Khaled Attieh (amateur) and Callum Nicoll (professional) held their nerves when it mattered most to win the 2011 Omega Dubai Desert Classic qualifying round in their respective divisions at the Emirates Golf Club on Sunday.
The two qualifiers, who shot an identical one-under-par 71, will join a star-studded field spearheaded by world number one Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of the modern era, when the European Tour event gets under way from February 10 to 13.
Young Attieh, who became the second Saudi golfer to win the qualifier after Othman Almulla, fired four birdies and an eagle (on the 10th) in his round which also contained a triple bogey and two bogeys while Nicoll mixed three birdies – two on the front nine – with two bogeys in a consistent round.
The Saudi ace, who is a class 10th student at Dubai American Academy, appeared on cruise control when he raced to three-under-par after recording a magnificent eagle on the 10th. But golf can be full of surprises. A disaster struck on the 12th when an erratic approach shot by Attieh went out of bound, resulting in a triple bogey.
Attieh, however, remained unruffled despite squandering a two-shot lead over Dubai Creek’s Andy Andrews, who, in the end, settled for runner-up place three shots off the pace.
The 16-year-old, with Almulla in the bag, showed great strength of character in getting the job done in a superb fashion. He responded with a birdie on the 13th and though he bogeyed the 15th, he picked up the vital shot on the 17th when he holed in from two feet and finished a memorable round with a solid par.
“I think I played solid on the front nine and that set tone for the round,” said Attieh, who has already made a mark on the regional circuit, posting creditable second-place finishes in both Pan Arab and GCC Championships besides winning the Saudi Open last year.
Attieh, who is a member at the Arabian Ranches Golf Club, does fancy his chances of making the cut at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but that “first shot off the first tee” will be important. “I have watched Tiger Woods playing here in Dubai and can certainly say the experience of joining him in the field would be quite scary. But I am looking forward to it.”
Scotland’s Nicoll, who teaches at the Els Club, also feels he has a realistic chance of making it to the weekend. Playing only for the third time at the Majlis course, the 28-year-old from Irvine strung together a very consistent round.
“The conditions were fine and enjoyed playing on the course,” said Nicoll, who is no stranger to playing in big tournaments, having missed The Open qualifier in 2007 by two shots.
“I think I am going to enjoy playing in such a great field. If I can play to my potential, I do a see a realist chance of making the cut,” said Nicolle, who finished three shots ahead of David Gray (DCGYC) and Richard Sheridan of Butch Harmon School of Golf.
In all 49 players, including 20 amateurs, featured in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic qualifying round, organised by ‘golf in Dubai’.
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice-chairman and CEO of golf in Dubai, presented the prizes and wished both the qualifiers good luck for their big challenge ahead.
Omega will be the event’s title sponsor and Dubal (Dubai Aluminium), the main sponsor. Co-sponsors include: CNN, Gulf News, Emirates NBD, Jumeirah and Wasl. Event patrons are Dubai Duty Free, Carpetland and Motivate. The events are part of golf in Dubai’s drive to showcase the emirate’s vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.
Professionals: Callum Nicoll 71, David Gray 74, Richard Sheridan 74, Ross McArthur 75, Malcolm Young 76, Ben Derbyshire 76 , Fraser McLaughan 76.
Amateurs: Khaled Attieh 71, Andy Andrews 74, Brian McCarthy 75, Pontus Fredriksson 77, Rene Larsen 77, Vikram Judge 77, Joel Neale 77.
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