CAIRO (Egypt): Curtis Knipes was on the money in only his second start as a professional, firing a superb, bogey-free six-under par 66 to take the lead on the opening day of the $75,000 NEWGIZA Open, the first-ever MENA Tour by Arena event in Egypt.
The 19-year-old, a member of Chelmsford club, was quick off the block with five birdies in his first seven holes. He then proceeded to make nine straight pars before picking up his only shot on the back nine on the par-5 17th hole to open up a handy two-shot lead at the top.
Seven players shot rounds of four-under par 68 to be in tied second place, but none could get closer to Knipes. That group included Scotland’s Scott Henry, promising Swede Niclas Weiland, France’s Sebastian Gros and England’s Joshua McMohan, Robbie Busher, Joe Heraty and Tom Sloman.
The reigning Professional Journey to Jordan champion, South Africa’s MG Keyser started his 2020 campaign on the MENA Tour by Arena with a two-under par 70, tied for the 15th place. That round included an eagle and four birdies.
At the 7,351-yard, par-72 Thomson Perrett & Lobb-designed golf course, Knipes made full use of the calmer early morning conditions and then battled hard as the wind picked up.
“Obviously, very pleased with a bogey-free round. It did get a little frustrating to make nine straight pars after such a hot start because when you are on a roll, you want them coming,” said Knipes, who qualified for the Open Champion at Royal Portrush last year.
“I had good birdie chances on the ninth, 12th and 15th, before I finally made one on the 17th. I thought I hit a good three-quarter pitching wedge shot into the par-5 hole, but was left with an 18-feet downhill putt and I luckily rolled that in.
“I really like the golf course. It’s a good layout and it is in great condition. The greens are a bit tricky, but they are rolling nice.”
Henry, a past winner on the Challenge Tour, had an almost diametrically opposite start to that of Knipes, missing birdie chances on his first six holes, including the second from five feet and on the third from about a foot.
“I was really struggling with my putter on the first few holes. But I was happy with the way I was hitting the ball, controlling it well especially with my irons,” said the 2012 Kazakhstan Open champion.
“Yeah…a lot of missed chances but I am happy with a four-under par start. I am playing good and just need to sharpen up the putter a bit and hopefully, I will be contending.”
Busher and Heraty continued to show the form that helped them finish winner and joint runner-up in last week’s Troon Abu Dhabi Pro-Am, while Sloman continued from his superb start to the MENA Tour in Jordan, where he finished tied second.
England’s David Langley, winner of last week’s Journey to Jordan #1, started well with a two-under par 70. UAE’s only professional, Ahmed Al Musharrekh fought back well from being two-over after six holes to finish on one-under par 71.