ABU DHABI // Oliver Fisher claimed that he had never experienced anything like it as he was forced to run for cover from the fourth green as a combination of heavy rain and hail interrupted his solid start to the Abu Dhabi Championship.
"It was freaky. I've never seen a green turn white as quickly as that one did," he said The two hour interruption worked to the Englishman's advantage, though. Having taken shelter from the storm after opening with four pars, he came back with six birdies - one of them being cancelled out by a lapse at the 11th - to claim his share of third place. Returning to action after a lengthy break, Fisher, 20, is now going into overdrive as he seeks to make an early claim for a place among the European Tour's top 60 to qualify for the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
Arriving here in 62nd place, he hopes by the end of a spell of playing in six of the next seven events to break into the top 50 to allow some margin for error. "Making the top 50 and winning my first tournament are my two main objectives at the moment," he said. "It would be nice if I could achieve them both here." Fisher, who is making his third visit to the UAE capital, admitted to being driven along to his encouraging start by the private match he had with his playing partners Mikael Lundberg, the joint overnight leader, and Francesco Molinari, who matched Fisher's 67.
The Italian Molinari was surprised to do so well after a four-week winter break. "This is better than I expected. So it makes me look forward to the rest of the week," he said. He spent his time off making slight adjustments to the rhythm of his swing and was pleased that the alterations are already benefiting him. "I might need a little bit more time before it works properly but we'll see how it goes over the next three days," he said. The third of the three players to finish on five under par was Sweden's Jarmo Sandelin, who reported that he hit only one bad shot in his 67 - a wayward approach to the difficult 16 which cost him a double bogey.
He fought back to that setback, however, as he birdied both the tricky closing holes to retrieve those lost shots. "It was a great feeling to play so well in my first round of the new year," he said. Two more players had joined that trio on five under when play was suspended due to failing light just after six o' clock last night. The South African Louis Ooosthuizen was the more irritated by receiving the order to come off the course because he was finishing like an express train having birdied six of the seven holes he played on his back nine. A bogey on the fifth was the only blemish in the 16 holes that he played.
Ignacio Garrido, of Spain, had played one hole fewer in putting together a tidy round of five birdies and no bogeys and will be equally confident of being at the top of the leaderboard when he completes his opening round this morning. Midway through the afternoon, it looked his better known compatriot, Sergio Garcia, would be out in front by the end of the day. An eagle three on the long tenth took him to within one shot of the lead but the world No 2, the early pacemaker in the Race to Dubai, surrendered both of those shots on the next two holes. He had four holes to play.