Golf: Tough test for Luiten

It has been just over a year since Joost Luiten lifted the glittering Oman Open trophy at the Al Mouj Golf. The Dutchman, who has been in impressive form since the start of the new season, hopes to defend his title at the Greg Norman-designed course when the second edition of the European Tour event in the sultanate tees off on Thursday.

The 33 year old arrived in Muscat after a string of solid performances on the 2019 Race to Dubai schedule.

Having started the season with a third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Luiten went on to share sixth place at the Saudi International before recording his best result at a World Golf Championships event, as he shared tenth place with former World No 1 Tiger Woods at the WGC-Mexico Championship. "I've been playing great this year,” said the six-time European Tour winner.

“Hopefully I can bring that form to this golf course and do well - but its golf, you never know what you're going to get when you start the week.

"It was very special last year, and when you win you need to go back and defend. I love this place and this golf course. It feels a bit tougher than last year, especially into the greens. We'll have to see what happens when we get out there, especially when the wind starts blowing.”

Last edition runner-up Chris Wood will be starting his 2019 season in Muscat after an injury-hit end to 2018. “I've not played for a while - I was injured at the end of last year and then we had our second child a few weeks ago,” said the 31 year old.

“It was always the plan to start the season here; I missed the first part of the Desert Swing so I've been doing a lot of practice at home - but Bristol isn't the same as the Middle East in January or February.

"Nobody has the right to moan about this course this week, it's fantastic,” he continued.

Along with last year’s champion and runner-up the stellar Oman Open field also includes Ricardo Gouveia, Bernd Ritthammer and Clemént Sordet, all of whom have fond memories of Al Mouj Golf after previously winning the European Challenge Tour Grand Final at the venue in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Other notable names competing for the $1,750,000 prize-fund include two-time Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Stephen Gallacher, former Ryder Cup players, Edoardo Molinari and Victor Dubuisson as well as history-making Oliver Fisher, who became the first man to shoot 59 in a European Tour event last season at the Portugal Masters.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Oman Gas team triumphed in the Pro-Am with Spaniard Jorge Campillo leading Mike Rennardson, Mohammed al Namaani and Mark Evans to victory on an outstanding total of 31 under par.

Play gets underway at 6:45am tomorrow from the first and tenth tee while Oman’s No 1 amateur Azaan al Rumhy kicks off his Oman Open from the first tee at 11:40am alongside Kieren Pratt and Gouveia.

The 35 year old Azaan will be making his second appearance at the tournament.

“Since Al Mouj Golf hosted the Oman Open we have definitely seen a spike in golf participation among the younger generation,” said Azaan, who will have national team golfer

Mohammed al Busaidi on the bag for the first round before making it a family affair in round two with his father, H E Dr Mohammed al Rumhy, the Minister of Oil and Gas, taking over.

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