RIFFA (Bahrain): Joel Girrbach, playing his first competitive round in three months after losing his European Tour card last year, saw his hard work paying off as he took he joint lead in the $75,000 Royal Golf Club Bahrain Open following a solid round of six-under par 66.
On Tuesday at the Royal Golf Club, the 26-year-old Swiss was even-par for his round after successive bogeys on the seventh and eighth holes but covered his last 10 holes in six-under par to join Germany’s Max Kramer and England’s David Hague on top of the leaderboard.
Hague, who turned pro after MENA Tour by Arena Qualifying School and recently finished runner-up at the NEWGIZA Open in Cairo, had an even better recovery. He was one-over par after eight holes and then made five birdies and a spectacular holed-out eagle from the fairway bunker on the 17th hole.
However, it was 36-year-old Kramer who had the most remarkable story of the day. The Dusseldorf-based player was diagnosed with an arrhythmic heart last year and stopped playing after just four events in 2019. Now trying to make a comeback, he was seven-under par through 10 holes with two eagles, before losing steam towards the end of his round.
Frenchman Antoine Schwartz was alone in fourth place at five-under par 67, while there was a group of six players at 68 – Scotsman Scott Henry, the Irish duo of Paul McBride and Robin Dawson, Sweden’s Mathias Weiderman and the English pair of Tom Combe and Mitch Waite.
Girrbach, who graduated to the European Tour last season before finishing 229th on the Race to Dubai and losing his card, took nearly three months off from competitive golf to get his game back in shape, including a long trip to South Africa to work with his coach, Dougie Wood.
“I haven’t played a competitive round after missing out at the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School. It was a disappointing season and I put in a lot of work in my technique. This is the first competing round for me to see where my game is and I am very pleased,” said Girrbach.
“I felt ready after the winter work and I was looking for tournaments to play. With my category on the Challenge Tour, I will only be able to play events from May. So, I asked a few friends and they all highly recommended the MENA Tour. I asked for an invite and here I am.
“I made a couple of mistakes towards the end of my front nine and I just tried to be aggressive after that. I drove the green on the par-4 10th, and nearly drove the green on the par-4 11th. Those two birdies were a good start to the back nine and I just continued from there.”
Kramer, on the other hand, is just happy to be back on the golf course after surviving a health scare last year that restricted his schedule to just four tournaments on the EuroPro Tour.
“I had played a few events at the start of 2019, but I wasn’t feeling very good. I went to the doctor and they found out I had arrhythmia of heart. It was very scary when we found out because this is no age to get a heart condition. However, after three months of complete rest, I am much better,” said the German who was part of the national team alongside two-time major champion Martin Kaymer.
“It was an amazing round for me. I was seven-under par through the first 10 holes with an eagle on the third and par-4 10th holes. I played the last eight in one-over, but I am so happy with this round. Especially with what happened last year, and also the way I played last week in Oman where I shot an 11-over par round and was hitting the ball over the place.”
The consistent Hague was relishing a fast start, having opened with a 72 in finishing second at NEWGIZA Open and a 69 in tied 10th place at Ghala Open last week.
“I drove it really well all day and kept it in play even though I did not start that well. Made two three-putts from the fringe and was one-over par after eight. I just told myself to remain patient and the birdies would come, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Hague.
“The eagle on 17th was nice towards the end of the round. I hit it into the right bunker and had 142 yards from there. Hit a good shot and it took a couple of bounces and went in.”
Saudi Arabia’s Bahrain-based Saud Al Sharif, a member of Royal Golf Club, was the leading amateur at one-under par 71.