AL AIN, October 23: History was created on the MENA Tour on Wednesday when Dubai-born and raised 15-year-old Josh Hill became the youngest player ever to win an Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) event with his two-stroke triumph in the Al Ain Open by Arena at Al Ain Equestrian Shooting and Golf Club.
Hill, who is the reigning Al Ain Men’s Open champion for the past two years and also won the Faldo Series Middle East Championship on the golf course, shot a stunning final round eight-under par 62 to finish on 17-under par 193.
England’s Harry Ellis (67) had to be satisfied being the bridesmaid for the second tournament in a row after finishing tied second in the Abu Dhabi Open by Arena. He finished on 15-under par and the consolation this time was the winner’s cheque of $13,500.
Another England amateur, Curtis Knipes (66) was tied third at 13-under par 197 alongside American Ben Schlottman (65). Knipes, who had qualified for The Open earlier this year at Royal Portrush, went on top of the Amateur Order of Merit following the finish with Hill moving to second place.
But the man of the moment was the 15 years, six months and 27 days old Hill, who broke the existing record of Ryo Ishikawa as the youngest winner of an official OWGR event. Japan’s ‘Bashful Prince’ was 15 years and eight months when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in May 2007.
Starting the day three shots behind overnight leader Ellis, a 12-footer putt straight into the heart of the cup on the first hole kickstarted the day and Hill never looked after that.
A lip-out on the par-3 third from five feet denied him a second birdie, but the Joe Marshall-coached and Trump International Dubai-attached amateur went on a tear after that, making four birdies in the next four holes. He then picked up further strokes on the ninth and 11th holes to be seven-under par at that stage and three ahead of Ellis, who had made the turn at one-under par.
The final birdie of the day came on the 14th, even though he had two more chances from close range after that.
“I really don’t know what to say right now. I am shocked. If you had told me during the summer that I will be winning a MENA Tour title against professionals and become the youngest ever winner of an OWGR event, I would have laughed at the notion. I guess hard work pays,” said Hill, who is also the youngest member of the England Under-18 squad.
“I was struggling in the summer and then something changed in the last MENA Tour event at Yas Links. That top-10 finish gave me a lot of confidence and I knew it in my heart that I would do well here in Al Ain because I have such a good history here. I just love this track.
“I am actually a little disappointed with my finish because I missed so many opportunities coming in. I honestly could have broken 60 today. I knew I needed a good start, and once I got it, I just kept hitting one good shot after the other.”
Ellis, who was looking for his first win on a recognized Tour event, was disappointed but took it on the chin and doffed his cap to Hill.
“I finally made one mistake on this course (his first and only bogey of the tournament) on the second hole, and then I played solid golf. But all credit to Josh. He played an unbelievable round today. It was doable in the conditions we had today and he did it. I can’t complain about how I played and there are plenty of positives to take from this week,” said the 24-year-old from Southampton.
There was a four-way tie for the third place at nine-under par, a group that included amateurs Josh Hill (66) and Curtis Knipes (64), Sweden’s Gustav Kocken (65), and the surprise package of the tournament – Issa (65).
There was a two-way tie for the fifth place between Sweden’s Jesper Alm (68) and England’s Jake Ayers (66), Alex Belt of England, playing his first MENA Tour by Arena event on a special invite, made it count with a final-round 64 that catapulted him to solo seventh place at 199.