x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE's strong opening gives Vallender cause for optimism

The UAE are eleven shots off the lead after an encouraging start to their Nomura Cup challenge in Fiji

Ahmed Al Musharrekh hit a round of 68 for the UAE at the Nomura Cup yesterday.
Ahmed Al Musharrekh hit a round of 68 for the UAE at the Nomura Cup yesterday.


Chris Vallender, the national golf team coach, last night described his players as "amazing" after they made their best ever start to an international tournament, at the Nomura Cup in Fiji.

The four-man side sit just 11 points behind the leaders Australia, in joint-seventh place, with three days still to go after yesterday's first round.

The three best scores of the day counted towards the final tally and the Emirate's amateurs turned potential into reality yesterday, something they have failed to do in the past.

On the challenging par-72 Denarua course, Ahmed Al Musharrekh (68), Khalid Yousuf (74) and Abdulla Al Musharrekh (76) came in for a combined total of two-over score of 218, the same as South Korean, the reigning champions.

The fourth member of the team, Saif Thabet, shot a round of 93, but his score was not counted. Vallender was delighted with all four of his men who had to endure a two-and-a-half hour rain delay before play could get underway.

"The boys did great, they were really amazing," said Vallender, who is with the team in Fiji along with Khaled Mubarak, the non-playing captain.

"It's great to see a two-over total at the end of a really difficult day, especially as it's our best ever start to an international tournament."

Australia, the favourites, lead the way on 207, with India a point behind in second place and the strongly fancied New Zealanders third with 211.

While only three scores counted, Vallender was keen to praise the commitment and contribution made by all four players.

Although he picked out 20-year-old Ahmed, whose four-under round of 68 was one of the best of the day from the 108 players involved.

"Ahmed was just awesome throughout his round and is really playing well," the coach said.

"He shot five birdies and just one bogey, and at one stage had the second best score of the tournament.

"Both Khalid and Abdulla played solid golf, with Abdulla striking the ball as well as anybody can. But his putting was not as good as he would have liked it to be. Khalid battled with his ball striking all day but adapted brilliantly to post the score that he did.

"Saif Thabet didn't shoot what he wanted to, however, he made a really good start and only struggled with his short game later in the round.

"However, what I would say about Saif is that he remained composed and focused all through his round and I was really pleased by the way he really hung in there for the team."

With heavy morning rain leaving the Denarau Golf Course waterlogged, the first group, which was due to tee off at 9am, left at 11.30am.

The soggy conditions also meant that players from the 27 countries taking part from Asia and Australasia were asked to carry their own bags, instead of being allowed on carts as that could have damaged the soft course.

However, it did make the fairways and greens soft, which contributed to several sub-par rounds.

Vallender does not expect such low scoring today on a tougher 18 holes, although he is confident that his team could improve on a good first day.

"For round two we are at the Natadola course, which is the more difficult of the courses, and if we play sensibly, like we did on Tuesday, then we should have a good finish in this year's tournament," he said.

"The players' confidence is up and they are relaxed within themselves which is a good sign for now."

ncameron@thenational.ae

 


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