DUBAI // Robert Karlsson played a stunning back nine on his way to a seven-under 65 to take the lead after the first round of the Dubai World Championship.
The 41-year-old Swede, whose score matches last year's lowest opening round, held a one-shot lead over the 19-year-old South Korean Noh Seung-yul. The European money leader Martin Kaymer of Germany was at five-under in the European Tour's $7.5 million (Dh27.5m) season-ending tournament.
Kaymer's only challenger for the Order of Merit title is Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who struggled for much of the day on his way to a par 72. McDowell bogeyed the ninth, 11th and 12th holes before steadying his game with two late birdies.
Kaymer can claim the money title and a $1.5 million bonus by finishing higher than McDowell. McDowell can overtake Kaymer by winning the tournament or ending up alone in second as long as Kaymer finishes no higher than a tie for third. If McDowell is tied for second, Kaymer could afford to finish as low as sixth.
Karlsson's day started with a bogey but he reeled off eight birdies and an eagle the rest of the way. He was strongest on the back nine, where he birdied two of the last three holes and had an eagle on the 14th after he hit a huge drive and then chipped in from about 104 metres.
"I think it's one of those courses, when you're playing well, it's easy to get close to the pins because they sort of feed to the pins very often," Karlsson said. "But if you're off the sort of bowls of the pins, it's very difficult to set yourself. So I think that's why my score today was a bit like that. Made a lot of good stuff and when I missed it, it was difficult to save myself."
Karlsson, who is ranked 36th in the world and whose only win on the tour this year came in Qatar, said he was not thinking about winning yet. Last year, the course produced a winning score from Lee Westwood of 23 under.
"I just try to go out and play my best golf four days in a row and we'll see where I end up," Karlsson said. "I just try to leave as much behind as I can, and playing one shot at a time. Obviously it's a low scoring course, so you need to keep it going, very important."
Noh, who became the second youngest European Tour winner when he won the Malaysian Open, opened strongly with two birdies on his way to a bogey-free round. The 69th-ranked Noh closed with two birdies in the last three holes.
"I think it was a good day. I had a clean sheet, no bogeys," Noh said through a translator. "The wind is blowing up a bit, but when I played, it was fairly calm, so I think that was to my advantage, as well."
Noh, in his third season on the tour, said the factor of playing with the likes of Westwood and Kaymer has worn off a bit. Like the rest of the field, he was focused on just figuring a way to go into the weekend with a chance to earn the $1.25 million that goes to the winner.
"It's a great experience," he said. "And to be playing among the best in the world right now, and to have a chance at the prize and probably a shot at not probably the first prize in the bonus pool, but at least a shot at it, it's a great experience, and it's a great advantage for my career, as well."