Rayhan Thomas takes it all in his stride after record-equalling birdie blitz at Dubai Creek Open
Dubai-based teenager shot nine successive birdies during the second round of the Mena Tour event to take his place in the record books.
Darren Clarke had some idea already, but then Tuesday happened.
The 2011 British Open champion has been a guest competitor this week on the Mena Tour, the developmental circuit of which he serves as patron, and spent the second round of the Dubai Creek Open alongside Rayhan Thomas, a Dubai-based teenager very much on the rise.
At 17, Thomas is the event’s defending champion, having last year created history by becoming the first amateur to win on the Mena Tour since its inception in 2011. Back at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club - his home track - Thomas surged into contention again. He shot a course-record 61. Between holes two and 10, he reeled off nine birdies on the bounce.
'Success would be a win': Rayhan Thomas in confident mood ahead of Dubai Creek Open title defence
'A good thing for the region': Organisers hail European Tour schedule change to have Abu Dhabi and Dubai back-to-back
Not only did the run propel Thomas to the top of the leaderboard, but it equalled the world record for consecutive birdies made in an Official World Golf Ranking event. Clarke, a man of 21 professional victories worldwide, had a front-row seat to the show. Little wonder he was impressed.
“Rayhan is a huge talent, obviously,” said the 2016 European Ryder Cup captain. “He has a great future ahead of him. The way he was playing, this is the worst he could have shot.”
Thomas would make do with 61, though. It started with a rather mundane par on the first, before the birdie blitz began at the very next hole. It did not end until he had departed the 10th green. Another birdie arrived on 13, before Thomas came home with five pars. Not to worry. He sort of anticipated that, anyway.
"It was fun," he said. "A good run of birdies. I just stayed pretty much in the moment and let it happen. It just felt natural. I knew I could go low, especially round my home track where I know the greens so well. So I just let everything flow.
“When I holed a putt on eight that I didn’t expect to go in, then I thought ‘OK, something special’s going to happen. I just made seven birdies in a row. OK, not bad’. Then after birding 10 I kind of slowed down a little bit, but I expected that. As much as I’d like to birdie every single hole, it has to stop I guess."
It didn't stop him making his own bit of history. With nine birdies in a row, Thomas equalled the record set by American Mark Calcavecchia at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.
Earlier this year, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger fired nine consecutive birdies in the second round of the 2017 Maybank Championship in Malaysia. However, it is not officially recognised since preferred lies were in play because of wet conditions in Kuala Lumpur.
“I didn’t know about the record, but that’s nice,” Thomas said. “That’s pretty cool.”
It was pretty neat, too, that mum and dad were there to witness it. Dad John even postponed heading into the office as soon as birdie No 7 dropped in on the eighth.
It was the first time John and wife Meena were both present to see their son compete, as Thomas continues on his remarkable rise. Ranked 1050th in the amateur world standings 12 months ago, he has climbed to 50th. In between, he has made the cut at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and finished third this July at the illustrious US Junior Am.
“A lot of people who my dad was keeping in touch with were getting very excited after those nine birdies in a row,” Thomas said, referencing the ever-growing WhatsApp group that follows his every move on the course. “Everyone was hoping for something extra special. But 61 is good enough."
A similar score on Wednesday would probably be sufficient enough for Thomas to successfully defend his title. After Tuesday’s staggering stretch, he sits second going into the final round, two shots off leader MG Keyser. More of the same, then.
“If I can shoot one more of these rounds," Thomas said, "I think I’ll be just fine."
Updated: September 12, 2017 07:38 PM