Retief Goosen got his season off to the perfect start by winning the Pros event at the Emirates Airline Invitational hosted by Abdullah Al Naboodah at Yas Links Golf Club in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and playing partner Ross McGowan scooped the Pro-Am two-man Team prize.
The ‘Goose’ warmed up for his first outing on The European Tour in 2011 - this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship - in stunning style, shooting a round of 8-under-par 64 that included seven birdies and a scintillating eagle at the 11th with just one bogey at the 17th.
The South African only entered the event last Thursday and was overwhelmed by his maiden experience at Kyle Phillips’ delightful Yas Links course.
“It was my first round here so maybe that was a good thing – I didn’t know where all the trouble was,” said the two-time US Open champion. “I just tried to hit good shots, played solid golf, putted well and hit a lot of shots close to the pin. The course obviously suited my game quite nicely. I was a late entry so I think I made the right decision to play.
“Yas Links is a beautiful layout, it hasn’t been open very long but it’s in really great shape. It can get tough - when the wind blows hard round here it can get really difficult. The greens are also obviously very sloping so they can be very tricky.
“I think Abdullah has done a really good job with The Invitational. For a Pro-Am event it’s great prize money and it’s great for the charities to benefit from this, too.
“I hope I can keep going like this for the rest of the week. It’s great to be going into my first event on The European Tour this year with the confidence this win has brought me.”
The charity auction held at the star-studded Gala Dinner following the event raised $220,000 as key figures from the world of sport, commerce and entertainment showed the Future Centre for Special Needs, Make A Wish Foundation UAE and Brest Friends UAE, while $150,000 of the Invitational’s $500,000 prize fund will go to the preferred charities of the leading three players.
One of the most hotly contested auction items was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to play golf anywhere in the world with Ryder Cup star Ross Fisher and US Open champion Graeme McDowell, with all flights and accommodation included.
Tournament host Abdullah Al Naboodah won with a bid of $45,000 before donating the prize to his good friend and Al Ahli FC manager David O’Leary.
However, there was to be a further twist as O’Leary, in an act of overwhelming generosity, ‘re-donated’ it to 12-year-old Dhruv Nair. The talented youngster, who secured a spot in the field via the Worldwide Golf Golden Ticket Qualifying Series, had put in a hugely impressive performance in the Pro-Am section of the event to finish just one stroke back from the winners alongside playing partner Pablo Larrazabal on 11-under-par.
“This is amazing, the best day of my life,” said Nair. “I really enjoyed playing with the pros at Yas Links and I played really well, my best round ever.”
Vaughan and European Tour partner McGowan dovetailed wonderfully to shoot 12-under in the hotly contested Pro-Am.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Vaughan. “Abdullah has done an amazing job with the event and on behalf of all of the amateurs, the teams and the sponsors, I’d like thank him for inviting us. We’re all very privileged to play here on a terrific golf course like Yas Links.”
Abdullah was delighted with the fifth running of what has become one of the most eagerly anticipated Pro-Ams in the world, which featured a field that included the likes of defending champion and World No. 1 Lee Westwood and as well as Invitational Ambassador McDowell and a host of European Tour stars.
“The event just keeps on getting better. Having Emirates Airline as Title Partner and the support of our other Partners has helped make this the best Invitational to date. Yas Links Golf Club not only provided the perfect setting and relaxed atmosphere we set out to achieve but the course presented a true test of golf. The Abu Dhabi location was perfect.
“But what makes this event truly great are the players themselves. I’m honoured by the exceptional standard of professionals in the field and to have the defending champion and World No.1, Lee Westwood, pass on the title to two-time Major winner Retief Goosen speaks volumes on how the event has grown in such a short time.”
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