Oman Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE European Tour returns to action this week for the third staging of the Oman Open and inaugural champion Joost Luiten says that he cannot wait to tee it up as he sets his sights on the Ryder Cup and Olympic Games later this year.
“I have got great memories from the 2018 Oman Open,” said Luiten, who won by two ahead of England’s Chris Wood at Al Mouj Golf in what was the first ever tournament on the European Tour to be played in Oman. “This course is one of the prettiest and best that we play all season long on the European Tour and it’s a great event. Of course, it’s always special to go to a course where you’ve won before so I’m really looking forward to it - to get back to the familiar sights and sounds and hopefully bring back the title again.
“This year it’s a Ryder Cup year so a couple of wins could see me make the team. It’s also an Olympic year and I’d like to qualify for that and do well there. The Olympics in Rio four years ago was really special and this year it’s in Japan which is a country I’ve never been to so I’d love to go there.”
Luiten’s Oman Open victory was the sixth of his European Tour career and he believes the Greg Norman-designed course at Al Mouj Golf sets up well for his strengths. “It’s one of those golf courses where you’ve got to drive the ball well,” he said. “If you start to miss fairways you’re going to struggle because there’s a lot of undulation and some sandy patches.
“It can be punishing so you’ve got to focus on the fairways and greens, once you’re on the greens you can make some birdies and that plays to my strengths. Normally I am pretty straight off the tee and I hit a lot of greens so hopefully I can get the putter hot - that was certainly the formula that worked for me in 2018.”
The tournament was won last year buy America’s Kurt Kitayama, who will be joined in the field by Maximilian Kieffer from Germany, who was runner-up 12 months ago.
"I’m excited to return to Muscat,” said Kieffer. “Al Mouj Golf is a great golf course and I kind of have unfinished business after my tied second place finish last year. Hopefully I can finish one place further up this year."
A strong field includes double major champion Martin Kaymer, Englishman Eddie Pepperell and the Belgians Thomas Detry and Thomas Pieters.
Pieters is desperate to make this year’s Ryder Cup team after making a sensational debut in a losing cause four years ago. He is one of the most impressive ball strikers in the game but even he would admit that he struggles for consistency. This would be a good time to put that right.
Pepperell has had a fairly light schedule to date and has seen his world ranking slip. He is a hugely popular individual, not just for his ability on the course but also for his often hilarious posts on social media. It is easy to forget that he is a seriously good player, with few weaknesses. But, like Pieters, consistency is an issue.
And the same can be said of Martin Kaymer, who seems to have never fully recovered from losing a 10-shot lead in Abu Dhabi five years ago. There were flashes of his brilliant best during 2019 but he has been unable to sustain a proper title challenge on either side of the Atlantic. The German is a former world number one who has seen his ranking plummet since winning the US Open in such spectacular fashion six years ago. But your correspondent remains convinced that he will surely return to the winners’ enclosure.
Also confirmed is Amateur champion James Sugrue, whose appearance will mark his European Tour debut, 2014 Hong Kong Open winner Scott Hend and rising Spanish golfer Adri Arnaus, who enjoyed a stellar rookie season on Tour last year having won the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2018 to gain promotion.
Local players will gain vital experience in the tournament playing against some of the world’s best golfers with winner of the OHI Oman Amateur Open as well as the leading Omani amateur on the World Amateur Golf Rankings each receiving spots in the field. In addition, the victor of the Mena Tour’s Ghala Open.
“I’m delighted to be returning to Al Mouj Golf for the Oman Open,” said Arnaus, who finished runner-up on three occasions last season. “The course is a real test and one of the best in the Middle East and we get treated really well when we visit the Sultanate. The people in Oman are so friendly and welcoming so it’s a tournament that I’m really looking forward to playing on my schedule for this season.”
The economic impact of Oman’s biggest professional sporting occasion is considerable with the figure estimated to be around $26m while a global television reach of 200m saw last year’s Oman Open generate a staggering Media Value of $89.4m, up from USD$74 million in 2018, as golf fans around the world were treated to stunning visuals of the Al Mouj Golf course in its beautiful coastal setting.
The tournament, which first began as a Challenge Tour event back in 2013, has also helped drive a change at the very top of Oman’s golf ecosystem with His Excellency Sheikh Sa’ad bin Mohammed Al Mardhouf Al Sa’adi, the Minister of Sports Affairs, announcing last month that the Oman Golf Committee, set up in January 2009, will soon be made into an official association. The transformation will see golf join the likes of football, tennis, swimming and hockey in becoming an association in the country as it targets mass participation in the game off the back of the Oman Open.
It was won in 2013 by Roope Kakko, in 2014 by Max Orrin, there was then a four-year gap and it was won in 2018 by Joost Luiten and last year by Kurt Kitayama
Ashun Wu,. Brilliant Chinese player
Martin Kaymer. Just too good to keep struggling
Eddie Pepperell. Needs some big weeks if he is to make his Ryder Cup debut
Ashun Wu. Good enough to win a major
Martin Kaymer. Keep battling away
Eddie Pepperell. A funny guy on and off the course
Joost Luiten. Short game to die for
Alex Levy. All depends which Levy turns up
Shubhanker Singh. Needs to get things back on track
Hootong Li. Another superb Chinese player
Thomas Pieters. Best ball striker in the field
Thomas Detry. Victory is long overdue
Jordan Smith. Excellent English player
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Tags: european tour