DUTCHMAN Joost Luiten hopes to carry his impressive form at the start of the 2019 Race to Dubai season into his Oman Open title defence at Al Mouj Golf.
Luiten started the season with a third place finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
The Holland golfer then finished in a share of sixth place at the Saudi International.
And last week, he recorded his best result at a World Golf Championships event, as he shared 10th place with Tiger Woods at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
The 33-year-old won his sixth European Tour title in fine fashion at last year’s inaugural Oman Open, finishing two strokes ahead of 2016 Ryder Cup player Chris Wood, who will be starting his 2019 season in the Middle East.
Luiten said: “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.
“I’ve been playing great this year. I was third in Abu Dhabi, sixth in Saudi Arabia and then 10th last week.
“Hopefully I can bring that form to this golf course and do well – but it’s golf, you never know what you’re going to get when you start the week.
“It’s all about hitting the greens here. They are very firm and there’s a lot of run-off.
“If you miss a green, it’s tough to get up-and-down. The key is to not be too aggressive.
“If you go for pins you can end up making bogeys, which you have to avoid. Hitting the middle of the green isn’t bad here.”
Wood, who has recovered from an injury sustained at the end of last year, finished runner-up on three occasions in 2018 – at the Oman Open, HNA Open de France and KLM Open.
Wood said: “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.
“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. The greens are up there with the best we play on all year.
“The golf course is immaculate and the facilities are great. This tournament will only grow and grow because of the strength of the course and the facilities.
“There will be a bit of rust, but I’ve had a lot of good practice. I was in Dubai last week preparing, but you never know until you have a card in your hand.
“This is a little bit different to playing a Turkey trot in winter at your home club with five layers on. It’s about being competitive and testing yourself.”
Ricardo Gouveia, Bernd Ritthammer and Clemént Sordet are returning to Al Mouj Golf with fond memories of Oman after previously winning the European Challenge Tour Grand Final at this venue in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Portuguese golfer Gouveia said: “It’s a great venue and I have some great memories from 2015 on the Challenge Tour. The course is very similar and it’s always in great condition.
“It’s key that you have good distance control with the winds we have.
“It’s normally a windy course, so you need to control both your distance and ball flight.
“The greens are firm and fast and rolling really nicely too.
“I’ve made a few changes and I’m feeling a lot better with how my game is now.
“I’m trying to build some momentum over the next few weeks to really get my season going.”