By Kent Gray
Josh Hill has a shot at yet more MENA Tour history after underlining his seemingly limitless potential on the second day of the Journey to Jordan Tour Championship.
The 15-year-old Dubai-based England Boys’ representative will take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the season on Thursday at deceptively picturesque Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba.
With a three-under second round 69, Hill emerged from a three-way tie atop the leaderboard following his opening 66 to lead alone by a stroke through 36-holes from a trio of English professionals, Harry Konig (65), Jamie Rutherford (67) and Joshua Grenville-Wood (70), and Swede Gabriel Axell (70).
For context, all four professionals are looking for their first win on the MENA Tour.
Hill now has a shot at becoming the first amateur with two MENA Tour by Arena wins after famously capturing the Al Ain Open to become the youngest player, at 15 years, six months and 27 days old, to win an Official World Golf Ranking-sanctioned event last month.
Hill believes his win in Al Ain Open, even though he started the final day three shots behind the leader, will help him as he dons the role of a front-runner.
“It will be a different challenge and I think what would definitely help is if I get off to a good start like I did in Al Ain,” said Hill. “But that win proved to me that I have what it takes to win a tournament at this level and that would be a good, positive thought in my mind.”
Hill holds a six-stroke lead over Claude Harmon 3 Performance Golf Academy pal Arjun Gupta on the amateur leaderboard after Gupta ascended five places up to T-16 with a solid second round 70. Perhaps more importantly, Hill leads countryman and current amateur Journey to Jordan order of merit leader Curtis Knipes by a mammoth 18-strokes after Knipes slipped to 58th position after an 80 on Wednesday. Knipes’ round included a catastrophic 12 on the par-5 9th and was followed by a double bogey on the next hole. Given their respective positions at opposite ends of the leaderboard, Hill is now projected to win the overall amateur title and earn a start in January’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
South Africa’s MG Keyser, the professional Journey to Jordan leader, was at four-under 140 after a 71. However, with his nearest challengers, Australia’s Daniel Gaunt (73) and England’s James Allan (72), not making any significant inroads, Keyser looks on course to win the season title and starts in the Desert Classic and Made in Denmark.
Hill got off to a hot start and was four-under through seven and managed to make enough birdies to offset a bumpy back nine.
“I was doing everything so well for the first seven holes and then made a stupid bogey on the ninth,’ said Hill, who made seven birdies and ended with a bogey on 18th.
“Struggled a bit after that but delighted to finish at three-under on a tough day. I made a three-putt bogey on the 12th hole, but apart from that, I putted really well today and that really saved the day.”
Konig said he was ‘plodding’ along and making some good up-and-downs until he decided to get aggressive on the back nine. The move paid rich dividends as he finished with five birdies in his last six holes for the low round of the day.
“I missed making a birdie on the par-5 17th hole, where I missed a putt from five feet. That was slightly disappointing, but I did make a birdie on the 18th which was playing very tough in this wind. I think it is the first time I have made a birdie on that hole,” said Konig.
The 27-year-old Rutherford came to Jordan having missed getting into the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School by just one shot.
“I did not putt well at all that day in Spain and it was very disappointing. I went back home and mostly did putting for two weeks before coming here. In a sense, it is good that I had this tournament to play and an opportunity to bounce right back,” said Rutherford.
Axell, who lost in a play-off at the Ras Al Khaimah Open by Arena, will try and make amends in Thursday’s final round.
“It’s never good to finish with a bogey, but it wasn’t easy out there. However, I am playing some good golf and there is no reason why I should not finish one better than what I did at Ras Al Khaimah,” said Axell, who made three birdies in a row before making the turn.
Grenville-Wood, who finished second in Bahrain earlier this year, said: “It was a grind out there, especially on the back nine. I am pretty pleased with the way I kept it going and kept hitting steady shots. I made a pretty good par on the 18th. So, one shot back, I will take it.”