Golf: Dubai-born Hill makes history in Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Josh Hill hits a shot during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday. (Joy Chakravarty)
Josh Hill hits a shot during the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday. (Joy Chakravarty)

Hill became only the third UAE-born player to make the cut at a DP World Tour event

By Joy Chakravarty

Published: Sat 22 Jan 2022, 11:18 PM

Dubai-born 17-year-old Josh Hill is no stranger to fame — he even finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records — but on Saturday, he chose the grandest of stages in the world of golf to show all his achievements are not a fluke.

After opening with a one-under par 71 round on Thursday, Hill was among the majority of the field blown away by the 28-32 miles per hour winds that struck Yas Links Golf Club on Friday.

When play was suspended, it was a lucky break for Hill. He had slipped to a six-over par total. With the cut looking at three-over, he needed at least three birdies in his remaining holes.

“It was brutal on Friday. But as I saw it, I had six holes left and I needed to make three birdies. I kept telling myself that it can be done,” said Hill, who became the youngest winner in professional golf when he won the Al Ain Open on the Mena Tour in 2019 at age 15.

With a steady wind of 20mph still blowing on Saturday morning, the conditions were not easy once again. He did not get his birdie on the 13th despite a good tee shot, nor on the easy par-4 14th. But when he needed it most, Hill found the extra gear, making birdies on the 15th, 17th (almost holed his tee shot on the par-3) and then nonchalantly drained a 10-footer for the crucial birdie on the 18th hole.

At three-over par 147, he tied with the likes of world number two Collin Morikawa, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson to become the first UAE-born player to make a cut in the $8 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Only two UAE-born players have made the cut in any DP World Tour event before — India’s Rayhan Thomas and England’s Matthew Turner — both at the Dubai Desert Classic.

But if that was a massive moment in his career, it failed to take Hill out of the moment and make him complacent. There was no time for celebration as he needed to warm up for the third round. And then, like a hit musical on Broadway, he performed a second show on the same day, this time in the evening.

Two-over par through 13 holes, Hill rebuked himself on the 14th tee.

“I was 2-over after 13 and I was standing there thinking I haven’t even played that bad, I’ve made a couple of bad mistakes and apart from that I’ve played solid. I just told myself that I needed to get back the two shots I dropped on 18th (second shot in water from the fairway bunker).”

He holed a long 40-footer putt on the 5th and that got the ball rolling. He birdied the sixth hole, then eagled the seventh when he smashed a 6-iron second shot to 10 feet and holed it. A par on eighth could not disrupt the momentum and he scripted a grandstand finish with two spectacular shots to 10 feet on the ninth, and holing it as well.

Hill said he wasn’t surprised by his success.

“I always feel I can compete with these guys and I feel I’ve proven that in these three rounds. I felt good, but I also felt it was coming. It was a bit of relief because I had a nightmare yesterday (Friday). But to come back and clutch it up like that, was good,” added Hill, who also got the news on Friday that he has secured an invite at the Slync Dubai Desert Classic next week.

“No, it has not sunk in as yet. And I hope it does not. I’ve got one more round to go, so I want to play that first. Also got a good week up next week so I won’t reflect on anything for a while. I just want to focus on tomorrow now.”

Hill has risen to tied 44th place with his third-round three-under par 69 and will play the final round of the tournament with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and Sweden’s Joachim B Hansen at 8:48am on Sunday.

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