By Joy Chakravarty
Portrush, July 19: Matthew Baldwin, the professional leader in the MENA Tour’s Journey to Jordan, put together a stunning second round at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, but his brave effort proved valiant as he missed the halfway cut.
Baldwin, winner of the Journey to Jordan-1, the opening tournament of the season, did not have the best of first round and was nine-over after three holes on Friday. However, the Englishman knuckled down thereafter, making five birdies in his last 15 holes while bearing the brunt of bad weather while playing in the last group in the second round.
There was heartbreak for Curtis Knipes, the amateur leader in the Journey to Jordan, as well. After a fantastic one-over par 72 opening round, the 18-year-old shot a 79 on Friday, unable to recover from a triple bogey-bogey start in difficult playing conditions.
Among the past MENA Tour champions in the field, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre (2017 Sahara Kuwait Open) and Callum Shinkwin (2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic Shootout) made it to the weekend, but Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (2017 Mahasamutr Open) missed out.
MacIntyre, enjoying a rich vein of form, was the best placed at two-under par 142 after making a bogey on the final hole in his second-round one-over par 72. Shinkwin, who opened with a 70, shot an even-par 71 on Friday, aided by an eagle on the par-5 12th hole.
Baldwin’s round almost mirrored that of Northern Ireland’s golfing son Rory McIlroy, who made brave bid to make the cut after opening with an eight-over par 79. The four-time major champion fell agonizingly short at two-over after a soul-stirring round of six-under par 65 that had the nation on the edge. The cut was finally applied at one-over par 143.
McIlroy opened on Thursday with a quadruple-bogey eight and closed with a triple-bogey seven. Baldwin had a triple and a double on the same holes.
“It’s amazing what happens when you stop caring for results. It was nice because I can move forward from here. I can take all the positives from here. I have proven to myself that I can do it on the big stage,” said the 33-year-old Baldwin.
“It was disappointing overall. Probably the occasion got the better of me on the first and last hole on Thursday, but today was a step in the right direction for me.”
Baldwin was nine-over par for the tournament after making back-to-back bogeys on the second and third holes. He then made birdies on the fifth, sixth, 11th, 12th and the 15th hole.
“I went into the second round with a good attitude. I thought it was possible to make a comeback with a good round. However, the bogey on the par-5 second kind of took me out of it. It was like giving a couple of shots to the field. From that point onwards, we were just saying we should do the best we could do,” he added.
Knipes’ trouble started early when he pulled his tee shot into the thick rough, and then tried to play a heroic 5-iron shot to the green from there. It only went into thicker rough.
“To recover from a triple bogey on the first on a golf course like this is a little difficult. I took it to the second and made a bogey there as well. The conditions were difficult as well and that did not help,” said Knipes, ranked 361st in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
“I told my caddie (Josh Read) that let’s aim to break 80 from here. And I am glad I managed to do that.
“But I learned a lot about golf and myself this week. I am very proud of what I did in the qualifiers and in the tournament. I think I can take a lot out of it and it will help me in the future.”
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.
The first half of the 2019 season, comprising five tournaments and the Qualifying School, was held in February and March this year. The second half of the schedule begins with the Journey To Jordan-2 at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan, from September 29.