By Kent Gray
Home course advantage. Saud Al Sharif has made the most of it for the first two days of the Royal Golf Club Bahrain Open. The trick now is negotiating the often unseen flip side of knowing the quirks of a layout you’ve played for the past 10 years and the added pressure of all those who know you know it so well willing you on as the 19-year-old tries to become just the fifth amateur winner of a MENA Tour by Arena event.
The Bahrain-based Saudi national team rep will start the final round of the $75,000 event on Wednesday tied for second with Frenchman Antoine Schwartz (70), just a shot behind English leader David Hague.
A second-round 66, the lowest score on a tough Tuesday in Riffa, has Al Sharif posed to join Rayhan Thomas, Pierre Junior Verlaar, Robin ‘Tiger’ Williams and Josh Hill as amateur champions on the Pro-Am regional development citcuit.
“Of course, I know this golf course better than everyone else. But playing at home also brings a lot of pressure and hopefully, I can handle it tomorrow as well as I did today,” said Al Sharif.
And handle Tuesday well he did.
“It is such an amazing day,” said Al Sharif who mixed seven birdies with a bogey on a day of swirling wind, a week after sensationally making the cut in Oman last week by holing out his second shot on the par-4 17th hole for an eagle before birding the last.
“I had an unbelievable round, my lowest ever on the MENA Tour. My putter was on fire. I made putts from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. Come to think of it, my short game was something that was holding me back. I have been working really hard on my putting and chipping with Jamie McConnell at the Claude Harmon Performance Institute in Dubai and it is showing result.”
Hague, who turned pro after MENA Tour by Arena Qualifying School and recently finished runner-up at the NEWGIZA Open in Cairo, has complied rounds of 66-70 to lead on -8, 136.
The Englishman drove his opening hole – the reachable par-4 10th – and started in the best possible way with an eagle. He made the turn at five-under-par before two three-putts and a poor tee shot on the par-3 7th led to leaked shots.
A birdie on the last helped him close with a 70 and gave him a one-shot cushion going into the final round.
“I was playing really well and was 12-under par at one stage. It’s disappointing to finish at two-under, but I am happy that I managed to reach eight-under-par. The conditions were quite difficult out there with the wind,” said Hague.
Schwartz, who is looking for his first win on the MENA Tour, was rewarded for his patience with two birdies in his last two holes – the 8th and 9th – both playing very difficult in the wind.
“It was a tough day and I just tried to remain patient. It was a good finish with the two birdies and I am looking forward to tomorrow. Getting into contention is the main thing in golf and if I am within one or two shots of the leader tomorrow going into the back nine, I will be happy and give it my best shot,” said Schwartz, who is a member of the Challenge Tour.
Overnight leader Joel Girrbach (72) of Sweden fell to tied fourth place at six-under-par 138 alongside the promising Irishman Ryan Lumsden (67) and resurgent Frenchman Victor Riu (67).
Journey to Jordan leader David Langley made successive eagles on the ninth and 10th holes after making a double bogey on the second hole and was in the group at five-under-par.