Top MENA Golf Tour stars primed for 'Classic' test

MJB-RAYHAN THOMAS

MENA Golf Tour hotshots, led by Rayhan Thomas and Craig Hinton, will be hoping to make the most of the massive opportunity when they compete in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club from February 2 to 5.

The duo will be joined fellow tour members Luke Joy and Zane Scotland and as the top three professionals and the leading amateur on the Orders of Merit have been given direct entries into the main draw, headlined by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and defending champion Danny Willett.

UAE-based Thomas, currently India's number one ranked amateur in the world, and England's Hinton will get their first taste of the 'Major of the Middle East' while Englishmen Joy and Scotland have been down this route before - and know what to expect.

"Feeling very excited to be playing alongside such a world-class field. I am quite confident if I play to my potential I can post good results. I will just play my own game and see what that leads to," said Hinton, who topped the 2016 MENA Golf Tour Order of Merit after racking two wins and seven top-10s, including two runner-up finishes.

"I don't think I will be overawed by the occasion or the opposition by seeing the likes of Tiger or Rory. I played at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges after having won local final qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports and have a fair bit of idea of what it takes to compete at this highest level of golf," added the 28-year Thame native, whose best score on the MENA Golf Tour being a 64 he shot a couple of times.

"The (MENA) Tour is a perfect platform for players looking for opportunities to put their careers on the wing. It is the fastest growing golf tour in the world, one that offer plenty of incentives, including multiple starts on the European Tour and the Sunshine Tours," he said.

With world rankings points on offer, the tour has seen 17-year-old Thomas, who is supported by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, climb to number 106, making him the highest ranked amateur player in the Middle East and the sub-continent.

"Playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic will be nothing short of a dream come true. I am looking forward to the new challenge. It will be a great learning curve," said Thomas, who has also been invited to compete in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in recognition of his achievements.

"I am still young. The more I can learn, the better - I love the game and I want to be the best one day," said Thomas, who also created history, becoming first amateur to win a MENA Golf Tour when he claimed the Dubai Creek Open in a play-off last season.

Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi, said: "It's a big moment for the MENA Tour players and I am confident that they will be quite eager to give a good account of themselves as they have earned these invitations through hard-work they put in during the season.

"The intention behind inviting the top MENA Golf Tour players to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic is to provide them with playing opportunities at the highest level to fast-track their careers."

The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is backed by OMEGA as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, JA Resorts & Hotels, Mercedes-Benz and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi's drive to showcase the emirate's vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.