DOHA // Strong winds played havoc on the opening day of the Qatar Masters with the swirling desert sand reducing visibility at the Doha Golf Club.
Players in the US$2.5 million (Dh9.18m) event struggled to cope with the winds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, which forecasters expecting it to strengthen during the afternoon.
Just over a dozen of the 66 players out on the course were under par with Retief Goosen, the double US Open champion and celebrating his 42nd birthday, sharing the lead at two-under par after nine holes.
Lee Westwood, the world No 1, was one-over par after nine while his playing companion and Steve Stricker, the world No 7, was struggling at four-over.
It is Stricker's first appearance in the region, who is one of the many US golfers being tempted to appear on the European Tour in recent times.
Earlier Stricker said that with the rankings system weighing heavily in favour of the European Tour at this time of year, he revealed that he has been thinking about following in the footsteps of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and competing on The Desert Swing for some time.
"It fits in the schedule well and the strength of the field is great. Because I had to get my credentials and learn the course it feels like the first day at school and I'm a bit like a fish out of water, but hopefully I'll play well," Stricker said, not taking into account of the weather adding to his problems of mastering the course in Doha.
I've been thinking about this for the last couple of years and finally I've pulled the trigger"
In danger of losing top spot on the rankings to Martin Kaymer, the eight-shot runaway winner in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, Westwood bogeyed the 13th and 14th after commencing his opening round on the back nine.
Kaymer was among the later starters, but Sergio Garcia mixed three bogeys with three birdies to turn at level par and sponsor's invite John Daly was a picture of steadiness by comparison.
The former Open champion's only deviation from par on the inward half was a birdie at the 429-yard 12th and on one-under he was alongside Robert Karlsson, the event's defending champion, and just one off Goosen.
Also finding it difficult in the testing conditions was England's Ian Poulter, who headed in to his back nine at three-over.