Oman Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Six-time European Tour winner and defending Oman Open champion Joost Luiten heads the field Al Mouj Golf in Muscat, with the Dutchman targeting another solid performance in the capital after coming out on top of an enthralling final-round battle with his close friend Chris Wood to seal the inaugural tournament last year.
“I was surprised by how good Al Mouj Golf was,” said Luiten. “It was my first time playing in Oman and I didn’t know what to expect but I just fell in love with the course. It’s a tough track and there is a stiff wind to contest with so you have to bring your ‘A’ game to be in contention come Sunday. It suits my game and I can’t wait to go back as champion and look forward to defending my title.”
Luiten will be joined by two-time Ryder Cup star and 1999 Open Championship winner Paul Lawrie, who is looking forward to making his season debut at the 2019 Oman Open and returning to action on the European Tour after sitting out most of last year with a foot injury which eventually required surgery.
“I might not be 100% tournament sharp for my first week back after such a long spell on the sidelines, but I’ve got to start playing somewhere and what better place than Oman, where the course and climate are excellent?” said the Scot, who underwent a procedure to repair a ruptured tendon and torn ligaments last September. “I really liked the Greg Norman-designed course and how well the holes played. My foot was causing me some problems at the tournament last year, so I hope I can make amends and really enjoy myself this time around.” Lawrie is, of course, now preparing to join the European Senior Tour and the Champions Tour.
European Tour stalwarts Robert Karlsson, Thongchai Jaidee, David Howell and 2018 winning Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Björn, who have 39 wins between them on Tour will be going head-to-head with the next generation of stars, including 2018 Rookie of the Year Shubhankar Sharma, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, Frenchmen Alex Levy and Roman Wattell, Jordan Smith and South African Brandon Stone, all of whom have at least one win under their belt on Tour.
“The field that played last year tell me it’s an amazing golf course and the best that was on the schedule,” said Howell. “I’m looking forward to competing and seeing a different side of the Middle East rather than in the middle of a vibrant city like Dubai.”
“I absolutely love Al Mouj Golf,” added Smith, who topped the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2016 but has struggled to live up to his early promise on the European Tour. “It was a great Challenge Tour venue and it came as no surprise when the European Tour decided to host an event there last year. It’s a brilliant place.”
Pieters is one of the most impressive ball strikers on the European Tour and is another who is looking to get his career back on track. A member of the European Ryder Cup team in 2016, where he scored four points as a rookie, he was bitterly disappointed not to make the team that beat the United States last year. There have been times in recent months where he has appeared to be totally disinterested. He has said that missing out on Ryder Cup selection in 2018 really hurt him and that he is determined to make the team next year. If he is going to do that then he needs to get his act together again - and soon.
Wood is another who has played in the Ryder Cup, on the strength of winning the BMW PGA Championship. The tall Englishman has suffered horribly with back and wrist injuries but finally seems to be fully fit. He is one of the tallest players on either the European or PGA Tour but, for a big man, he is blessed with a golden touch around the greens. He is also one of the straights hitters around and you get the send that he just needs a decent run of tournaments to rebuild his fragile confidence. He would do well to sit down and have a long talk with Luiten - the Dutchman’s career hung in the balance last year after he suffered a dreadful wrist injury but he has battled back.
Joining the elite field will be Oman’s top-ranked golfer, Azaan Al Rumhy, who has received an invitation from promoters the Oman Golf Committee to participate in the event for the second successive year. The 35 year old missed the cut at Al Mouj Golf last year but is hoping for better things this time. “It will be another great experience playing at the Oman Open again; I’m really looking forward to getting out there and playing my game,” said Al Rumhy. “Last year was the biggest event I’ve played in and for it to be in Oman made it even more special. I had previously played on the Asian, Mena and Challenge Tours but being involved in a European Tour event was a different level.
“Last year my focus was on trying to enjoy the tournament as much as I could whereas this year I I’m going to try and focus more on my game and hopefully shoot two low rounds and make the cut. That’s the ultimate goal but everyone knows how difficult that is with the calibre of players that will be playing but as long as I give myself a chance I’ll be happy.”
Other notable names competing include two-time Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher, former Ryder Cup players Edoardo Molinari and Victor Dubuisson as well as Oliver Fisher, who became the first man to shoot 59 in a European Tour event last season at the Portugal Masters.
Thomas Pieters. Beautiful to watch
Joost Luiten. Back to full fitness
Thomas Pieters. In need of a win
Joost Luiten. Short game to die for
Chris Wood. Better than recent results suggest
Brandon Stone. Glorious swing
Victor Dubuisson. Will the real Victor please stand up?
Shubhankar Sharma. Last year’s top rookie is looking for confidence
Alex Levy. Mercurial talent
Roman Wattell. Still looking to live up to his potential
Jordan Smith. Been there, done that - needs to do it again
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