x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cricket's Michael Vaughan shows golf amateurs the way at Abu Dhabi tournament

The National's William Johnson plays and reports in the Emirates Airline Invitational – and tips his golfing hat to cricket's Michael Vaughan.

Stepping on to the first tee at Yas Links yesterday morning was a daunting experience for many of the keen amateurs who have dreamed of making a career out of their favourite pastime.

For some, like Michael Vaughan, the former England cricket captain, who showed the rest how it should be done in the Emirates Airline Invitational, it comes naturally.

For others it took some getting used to.

Competing in a team representing the title sponsors Emirates with Graeme Storm, the English touring professional, the objective was to chip in as often as possible in betterball format to enhance the professional's score and possibly turn it into a winning one.

Given the same task in the fourball was Mark Gathercole, who has 40 international caps as a prop forward for the now disbanded Arabian Gulf rugby union team. He was paired with David Howell, another English professional, who has a home in the Greens Community of Dubai and has spent the last two winters as a UAE expatriate.

Gathercole was immediately branded a "bandit" by Storm after being acclaimed by Howell for producing a stunning birdie four at the long second. Front-row forwards can shift a small golf ball a prodigious distance if they hit it properly.

Storm, who had performed brilliantly on the outward nine in what was his first round of golf for nine weeks, had to wait until the long eighth for his first helping hand from his 17-handicap partner. The man who won his one and only European Tour title in 2007 had noticed the obvious nervousness of his colleague at the beginning of play as Bob Connor, the official starter for big events in this country, announced the names to a small gallery surrounding the first tee.

"Just try to play your normal game and ask for help if you need it," he said reassuringly.

What followed was far from normal but three further contributions on the back nine helped stem the bleeding from what turned into a disappointing finish for the professional.

"I've had a lot of problems with my shoulder over the last few years and just when I was ready to start building up again for the new year I contracted flu over the Christmas holiday," he said.

"It has left me a bit ring rusty and that started to show on the closing holes. Playing into the wind with a suspect shoulder when you are not at your best physically can create problems as tiredness creeps in."

Storm clearly gets on well with Howell and they enjoyed the private battle between them as they prepare for Thursday's opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

It is the start of a busy spell for both men as they are committed to all four legs of the Desert Swing - the others are in Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai - while Storm is also likely to play a fifth successive week in India.

Had the two of them been playing together they would have posted a challenging score because Howell performed far better on the back nine than Storm as he and his fierce-hitting partner started climbing the leaderboard on the home stretch.

A joint best score of the day of 31 on the more difficult homeward stretch saw them climb into a share of seventh position on seven-under par 65.

Storm's position, by contrast, worsened as the day progressed and from being in contention at the turn had to settle for a mid-table finish at four-under par.

That was in illustrious company level with the defending champions Lee Westwood, the world No 1 and Abdullah al Naboodah, the host of this fund-raising event.

wjohnson@thenational.ae