The Open 2019: MENA Tour champion MacIntyre just two adrift of J.B. Holmes at Royal Portrush

MacIntyre plays his shot from the 7th tee during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019, in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

By Kent Gray
J.B. Holmes leads, Brooks Koepka lurks (rather ominously) but how about Robert ‘Bob’ MacIntrye for the feel-good story on the opening day of the 148th Open Championship? Hang around for the exciting Curtis Knipes sidebar as well.

The two MENA Tour players remained right in the conversation after an opening day of shock and awe at Royal Portrush.

Holmes’s 66 (courtesy of hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 15-18 greens) will see the 37-year-old American take a one-stroke lead over big Irish hope and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship titleholder Shane Lowry into Friday.

After a historic homeward nine of 29 in his 68, big-hitting Kiwi Ryan Fox heads a gaggle of 13 players including Koepka, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm a shot further back.

The shock on Thursday, of course, was provided by Rory McIlroy sending his opening tee shot sailing out of bounds on the 1st – and likely with it his dream of hoisting a second claret jug. The Northern Irishman eventually settled for a snowman eight en-route to an eight-over-par 79, one worse than Tiger Woods whose back doesn’t much like this wintry Co. Antrim weather. Soon afterwards, 2001 champion David Duval took a little heat off McIlroy for the worst hole of the week when he carded a 14 on the par 5 7th en-route to a 91.

For MENA Tour fans, the performances of Open debutants MacIntyre (68) and Knipes (72) were especially heartening.

MacIntyre features in the latest issue of Golf Digest Middle East.

Playing in the company of English cult-hero Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, Scottish lefty MacIntyre earned his fair share of camera time early on day one, highlighted by a mammoth putt for an eagle two on the fifth en-route to his eventual 68.

The 2017 Sahara Kuwait Open champion, who is enjoying a successful rookie season campaign on the European Tour at 21st on the Race to Dubai rankings heading into Royal Porrush, spoke with the MENA Tour’s Joy Chakravarty afterwards:

Knipes, meanwhile, is second in the race for low amateur honours and the silver medal after his one over 71 left him a shot behind British Amateur champion James Sugrue (Ireland).

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel nervous on the first tee,” said Knipes who leads the MENA Tour amateur order of merit at the halfway stage of the regional developmental circuit season. “It was probably the most nervous I’ve been. Every shot out there you kind of think you’ve settled in, and you do, but you kind of stand over a putt and you do feel the nerves all over again.

“It was a fairly decent round. I played pretty solid. It got pretty tough coming in, obviously we had a bit of rain. And it’s quite a brutal finish around here. But reasonably happy under the pressure.

“I’ve got my eyes on the Silver Medal. Making the cut obviously would be great. But Silver Medal is probably the one goal that I have right now.”

England’s Matthew Baldwin, who leads the MENA Tour’s Professional OOM, dropped five shots in just two holes – a triple on the first and a double on the last – to finish on seven-over-par 78.

Two other former MENA Tour winners are playing the final major of 2019. England’s Callum Shinkwin (2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic Shootout) finished on one-under-par 70 while Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (2017 Mahasamutr Open) shot a 74.

Kent Gray

Editor of Golf Digest Middle East. Has written about golf since 1989 and owned a suspect short game even longer.

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