Muscat: Jordan Smith, Alexander Knappe and Ryan Fox tee it up at this week’s NBO Golf Classic Grand Final all hoping to top the Road to Oman Rankings following the final event of the season on the European Challenge Tour.
Smith won last week’s Ras Al Khaimah 2016 Golf Challenge to regain the Road to Oman lead and move 32,000 points ahead of Knappe in the Rankings.
However, with so many points on offer this week at Almouj Golf, third-placed Fox could also take top spot with a victory, and the trio embarked on a friendly chipping contest on an Oman Sail catamaran Tuesday, hitting balls off the deck as the boat sailed alongside the stunning 18th hole of the Greg Norman-designed course.
That final hole will be the scene of much drama this week, with the top 16 in the Rankings earning European Tour cards on Saturday night, and though the top three have long secured their status in next year’s Race to Dubai, the prestige of topping the Road to Oman is enough of a fillip to motivate all of them.
Englishman Smith has been the form player on the Challenge Tour this year, topping the Rankings for 15 of the 26 weeks and winning twice, and he looks to be in irresistible form heading to Muscat after victory in the United Arab Emirates at the weekend.
“Holding onto that Rankings top spot is key, that’s the goal,” said the 23 year old. “I definitely am confident I can do that, and if I carry on this week how I did last week then I’ll be very happy.
“It would be the perfect end to a great year, and the Challenge Tour has definitely boosted my confidence ahead of the European Tour, and I’m a far better player now than a year ago, I’ve learned so much.
“Obviously I’m coming here with some good form and I’m looking forward to getting on with the week ahead and enjoying it – it will be very fun to play with Alex and Foxy, have a bit of a chat and a laugh on the way round and enjoy it.
“I’m just looking to do more or the same as I did last week. I’ll have my coach here, my mum’s coming out on Thursday, so it will be nice for them to be here as I round off the year.”
With the players going out in Rankings order for the first round, the top three will play together, adding to the potential competition, though Germany’s Knappe insists it has been a good year regardless of this week’s outcome.
“I’m very happy with this season,” said the 27 year old. “Last year I struggled with my back but this season has been so great for me, and I can’t really think how it can get any better – yes, finishing top of the Rankings, but that’s not really in my hands.
“I think I’m about 30,000 behind Jordan so I think I really have to win it to have a chance, and with 46 players here I have to play really well to do that, but if I’m in the top three I’ll still be very happy.
“I’m a little bit tired, the body feels a bit week, and maybe playing last week was a little mistake. But if I can get back into my rhythm, my zone, my focus, then I will have a chance to play well.”
New Zealand’s Fox suffered the ultimate heartbreak last year, dropping out of the European Tour spots on the final day here in Oman, so he is looking forward to a happier week this time around.
“I’m definitely a lot more relaxed this week than I was last year – a nice little boat trip helps that,” said the 29 year old. “I’d love to play well, and even top the Rankings – it is mathematically possible, but Jordan and Alex have been playing some fantastic golf and it would almost feel wrong for them not to finish one and two, but it’s nice to be here and have a little less stressful week than I did last year.
“You need length around here so that plays into my hands a bit, and it can get breezy and I like to think I’m good in those conditions from growing up in New Zealand, but it’s a great course.”
Every player in the field this week has a chance to earn a European Tour card, even last man in Jordi Garcia Pinto – though he would need to win to climb into the top 16.
The top 11 players have already won more than 100,000 points, in all likelihood making them safe, but in this most competitive of Challenge Tour seasons anything is possible – especially with nine tournament winners this year lurking outside the top 16.
The opening round of the 2016 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final gets underway at Almouj Golf, Muscat tomorrow at 8am.