Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell is right in the hunt after day one of the $75,000 NEWGIZA Open, the first-ever MENA Tour by Arena event in Egypt.
The Dubliner fired an eagle and three birdies in a two-under par round of 70 to share 15th, four shots behind Englishman, Curtis Knipes lead.
Purcell was part of an Irish trio looking to get some valuable rounds of competition under the belt so early in the season. Rory McNamara carded four birdies in his one-over par round of 73 to be just inside the top-50 while Naas pro Conor O’Rourke was a shot further adrift after finding three birdies in a round of 74.
Leader Knipes was on the money in only his second start as a professional, firing a superb, bogey-free six-under par 66 to head the field by two after the opening day in Egypt.
The 19-year-old, a member of Chelmsford club, was quick off the block with five birdies in his first seven holes. He then proceeded to make nine straight pars before picking up his only shot on the back nine on the par-5 17th hole to open up a handy two-shot lead at the top.
Seven players shot rounds of four-under par 68 to be in tied second place, but none could get closer to Knipes. That group included Scotland’s Scott Henry, promising Swede Niclas Weiland, France’s Sebastian Gros and England’s Joshua McMohan, Robbie Busher, Joe Heraty and Tom Sloman.
The reigning Professional Journey to Jordan champion, South Africa’s MG Keyser started his 2020 campaign on the MENA Tour by Arena with a two-under par 70, tied for the 15th place. That round included an eagle and four birdies.
At the 7,351-yard, par-72 Thomson Perrett & Lobb-designed golf course, Knipes made full use of the calmer early morning conditions and then battled hard as the wind picked up.
“Obviously, very pleased with a bogey-free round. It did get a little frustrating to make nine straight pars after such a hot start because when you are on a roll, you want them coming,” said Knipes, who qualified for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush last year.
“I had good birdie chances on the ninth, 12th and 15th, before I finally made one on the 17th. I thought I hit a good three-quarter pitching wedge shot into the par-5 hole, but was left with an 18-feet downhill putt and I luckily rolled that in.
“I really like the golf course. It’s a good layout and it is in great condition. The greens are a bit tricky, but they are rolling nice.”
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