By Kent Gray
Darren Clarke has ensured a blockbuster start to the second half of the MENA Tour season with confirmation he will tee it up in next week’s $50,000 Dubai Creek Open.
The 2011 Open champion and 2016 Ryder Cup captain’s entry is a boon for the 54-hole event at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, the first of the developmental Pro-Am circuit’s final six tournaments of 2017 following a 10-week summer break.
The September 11-13 tournament will be Clarke’s second appearance on the MENA Tour which he serves as patron. The Ulsterman finished in a four way share of second place at the 2015 Ras Al Khaimah Classic, firing rounds of 71-66-71 to finish -8 at Tower Links, four shots adrift of runaway South African winner Thriston Lawrence (South Africa).
Rayhan Thomas, who coincidentally finished top amateur (T11 at -5) at Tower Links two years ago, is set to defend his Dubai Creek Open title before jetting off to New Jersey as the International team’s No.1 for the inaugural Junior Presidents Cup.
The 17-year-old Dubai-based Indian No.1 created history by becoming the MENA Tour’s first amateur winner at his home tournament last September and has since gone on to reach a career high 50th placing on the amateur world rankings, helped in no small way by making the cut at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and a memorable run to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur. He has a chance to emulate 10-time MENA Tour winner Zane Scotland, also a confirmed starter next week, as the only player to successfully defend the Dubai Creek title.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it would be great to give myself another chance and hopefully do it. It’s my home course and it’s where I learned to golf,” said Thomas.
“The game’s feeling good and I am hoping to ride on the good momentum coming into the week. With legendary Darren Clarke in the field, I am sure every player will be charged up to give off his best. It will be great fun.”
Thomas is one of 15 former MENA Tour winners confirmed for DCGYC where Clarke jointly holds the course record – 63 – with Lee Westwood and Australia’s Benjamin Eccles.
Among other decorated names confirmed are reigning Order of Merit champion Craig Hinton and Englishman Andrew Marshall and Jake Shepherd.
Another Englishman, Jamie Elson, will go in search of his maiden MENA Tour victory as he looks to shore up his lead – currently just 451 points ahead of Luke Joy – atop the 2017 OOM standings. Joy, still battling the after effects of a “savage” bout of malaria he picked up at the Joburg City Masters in early June, won’t be at DCGYC but for good reason – he’s teeing it up at the European Tour’s KLM Dutch Open instead, his reward for finishing second on last year’s money list.
Elson has much to play for with the eventual OOM champion earning three European Tour starts – including the Desert Classic – an invite to the PGA Tour’s 2018 DEAN & DELUCA Invitational as well as a full Sunshine Tour card and exemption to the final stage of Asian Tour Q-School.
Created in 2011, the MENA Tour is an initiative of the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation. It is affiliated to R&A and the Arab Golf Federation and enjoys the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) status.