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MENA Tour stars relishing Omega Dubai Desert Classic test

DUBAI, Jan 14— Rayhan Thomas insists he has the attributes and temperament to compete at the top level as he joins a strong MENA Tour contingent, hoping to make the most of a “massive opportunity” at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club later this month.

“I can’t wait to get started. It will be fun playing alongside such a fantastic field. I am feeling confident about my game, just working on my wedges and putter as short game will be crucial to going to low,” said the 18-year-old Dubai-based prodigy who finished in a tie for 60th place on three over after opening with a 68 last year.

“The (Majlis) is like my home course. Having played there numerous times, I know it like the back of my hand. I see no reason why I shouldn’t do well there. It was nice making the cut last year, but just didn’t play that well on the front nines,” said Thomas, who gave himself a massive boost of confidence ahead of the Classic week by winning the prestigious Emirates Open on Friday.

A good six shots off the pace going into the final, Thomas, who qualified as the number one player for the International team for the Junior Presidents Cup earlier last year, closed with a three-under-par 69 to move into in a three-way playoff and sealed the title with a birdie on the second extra hole.

“I am really grateful to the MENA Tour for providing a perfect platform for its members to put their careers on the wing. It is one of the best golf tours, one that offer plenty of incentives, including multiple starts on the European Tour,” said Thomas, who tied the world record of nine consecutive birdies in an official World Golf Ranking event at the 2017 Dubai Creek Open.

Joining Thomas in showcasing the rising standard of the game on the MENA Tour will be the top three professionals on the Order of Merit — Jamie Elson, Henric Sturehed and Luke Joy — and the leading amateur Todd Clements.

For young Clements and Sturehed, who earned the 2018 European Tour card through Qualifying School, it be will be their first ‘Major of the Middle East’ outing while Elson and Joy, like Thomas, have been down this route before – and know what to expect.

Enjoying a bit of career-resurgence after winning the MENA Tour’s Order of Merit title in 2017, Elson will be hoping to find some of his old magic that saw him win the Finnish Open in 2003 on the Challenge Tour and ply his trade on the top-tier European Tour.

“I want to take a really positive, relaxed attitude into the tournament. Hoping to play some good golf and see where that leaves me. I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself,” said Elson, who turned professional in 2003.

David Spencer, the tournament director, said: “The Omega Dubai Desert Classic invites to the MENA Tour is part of our commitment to try and substantially enhance the careers of the tour members while recognising the region’s growing influence in the world of golf.

“It’s a big moment for them and they will be quite eager to give a good account of themselves, underline the strides being made by the tour in putting the region on the sporting map. I wish them the very best and hope their presence will serve an inspiration for those who want to take up golf as a career.”

Featuring a strong field, headlined by defending champion Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and ‘Volcano’ Pat Perez among other top-draws, the 29th edition of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic gets under way on January 25.

Tickets are available for purchase online (www.omegadubaidesertclassic.com). Daily tickets for the four-day main competition, starting on January 25, are priced at Dh 175. A season pass, which provides access all week, is available for Dh 500. All those aged 16 and under will be allowed free entry to the course if they are accompanied by an adult who is holding a valid ticket for the day.

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