AQABA, November 26: Dubai-born amateur Josh Hill, England’s Joshua Grenville-Wood and Sweden’s Gabriel Axell were in a three-way tie for the lead with rounds of six-under par 66 on the opening day of the $100,000 Journey To Jordan Tour Championship Monday.
Even as a strong and perplexing wind blew the whole day at the Greg Norman-designed Ayla Golf Club – switching direction and coming off the north instead of south which is what the players have always faced during their trips to the golf course (12 competitive rounds and several practice rounds this year), it could not stop the players from going low.
The 15-year-old Hill, who became the youngest winner of an OWGR-recognized event last month at the Al Ain Open by Arena, was among the lucky few who could play a few holes in dead calm morning conditions – another abnormality according to the club staff as it rarely gets that still early in the day.
The wind picked up by the time Hill reached the fifth tee, and while the direction may have made the course slightly unfamiliar, it also made three of the four par-5s play downwind.
Hill kept hitting some great iron shots throughout the round in which he made seven birdies and just one three-putt bogey on the sixth.
Grenville-Wood took full advantage of the par-5s playing downwind, hitting massive tee shots and flicking wedges in for two eagles – on the ninth and 13th – on a bogey-free day.
And Axell, who lost in a play-off at the Ras Al Khaimah Open by Arena, continued his good form in a round that featured a hole-out with his second shot from 90 yards for an eagle on the par-4 15th hole, apart from five birdies and a solitary bogey.
Sweden’s Henric Sturehed, the 2017 Tour Championship winner, and the Abu Dhabi-based Luke Joy, a multiple winner on the Tour, were tied for the fourth place at 67.
“I was lucky with the wind for the first four holes, and then it picked up. It was strong and from a different direction. But I played pretty solid and kept hitting some very good iron shots. Most of my birdies were from inside 10 feet. Just that three-putt on sixth was the only bad part of a good day,” said Hill, who has been nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award following his record-breaking Al Ain win.
Grenville-Wood, who is hoping to better his second-place finish in Bahrain earlier this year, said: “It felt like a completely new golf course in that wind, but what it also did was make the par-5s a lot easier. I hit a wedge second shot from 170 yards on the ninth, and then my drive went 405 yards on the 13th.”
Axell, who decided to travel to Aqaba a week in advance to escape the freezing temperature back home in Sweden and get some practice in the sun, reaped rich reward for his plan.
“I am really surprised that I have managed to play well despite the break after the Ras Al Khaimah Open. I went back to Sweden and it was like -4 and -5 degrees. So, I came here early with a couple of my Swedish mates and practiced for a week. That seems to have definitely helped,” said Axell.
South Africa’s MG Keyser, the Journey to Jordan professional leader, started with a three-under par 69 to be in tied seventh place. His closest rival, Australia’s Daniel Gaunt, opened with an even-par 72.
Miguel Angel Jimenez Junior, son of the legendary Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, made a hole-in-one – his first in competitive play – when he aced the par-3 second hole from 194 yards with a 6-iron. The Senior Jimenez is well known for his penchant of making aces and has the record of most aces on European Tour (11).