Oman will make its European Tour debut tomorrow as the stunning Al Mouj Golf hosts the NBO Oman Open, where the Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma spearheads a strong field full of seasoned champions, Ryder Cup heroes and rising stars.
Sharma is the only multiple winner of the 2018 season thus far, the Indian having added the Maybank Championship title to his Joburg Open victory at the end of last year – making it two wins in just 13 starts on the tour – and the 21 year old is buzzing upon his return to action.
Meanwhile, Danish veterans Thomas Bjørn and Søren Kjeldsen have, like many of their experienced European Tour colleagues present this week, been blown away by the Greg Norman-designed links lay-out on the edge of the Omani capital of Muscat.
Both players have their sons in tow this week, with 14 year old Emil Kjeldsen carrying the bag for his four-time European Tour-winning father.
Clément Sordet of France is a defending champion of sorts this week, having just last November won the season-ending Challenge Tour event which took place at this same venue. As the tournament continues to make an impressive step up to the big time this week, he will be hoping to do just the same.
“It’s been fantastic so far this season. Obviously I didn’t expect to be at the top of the standings. Last year I was playing on the Asian Tour and then I went through Qualifying School for the European Tour and I missed it.
“So I was just trying to get as many events as possible this year on the European Tour. I started the season at Hong Kong, then Mauritius and then I won in Joburg. But before that I was just trying to get as much money on the board as possible to try and secure my card.
“The win in Joburg changed everything for me. I had a completely different schedule after that, I went home and looked at what tournaments I want to play. Then I played Abu Dhabi and Dubai which were by the far the biggest tournaments I had ever played.
“Field-wise they had the world’s best playing there so that was a great experience. The Maybank Championship just kept the momentum going I guess.
“It’s a fantastic course here and it depends on that wind – some holes could play very long and some could play very short so it’s going to be a ball-striker’s week. You have to hit the ball really well – the greens are perfect, there’s nothing wrong with the course at all.
“Obviously a lot of the Challenge Tour guys told me it’s a great course and I was looking forward to coming here so it should be a great week.”
“It really is exciting to have an event here. After the DP World Tour Championship last November, I actually went on a family holiday to Oman so it’s my second time here but it’s my first time around this course.
“But it is exciting. We’ve been going to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar for so many years and to come here where it seems like the game is growing and they’re starting out here in many ways, it’s fun to see. Then we come to a gem like this golf course, it’s brilliant.
“What I really like about this course is, first of all, it’s very mature. I’ve been told it’s about ten years old but you don’t feel that at all. Every hole is its own little landscape, you don’t really see any other holes when you’re playing one hole. And the vegetation is beautiful.
“For the first time I’ve got my son caddying for me – I told him when he was young that he could caddie for me when he reaches my height and that came at a pretty young age.
“In November when we were here, it was fantastic – very friendly people and just a lovely country. We stayed close to the beach. It’s nice and relaxed with a nice slow pace, whereas Dubai can be pretty crazy nowadays. Everybody is enjoying it and it’s nice to be in a new place.”
“It’s great to have new events come up on the European Tour like this one. In golf you lose some events over time and you gain some, and if this kind of event – with such a beautiful golf course, a great venue and a great place to come – is the kind that we gain, it bodes well for the future.
“It’s just a great place to come and play golf. We enjoy all of our events in the Middle East but the Challenge Tour guys had been saying this was a great venue and a great golf course and they weren’t wrong.
“It’s nice to have Oliver out here, he’s mad keen on golf and he’s had a bit of a hard time with an operation on his leg recently so it was nice for him to get out of the cold and wet back home, and enjoy some sun.
“I think it’s amazing here. You look at some of the views on this course and some of the holes along the water, it’s spectacular. But as a whole, the course is great, the facilities are fantastic so it’s just one of those places where you come through the gate, see what’s here and realise it’s a really nice place to play golf. I’m sure anyone playing with these views will be up for it and I’m just looking forward to a nice week.”
“It’s always good to come back to a place where you have won and it was a really nice place to win, especially at the end of the year last year. It’s good that the tournament is on the European Tour now.
“I remember a lot of shots, especially the hole in one of course, which was my first professional hole in one, but if I had to pick one really special moment it would have to be the last putt. That’s when you know you’ve done it and you’ve got the trophy.
“My goal last year was to finish in the top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings but that win meant I finished second which was really nice. It’s my fourth time playing this course and it has changed during those years but it is certainly a good advantage for a player like to me to have played here.
“There is not much rough and it’s only fairways, water or bunkers, but the layout is amazing, especially the finishing hole which is quite special.”