MUSCAT (OMAN): Nick Marsh battled hard in the windy afternoon conditions and did his scoring as soon as things calmed down to take a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Ghala Golf Club Open on the MENA Tour by Arena on Tuesday.
Playing only his second event on the Tour, the 24-year-old Smith parred his way through the front nine, and like in the opening round on Monday, he made five birdies on the back nine to finish on five-under par 67 and 11-under 133 for the first 36 holes.
That gave Marsh, looking for his second win as a professional after a very successful amateur career that saw him climb as high as No14 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, a two-shot advantage over Australia’s Daniel Gaunt (68), winner last week at Al Zorah, and England’s Max Smith (69).
Scotland’s Craig Ross shot the day’s best round of 65 to move into a tie for the fourth place at 137 alongside his compatriot Jack McDonald (70), Frenchman Robin Roussel (68), Canadian Oliver Tubb (69) and England’s Todd Clements (70).
Among the amateurs, Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill shot a brilliant five-under par 67 to enjoy a one-shot lead over England’s Curtis Knipes (70). Hill was at six-under par total. Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al Sharif and England’s Jack Floydd were in third place after identical rounds of 73 and 68 over the first days.
The cut was applied at two-over 146 and 54 professionals, along with nine amateurs, have made it to the final round on Wednesday.
Marsh, who won the Dawson and Sanderson Classic on the EuroPro Tour in 2017, qualified for the Challenge Tour last year, but lost his card after a forgettable season.
Asked what changed on the back nine after making birdies on the 10th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes, Marsh said: “Well, the wind dropped! And my putts also started to drop.
“I made a long putt from almost 35 feet on the 15th, and birdied both the par-5s as well. I hit it quite close and it feels good to have two solid days. I am just going to have the same gameplan, same routine, same warm-up tomorrow, and let’s see where that takes us.
“I really don’t remember when was the last time I was leading going into the final round. Must be during my amateur days. But I know I just have to play good golf and take it one shot at a time.”
It’s just the third competitive event Gaunt is playing after quitting golf for almost one-and-a-half years, and he seems to be in a hurry to make up for the lost time.
“I am playing well. Almost bogey-free again today except for a three-putt on the eighth, and if I can keep doing the same thing, we might be in with a shot tomorrow,” said Gaunt.
“My attitude to golf has changed. I am not thinking about technique or things like that when I am playing. I am at a stage where I don’t think about the result. I am just trying to have fun.”
Twickenham resident Smith continued to take advantage of the par-5s at Ghala Golf Club and is now seven-under on them.
“I played really solid. I hit a couple of wild ones, but my short game has saved me. My good has been very good, and my bad has been OK. I have played the par-5s especially well,” said the 27-year-old, who was third in the MENA Tour event in Kuwait in 2017.
Even though Hill was two-under through five holes, he wasn’t happy with the way he was hitting.
“I snap-hooked my two-iron on the sixth hole and was so lucky because it hit a rock and came back on the fairway,” said Hill, who made an eagle on the par-5 13th where he hit a 5-iron second shot to five feet.
“I was positive because I was swinging poorly and was still two-under. But I gave myself a bit of talking to and played pretty well after that.”
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.