Fresh from battling PGA superstars at the WGC Workday Championship where he finished T19, rising star Aaron Rai will be coming to Kenya- the land of his mother- for the Magical Kenya Open event that has attracted five previous winners and two Ryder Cup winners Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari.
In the provisional entry list published on the European Tour website, Sebastian Soderberg, Lorenzo Gagli, Haydn Porteous and defending champion Guido Migliozzi will also line up at Karen Country Club for the Magical Kenya and The Savannah Classic double-header from 18th March 2021.
Rai is the highest ranked player on the entry list currently in position 70 on the World Golf Ranking, OWGR. The English man shot to fame in 2017 when he won Kenya Open- then a European Challenge Tour event- at Muthaiga Golf Club. Buoyed by the success, he went on to win two more events on the Challenge Tour thus earned promotion to the European Tour the following year. He didn’t have to wait long, winning his first European Tour event at the Honma Hong Kong Open followed by the 2020 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. Rai has endured a mixed start in the 2020/21 season notching a morale boosting T18 at WGC in a start-studded event won by Collin Morikawa, a few weeks after finishing T25 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC championship. He missed the cut at Saudi International and Omega Dubai Desert Classic events. He will be hoping to win the two events at Karen to increase his European Tour titles to four.
All eyes will be on defending champion Migliozzi as the Italian attempts to retain the title, a feat last achieved in 1969. Since winning Magical Kenya Open in 2019, the 24 year old has only managed one more title -2019 Belgian Knockout- taking his total to two. He will be hard pressed to improve on his game at Karen to kick-start a season that can be best described as lukewarm. After finishing T22 at the Italian Open, Migliozzi missed the cut in two consecutive events before notching T44 and T33 finishes at Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Saudi International. He is currently ranked 224th on the OWGR.
Since winning Kenya Open in 2018, the last time the event was staged under the Challenge Tour, nothing much has been heard of the 35 year old Italian Gagli. The win saw him regain the European Tour status in 2019 but he has not made any impact on the trot. Currently ranked 380th on the OWGR table, Gagli will be seeking to revive a miserable season that has seen him miss the cut in all the last five events he has entered in the 2020/21 season. He failed to make the cut at Magical Kenya 2019.
The year 2016 was quite special for Swede Soderberg as he won the Kenya Open and even made an appearance at the prestigious US Open. On the roll, Soderberg went on to earn a place in the elite European Tour ranks the following year. He is the proud holder of one European Tour title –the 2019 Omega European Masters- which he won in a five-way playoff that included Rory McIlroy! Currently ranked 220th on OWGR, the 30 year old has missed the cut in four events this season. His best performance so far is T19 at the Golf in Dubai Championship and 66th in Abu Dhabi HSBC championship. He finished T25 at the 2019 Magical Kenya Open.
Haydn Porteous will be returning to Karen with fond memories of the 2015 Kenya Open where he won against all odds. But this time, the South African will be well aware of the quality of the field following the elevation of the tournament. Since winning at Karen, Porteous has managed two victories on the European Tour notably the 2016 Joburg Open and the 2017 D+D Real Czech Masters. A dry spell that has seen him miss the cut in all events this season has pushed him to position 623 in the OWGR.
Winners aside, the return of veterans Molinari and Bjorn should spice up matters at Karen. Both Ryder Cup winners- Bjorn Captain of the 2018 winning Team Europe and Molinari a player in 2010- Bjorn will be making a third appearance at the Kenya Open after gracing the event in 2019 following a 24 year hiatus. The 50 year old Dane, a 15 time winner on the Tour, narrowly missed the title in 1995 finishing T2 and endured a pleasant return in 2019 where he finished T12. Molinari who has long lived in the shadow of his younger brother Francesco, is no stranger to Kenya. The 40 year old Italian finished T15 at Kenya Open in 2009. He boasts of three titles on the European Tour. Currently ranked 503rd, Molinari has missed the cut in four events in the 2020/21 season his best finish being position 66 at Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
With such a mix of experience, dexterity and Road to Dubai points at stake, the two events at Karen will no doubt be a blockbuster!