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NBO Oman Open Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 12 Feb 2018 | Comments

THE European Tour returns to the Middle East with a brand new tournament, the NBO Oman Open, to be staged at Al Mouj Golf, a stunning course designed by Greg Norman in Muscat. And the good news for the organisers is that they have managed attracted a strong field for what is widely regarded as the biggest sporting event ever to be staged in Oman.

It will actually  be the sixth time a National Bank of Oman-sponsored professional golf tournament has been hosted at Al Mouj, with the venue welcoming the stars of the European Challenge Tour for the past five years. The National Bank of Oman Golf Classic was the penultimate event on the Challenge Tour schedule in 2013 and 2014 before being elevated to become the season-ending showpiece, the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, from 2015 to 2017.

The Sultanate became the key focus of the Challenge Tour schedule with the season-long points competition renamed the ‘Road to Oman Rankings’ and the top 45 players earning a spot in the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final where they competed for a chance to win promotion to the European Tour. The event, as well as the world-class course and venue, received fantastic reviews from players, spectators and the media, and the next logical step was to award Oman a fully-fledged Eurpean Tour event.

It is a certainty that the weather will be glorious and the players are sure to love the golf course, which Norman regards as one of his finest.

Among those in the field are Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and Paul Lawrie. And Sullivan, in particular, is looking forward to the tournament. “I’ve always enjoyed playing golf in this part of the world and it’s exciting to play in a new country that I’ve not played before and in a brand new event. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Oman.”

Also teeing it up in Muscat will be Jordan Smith. The Englishman topped the Road to Oman Rankings in 2016 before making a wonderful start to his European Tour career last year with victory in the Porsche European Open along with a further four top-10 finishes as he secured a place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai at the first time of asking.

“I’m excited to be returning to Oman and playing in the inaugural NBO Oman Open at Al Mouj Golf,” said Smith. “I have fond memories of Oman and winning the Road to Oman in 2016 and look forward to playing again in Muscat at Al Mouj Golf. It is a challenging golf course and I’m delighted to include Oman and the NBO Oman Open in my 2018 schedule.”

Smith looks like the real deal. Plenty of talented young golfers have joined the European Tour and have been tipped for the top, only to find the pressure and the standards required to be beyond them. But Englishman Smith has taken to the main tour like a duck to water. He would have been named Rookie of the Year had it not been for Jon Rahm’s victories at the Irish Open and DP Dubai World Championship. There are those who felt that, since Rahm had spent most of the year on the PGA Tour, the award should have gone to Smith, but he is not all concerned.

He knows what it takes to win. Quite apart from his victory in the European Open, he won twice on the Challenge Tour in 2016 and twice more on the EuroPro Tour in 2015. But perhaps the achievement that should give 25-year-old Smith the greatest sense of satisfaction was his performance at the US PGA Championship, where he finished in a tie for ninth place. This was all the more remarkable since it was his first major and his first appearance on American soil.

Johnston has become a cult figure. He is loved everywhere he goes but has reached a career crossroads. Beef, as he is universally known, probably found himself between a rock and a hard place in 2017. After gaining his PGA Tour card, he was faced with trying to balance his time between Europe and the United States and struggled with both. Though feted wherever he went in America, his results were bitterly disappointing with a joint 10th at the Puerto Rico Open being his best of the season. He only managed to win $293,000 and finished 189th in the FedEx Cup standings and lost his playing privileges. Because he is so popular with the fans, Johnston knows that he would be able to depend on a few sponsors’ invitations in 2018 but he probably needs to change his focus and will surely be concentrating on Europe this season.

It is easy to underestimate Johnston but, underneath that lumberjack’s beard and devil-may-care attitude, he is a proper golfer. He has made it clear that he has no intention of changing the way he interacts and mixes with his fans, but he needs a big week, and soon,

Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia, winner of the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final and Road to Oman in 2015, will join Smith in the NBO Oman Open field as will 2016 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final winner Bernd Ritthammer along with another former Ryder Cup player and two-time OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher.

The list of former Al Mouj Golf winners will also include Clément Sordet who will return to the scene of his triumph just over three months after his 2017 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final victory while last year’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters champion Jeunghun Wang and rising star Seungsu Han, both from Korea add further quality to the high-class international field.

Nick Tarratt, Director of the European Tour Middle East, said: “The fact the inaugural NBO Oman Open has attracted such a high-quality field is a mark of the esteemed reputation enjoyed by the Challenge Tour events which proceeded it in the Sultanate. That reputation is down to the efforts of NBO, the Government of Oman, Al Mouj Golf and the Oman Golf Committee whose support earned the tournament a well-deserved place on the European Tour. We’re delighted to add the NBO Oman Open to our 2018 schedule and look forward to crowning our first champion in less than six weeks’ time.”

To Win

Jordan Smith. Ready for a second victory

Each Way

Chris Wood. Finally fit again

Each Way

Tapio Pulkkanen. Could have a huge first year on tour

Fantasy Picks

Jordan Smith. Class act

Chris Wood. Needs some big weeks – and soon

Tapio Pulkkanen. Terrific ball striker

Andy Sullivan. Showing glimpses of his best form

Romain Wattel. Yet to live up top potential

Joost Luiten. One of the best putters on tour

Robert Karlsson. Still capable of producing the goods

Scott Hend. Big hitter

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