DUBAI: Frenchman Romain Wattel was flying the flag for MENA Tour by Arena in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a round of two-under par 70 in extremely difficult conditions making him the highest placed player from the regional Tour.
As many as six MENA Tour by Arena members made it to the field this year, with Wattel being the last to qualify by winning the 36-hole Arena ShootOut at Al Hamra Golf Club last week.
The 29-year-old, winner of the 2017 KLM Open on the European Tour, was tied 15th after the opening round, which included a satisfying closing birdie on his finishing hole – the tough par-4 ninth where he drained a putt from 20 feet.
MG Keyser, the 2019 Professional Journey to Jordan champion, was also inside the cutline after the first round with a two-over par 74. It could have been a much better result for the South African but for an unfortunate triple bogey seven on the ninth hole after making an excellent start.
Josh Hill, the Amateur Journey to Jordan champion, struggled with his driving and the brutal rough took a toll on his scorecard with six bogeys against a solitary birdie. At five-over par 77, the 15-year-old world record holder for being the youngest player to win an OWGR recognized event was in tied 101st place.
Australian Daniel Gaunt shot a 78, England’s Harry Konig 80 and Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla 83.
Wattel, playing alongside the first-round leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium (5-under par 67), made a bogey on the 16th hole after starting from the 10th, but birdies on the 17th and 18th saw him make the turn in one-under par. On his back nine, second, sixth and ninth and dropped shots on the first and eighth.
“I love Dubai and this tournament,” said Wattel, who finished tied third here alongside the reigning world No1 Brooks Koepka in the 2014 edition.
“I made Dubai my home for four years and I have a good idea of this golf course. However, the conditions were really tough out there today with the wind and the rough. I am very happy with the way I played.
“I drove the ball really well, and when I needed to make some putts, I made them.”
At one point, Keyser was one of only two players from the morning groups to be in red numbers for the front nine, which was playing decidedly tougher.
“I just pulled my drive and was in the rough. I thought I could muscle it out and just aim for the grandstand to avoid the water and I could have taken a drop and tried to save a par. But the club just closed on me and I found the hazard,” said Keyser, who is making his Desert Classic debut.
“I definitely played much better than what my score suggests. I am actually satisfied with a two-over par card because the conditions were very tough.”
Hill missed a four-footer par putt on the second for his first bogey of the day, but most of his mistakes happened when he missed the fairway off the tee.
“I really had a poor day with my driving. I found only three fairways and it was very difficult to hit out of the rough,” said Hill, winner of the Al Ain Open by Arena last year.
“It was another good learning experience, but I hope I can sort out my driving tomorrow. I know I can score much better than this.”
Meanwhile, there were two wins in two weeks for the Jimenez family with Miguel Angel Jimenez Junior winning the MENA Tour by Arena Qualifying School A in Jordan.
Dad Miguel Angel Jimenez, winner of last week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the PGA Tour Champions, is at the Desert Classic and was delighted to learn about his son after carding an impressive even-par round himself.
Jimenez Jr made two eagles in the third and final round at Ayla Golf Club for a six-under par 66 to clinch the medalist honour by three shots on nine-under par 207.