Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 6 places
Weather forecast for Thursday: It’s already in the high 60s for the very early starters and temperatures don’t really get too much higher as the day goes on. Winds are very gentle to begin with, picking up to maybe 7-8mph in the afternoon. There’s no obvious bias.
Bjork can make early birdies
In the three previous Challenge Tour events played at Al Hamra, the leaders were:
2018: 66 Adri Arnaus, Niklas Lemke
2017: 64 Jurrian Van Der Vaart
2016: 65 Max Orrin, Pontus Widegren
None of those are playing here but it at least gives an idea of what scores might be needed.
Perhaps the only other thing to note is that two of those – Lemke and Widegren – are Swedes and the yellow cross on blue flag is often seen on Middle East leaderboards.
That nudges me a little further towards Alexander Bjork, who was already on the radar.
Bjork played here in 2016, finishing tied 32nd, and in more recent starts in the UAE we’ve seen him finish tied 20th in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago and runner-up in November’s DP World Tour Championship.
He opened both events with 68s to finish fifth and 12th respectively after round one.
Bjork sat second after 18 holes three times in 2021: the Scottish Open, the Tenerife Open and the European Open. He opened with 63s in the first two so can certainly go low early.
The 45/1 shot heads out at 12.30pm from the 1st tee.
Side with Samooja
I’ll add another Scandinavian, but this time a Finn, by tipping Kalle Samooja at 60/1.
He’s an early starter at 07:30 so ensures we’ll have at least one player in each half of the draw.
Samooja played in each of the Challenge Tour events staged at Al Hamra and was in the top 20 after day one in both 2017 and 2018. He finished in the top 33 in all three.
An opening 64 gave him a piece of the lead in September’s Italian Open while he was second following the opening lap at both the Qatar Masters and Kenya Open last March, shooting 65 at both.
More recently, he’s ended the first circuit in the top 11 in three of his last four events.
The most recent was last week where he started out with a 68 in the Dubai Desert Classic to sit ninth and then went on to finish in a tie for 12th.
Also tied eighth in November’s Dubai Championship, his combination of quick starts and strong form in the region make him a worthy punt at 60/1.
Kofstad can shoot low
Let’s make it a hat-trick of Scandies and go with Norway’s Espen Kofstad.
Another morning starter at 08:30, Kofstad appeals due to his ability to throw in low rounds.
Encouragingly they can sometimes come on day one and he’s twice been a first-round leader on the Challenge Tour since May.
He secured those pole positions with 65s at both the Ranger Servant Classic and October’s Challenge Tour Grand Final.
Scan his record and you’ll see a 65 followed by a 72, a 72 followed by a 64, a 75 followed by a 63 and a 71 followed by a 63.
Given that he missed the cut with a 77 in Abu Dhabi, perhaps he’s due another low one.
Kofstad won on the Challenge Tour in August – one of four wins at that level – which is encouraging and the final plus is the 66 he opened with here on his one start at Al Hamra in 2016.
Naturally he followed that with a 73 but the 66 had put him third after round one.
Kofstad, who finished 12th on the Challenge Tour in 2021, is worth a roll of the dice at 95/1.