x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Pros take lead on first day of match play

Healthy lead going into singles pairings means seven points today will be enough to give Luke Cantelo’s men victory.

DUBAI // The UAE's resident golf professionals are on course to extend their dominance over their amateur counterparts in the annual Dubai Trophy after carving out a healthy 9.5-6.5 lead during yesterday's first day at Dubai Creek. Luke Cantelo's professional team, who have won the Ryder Cup-style event on eight of the 10 previous occasions, established their three-point advantage with an impressive display in the afternoon foursomes after the morning fourballs had finished tied at 4-4 after both sides had won three matches, with the other two clashes being halved.

Seven points from today's singles matches on the Faldo Course at Emirates Golf Club will ensure another success for the pros over those aspiring to take the silverware off them. Five of the seven completed foursomes went the way of the professionals, the amateurs claiming just a solitary victory on the course, thanks to Alex Charawani and Dino Varkey, who overcame Craig Martin and Andrew Matthews 2 & 1.

The only other full point claimed by the amateur team came by default after David Gray, the local professional at Dubai Creek, was unable to start his afternoon rubber after feeling ill during his morning match. Gray has pulled out of his singles engagement in which he was due to play Vikram Judge, a former Dubai Creek club captain. That rubber will be marked down as a half, leaving 15 others to be decided.

John Mills, captain of the amateur team, was disappointed after his team's afternoon performance. Mills went out as anchor man in the eighth foursomes rubber but he and Jamal Saab were closed out at the 16th hole by Richard Sheridan and Steven Munro. Even the powerful amateur pairing of Miki Mirza, the order of merit winner, and Ahmed al Musharrekh failed to deliver. They were comprehensively beaten 4 & 2 by Simon Payne, the country's leading professional last year, and Andrew Pilfold.

The other strong amateur pairing of Khalid Yousuf and Joel Neale had to be content with a share of the spoils after losing the final hole of their tight battle against Ross McArthur and Mark Bull. It had been a different story for Yousuf and Neale in the morning fourballs when they came from behind in the final match to snatch a fighting half to ensure that honours were even going into lunch. A birdie on the 16th by Yousuf brought the UAE international and his English partner - twice an order of merit winner - back to parity and, despite chances for both sides on the closing two holes, that was the way it stayed.

For much of the morning, the fourballs looked like going the way of the amateurs who opened up a healthy 3.5-1.5 lead after five of those initial eight encounters. That early edge came thanks mainly to Mills and Ivan Lawson, his partner, holding off a spirited late rally by Payne, the professionals' order of merit champion, and his partner, Pilfold. However, the professional pairings of Craig Martin and George Kasparis and McArthur and Bull retrieved the situation for their 16-man team by accounting respectively for the Alex Charawani-Steve Bennett and Dino Varky-Jamal Saab combinations.

Successive birdies by Kasparis at the 16th and 17th proved decisive, while victory at the 16th hole sealed a 4 & 2 verdict for McArthur and Bull. wjohnson@thenational.ae