By Kent Gray
Countless golfers go a lifetime without a hole-in-one, much less a professional title but Kyle Barker needed just a single afternoon to tick off those two bucket-list milestones on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old South Africa sealed an impressive two-shot, wire-to-wire victory at the MENA Tour’s Golf Citizen Abu Dhabi Open with a closing 68 at Yas Links, highlighted by an ace at the fourth.
Todd Clements pushed Barker to the limit with a closing 66, the day’s best score, but the South African had a counter jab to everything thrown at him by the English Amateur champion, as well as a couple of his own scorecard upper cuts.
Barker, playing on a special invitation, started the final round par, birdie, par, ace, birdie but then bogeyed the 6th and tripled the ninth. His topsy-turvy quest for a maiden pro title continued when he eagled the par 5 11th only to bogey the 16th and once again give Clements a sniff. But a birdie-birdie finish, including sinking an improbable 50-footer on 17, finally sunk Clements’ challenge.
“I am really so happy. Words can’t really express it,” said Barker after collecting the silverware and the champion’s US$9000 cheque from Yas Links general manager Howie Roberts.
“Feeling a proud South African at the moment, proud because the last two events on the MENA Tour were also won by a South African [MG Keyser at the Dubai Creek Open and Golf Citizen Classic at The Els], so this win is a bit special too.
“When Todd birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th, I needed do something special and hitting my three-wood approach on the final hole to within four feet did the trick.”
Clements, forced to settle for his second runner-up finish in three starts, was again gracious as he came up just short again in his bid to become the third amateur winner on the developmental circuit.
“Kyle played brilliantly all week and deserved to win,” said the 21-year-old Englishman who birdied the 9th to affect a four-shot swing following Barker’s triple. Sadly a bogey on the last blew his chances.
“I tried to be patient out there and stuck to my game plan. Of course, I am a bit disappointed on missing out on victory, but the good thing is that I’m able to take a lot of confidence out of today, a lot of positives.”
England’s Jamie Elson signed for a final round 68 to finish third on -9, one clear of compatriot Christopher Cannon who finished with a flawless 67. Elson’s solid performance sees him return to the top of the professional order of merit, 4432 points ahead of Fredrik From after the Swede finished T-18 at -2 following rounds of 73-71-70. A cheque for $6000 boosted Elson’s season earnings to $19, 471 (AED 71,518) while From has pocketed $17,718.
Scotland’s Paul Doherty carded back-to-back 67s to join Germany’s Georg Schultes in a tie for 5th on -7, one ahead of Welshman Toby Hunt as England’s Zane Scotland took a share of 8th on -5 following a final round 70.
Darren Clarke, the MENA Tour patron, settled for tied 26th on level-par after a final round 73 while UAE national rep Khalid Yousuf closed with a 73 to finish +3 in a share of 39th place alongside, among others, Dubai amateur Michael Harradine.
The MENA Tour’s next event, the new Jordan’s AYLA Golf Championship from October 5-7, unusually starts next Thursday unlike most the circuit’s Monday starts.