By Kent Gray
Kyle Barker fits almost perfectly the player profile MENA Tour boss Mohamed Juma Buamaim had in mind when he wrote the blueprint for the developmental Pro-Am circuit.
Buamaim’s long-term dream for the tour is, of course, to unearth young, Olympic Games-quality Arab stars, but he couldn’t grumble at the quality of Barker’s golf Monday, a sizzling 66 helping the 19-year-old South African open up a two shot lead at the Golf Citizen Abu Dhabi Open.
MJB will also be heartened by the hot streak Todd Clements is currently riding after the English amateur eased into second place with a 68. Eight players share third after 69s, the tour’s most decorated player in Zane Scotland and the producer of Monday’s shot of the day, South African Wayne Stroebel, among them. Stroebel holed a wedge on the 141-yard par 3 13th for his first career ace.
But the day belonged to Barker who opened his round with three successive birdies, was five under through seven and added further gains on the 13th and 16th to cancel out a lone bogey on the 10th.
“Everything flowed quite smoothly out there. I struck the ball beautifully, putted nicely and my approaches were relatively close, creating plenty of birdie opportunities,” said Barker, a professional barely a year who is playing Yas Links on a special MENA Tour invitation.
“I had a lot of fun playing on this course, which is in great condition and look forward to having some more good times in the next two rounds.”
Jamie Elson, meanwhile, made the early move in the all-important pro order of merit race. The Englishman signed for a two under 70, three shots better than Swede Fredrik From, the only man above him in the points standings save for South African MG Keyser who has abandoned his OOM hopes to chase a Asian Tour card in Malaysia.
Yas Links-attached Luke Joy has ground to make up after an opening 74 while English compatriot Andrew Marshall remains in the OOM conversation after a 71.
Playing in his second MENA Tour event in three weeks this season, former Open champion Darren Clarke carded a solid 70.
After finishing tied second with Rayhan Thomas at The Dubai Creek Open and 17th at last week’s Golf Citizen Classic at The Els, Clements needs another strong week to zero in on the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings. The 21-year-old Essex lad, currently ranked 64th, has started his mission strongly by mixing five birdies with a solitary bogey on the 15th.
“I started off well, making four birdies in the first seven holes and that set pretty much the tone for the round,” Clements said. “I played good, solid golf and made no major mistakes which was the key.”
Clements leads the amateur battle by two shots from Kenyan Agil Is-hag (70). Englishman Taylor Carter (71) is third while and Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla, England’s Robert Horridge and the UAE’s Khalid Yousuf shared fourth after even par 72s.
Ahmed Skaik was the next best of the UAE national team players with a 75 but the remainder of local contingent now have a very clear line in the sand with regards the level required to compete on the MENA Tour.
Ahmed Al Musharrekh, playing in the company of former Ryder Cup captain Clarke, left himself a mountain to climb after dropping six shots in his last five holes en-route to a six-over 78 while Abdalla Al Musharrekh carded an 84 (+12) and Sohail Al Marzooqi a 19-over 91.