AQABA, Jordan: Matthew Baldwin cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in the Journey To Jordan-1, the opening event of the 2019 season of MENA Tour by Arena, winning by a record margin of eight shots at the Ayla Golf Club.
The 32-year-old from Southport left the field in his wake with his second successive round of six-under par 66 to tally 19-under par 197 for three days.
Sweden’s Erik Jonasson matched Baldwin’s 66 in the final round but that could only take him to 11-under par 205. The consolation prize for him was a spot in the Challenge de Espana, an event on the European Challenge Tour in first week of May.
Scotland’s Conor O’Neil (70) and Belgium’s Christopher Mivis (70) were tied for third place at 10-under par 206.
England’s Curtis Knipes (71) capped off a fantastic two weeks in Jordan by finishing as the Leading Amateur, a week after he secured a full card through the Qualifying School. Jack Floydd struggled on the final day and slipped down with a four-over 76 to finish second, three shots behind Knipes.
Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill finished third among amateur with an even-par round for a two-under par total, while his good friend Arjun Gupta, another 14-year-old from Dubai, shot a bogey-free six-under par 66, matching the best round of the day.
The previous record for the largest margin of victory in a 54-hole tournament on the MENA Tour was by Frenchman Lionel Weber, who won the 2017 Mountain Creek Open by Golf Citizen by seven shots. Baldwin’s dominance broke that record by one shot.
Baldwin, winner of B Stage of the Qualifying School earlier this week at the same golf course, was simply unstoppable on the front nine, even though he made just four birdies in his first 10 holes. He missed at least another couple chances from less than six feet.
With no one in the field making a charge, he could afford to take it easy on the back nine, but after a slight wobble that saw him make a fighting par on the 11th hole from the left waste area and a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 12th, he rolled in three more birdies coming in.
“It’s been a great three days here. It’s nice to be able to play golf with a clear head. Last year was a bit of a struggle and I took a long break of two months and did not touch my clubs. So, it was good to come out and play the kind of golf I think I can play,” said Baldwin.
Jonasson never had a chance to catch up with Baldwin, but he was delighted with his runners-up finish, having turned professional only late last year.
The 23-year-old from Stockholm, like Baldwin, just had one bogey on his card and said: “It feels amazing. I made a birdie on the first hole, and that just got me going. I am beyond happy to make such a strong start to the season.”
The 54-hole Journey To Jordan-1 featured 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 Sharah 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.