AQABA, Jordan: Matthew Baldwin seems to have kept his form wrapped in a cottonwool. Three days after winning Stage B of the Qualifying School, the Englishman grabbed the lead after round one of the Journey To Jordan-1, the opening event of the 2019 season of MENA Tour by Arena, at Ayla Golf Club on Saturday.
At the Greg Norman-designed course, Baldwin made eight birdies and a solitary bogey in a round of seven-under par 65 to be ahead by one shot over England’s Benjamin David and Pavan Sagoo, and Sweden’s Henric Sturehed, winner of the 2017 Tour Championship at Al Jorah Golf Club in Ajman.
England’s Jack Floydd was the best among the amateurs with a five-under par 67, while Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill was hot on his heels one shot behind. Jordan’s 15-year-old Shergo Kurdi was at three-under par 69.
Baldwin, a former European Tour player who has a full card on the Challenge Tour this year, was never in any serious trouble, but he was not satisfied with his hitting off the tee despite the generous size of the Ayla fairways.
“It was good out there, even though I did not feel I hit as good as I did during the Qualifying School. I did not particularly drive it all that well, but I hit a lot of my second shots close,” said Baldwin, whose solitary bogey came on the par-4 15th hole.
“You really can’t win any tournament on day one, but you can give yourself a chance to do so. And I am pleased I have done that.”
David, 24, finished second in the Amateur Order of Merit on the MENA Tour in 2016 and is determined to make a mark in the pro ranks this season. He did not have the best start and was two-over par after seven holes, but put together a super back nine (front nine of the course), where he was seven-under par, including an eagle on the par-5 first hole.
“It’s a great start, considering I was two-over after seven. I gave myself a bit of talking to, and it all clicked in place after that,” said David.
“I really don’t know what changed. The putter got a bit hot, I suppose. Rolled in that eagle putt from 20 feet on the first and just rode the momentum after that. I holed a couple of bus rides, so I guess I was a little bit lucky as well.”
Sturehed, who lost his European Tour card last year, was happy to be back on the MENA Tour, where it all started for him in 2017.
“I played pretty solid – drove the ball well from the tee and did not have too many tough putts today,” said the 28-year-old, who hit 15 greens in regulation.
“I played the MENA Tour in 2017 and I like the golf courses and the weather and the fact that we have got some good competition as well. I like it in the Middle East and I will try and play as many events as possible this season.”
Sagoo was the best among the afternoon starters. He teed off on the 10th and was two-under at the turn. He then made an eagle on the first hole, before adding two more birdies coming in.
The Ealing Golf Club member credited his putting for the round and said: “I was not happy with the way I putted at the Qualifying School earlier this week. I spent a lot of hours the last couple of days on the putting green and all the hard work paid off today.”
The 54-hole Journey To Jordan-1 end on Sunday and features 117 players battling it out for a total prize purse of US$100,000, the largest in the history of the Tour since its inception in 2011.
Ayla Golf Club is the first Championship-size green golf course in Jordan and opened to public play in September 2016. The condition of the golf course, and its scenic setting adjacent to the Red Sea and at the foothills of the Shara Mountains, have wowed the critics and golf fans ever since. The club will host three events of the 2019 season’s Journey to Jordan, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
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.