x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mena Golf Tour invitees to make most of Dubai Desert Classic chance

Quintet want to make the most of the learning curve by competing with the world's best.

Mohammed Munir had limited time to study the course but, as the first Pakistani to play in Dubai, he was not complaining. Satish Kumar / The National
Mohammed Munir had limited time to study the course but, as the first Pakistani to play in Dubai, he was not complaining. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Primed and poised, the Mena Golf Tour players have this week cut a contented path across Emirates Golf Club.

Well, all except one.

"I have never seen the course before, so I'm going out now to walk the holes," said Mohammed Munir yesterday, having arrived in the UAE a matter of hours before.

A travel hitch delayed Munir's UAE return, although the Pakistan professional wore his usual easy smile and the look of a man who, despite the pared-down practice, has one thought ahead of today's start to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic: bring it on.

"No Pakistani has had the honour of playing in this event so I'm extremely fortunate it's fallen into my lap," he said. "These opportunities don't knock on your door every day. I want to grab it with both hands."

Four other 2012 Mena Tour entrants are pawing at the chance, too. As Nos 1 to 3 in the professionals' Order of Merit, Stephen Dodd, Zane Scotland and William Harrold earned spots in the final leg of the European Tour's Desert Swing.

Munir, fourth in the standings even though he took first in October's Ras Al Khaimah Classic, is here thanks to a special invite from Golf in Dubai. Max Williams, last year's lead amateur, swells the foursome to a quintet.

"I've no real goals performance-wise, just to learn as much as I can," said Williams, who last week bathed in some early European Tour experience, playing two rounds at the Qatar Masters.

"It's the best in the world out here, so the learning opportunities are endless."

The enthusiasm of Williams seems boundless. He says he is "so hyped, so amped up" about finally teeing it up on the Majlis today that, come Sunday, his caddie could be found checking into one of Dubai's renowned spas for some much-needed rest and recreation.

"I've been getting on his nerves this week," Williams said. "Wanting to do everything at 100 miles an hour. He'll be glad to see the back of me."

Williams celebrated his Mena success with six weeks of range time in Florida, about 20 minutes from Disney World.

He, like the rest of his almost combustible counterparts here, is determined to prove the ever-expanding tour, a Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation initiative, is no Mickey Mouse circuit.

"The standard out there, I can tell from my experience, was very, very good," said Dodd, last season's leading money earner with US$27,636 (Dh101,508).

The Welshman's opinion weighs heavy. A three-time winner on Europe's top tour, he used Mena to reignite a career curbed by injury, and it duly obliged, offering him victory in the Sheikh Maktoum Dubai Open and a runner-up spot in the Tour Championship, the final of the tournament's six events.

This week should therefore hold no fear, especially as Dodd has serious Desert Classic previous: in 2005 only Ernie Els wrecked his march to the title.

Another bite of the cherry is welcome. "The Desert Classic was the carrot we were all after," said Dodd, continuing the food theme.

Scotland, his closest rival last season, is licking his lips too at Classic revisited.

Having featured in 2008 - the Englishman missed the cut - he is eager to discover how his game holds up five years on. Courtesy of Mena, Scotland certainly feels better equipped.

"Having played the Classic before, I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

"That was my first time to Dubai, and I didn't have any knowledge of the place. But it's nice now to play 10 Mena events [through two years]; coming here on the back of those is completely different."

Scotland reckons his golf is in good shape irrespective of a winter spent dusting snow off the range mats at his local club, and a strong performance last week at Asian Tour Qualifying School reinforces his judgement.

"I'd like to continue some sort of form I left Mena with; play similar golf to that," he said. "It's a bigger event here but it's the same style of course, the holes are the same size, the balls are the same size.

"It's such a good opportunity, so just make the most of it and hopefully put my own stamp on the tournament."

Judging by Harrold's immediate reaction to qualifying for this week - he triumphed at the Tour Championship, eight months after turning professional - forget about leaving a mark. Whatever happens, the Englishman will enjoy the experience.

"I can't believe it," he said back in Al Ain. "The Desert Classic invite is just awesome."

On second thoughts, primed. Forget the poised.


twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE