind enough to give me some invites and I did not have to go through the Qualifying School. It’s a great set-up and playing with a scorecard is much better than sitting back home in the rain. I am grateful to them for the opportunity,” he added.
“I am planning to play next week in Dubai and then Bahrain and we will see where we are after that with my schedule. I am 46 now, but I still think I can do something on the European Tour. Just because you’ve had one poor year, you don’t become a bad player overnight.
“I also have to look at the bigger picture. I am four years away from 50 and I want to stay competitive when that time comes. So, the MENA Tour is a great fit for me, especially at this time of the year when we don’t have anything to play back home and the Challenge Tour is a few weeks away.”
Marsh, who lost his Challenge Tour card last year, made early bogeys on the second and sixth, but eight birdies in the round ensured a back nine of 31 in his 66.
“I made a three-putt bogey on the second hole and then another bogey on the sixth and gave myself a bit of talking to,” said the 24-year-old Marsh, who rose to world No14 in his amateur days.
“I just told myself to stay patient and do the simple things well – like finding fairways and greens – and the birdies would come. And they did.”
The tournament, with a prize purse of $75,000, is the third event of the 2019 season and features a full field of 114 players, including 10 amateurs.
As part of enhancing the playing opportunity for its members, the champion this week earns an invitation to the Andalucia – Costa del Sol Match Play (May 17-20) on the European Challenge Tour.
Originally designed by Bill Longmuir, the par-72 Ghala Golf Club course underwent a redesign and is a challenging layout despite the fact that it is just 6,527 yards long. Situated amidst a wadi with views of the Al Hajar mountains, the course features narrow fairways and tricky green complexes.
The MENA Tour by Arena is returning to the world schedule after a year of restructuring and will feature 10 tournaments in 2019. It will continue to provide Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points, thus making it a perfect pathway for ambitious young professional to the bigger tours, and for the players from the region to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.