Zane Scotland kept his Mena Tour Order of Merit challenge on track on Monrday at the Dirab Golf Championship, yet the Englishman still could not secure an opening-day lead.
Scotland, the former European Tour player, is looking to take top spot in the professional standings - he currently trails Ross McGowan - following his victory last month at the Dubai Creek Open, the tour's season opener.
A three-under par first round at Dirab Golf and Country Club puts Scotland in a strong position going into today, although he remains one shot off the pace as his 69 was bettered by Shafiq Masih, William Harrold and Duncan Stewart.
Masih, a former teaching professional at the Saudi club, attributed his success to a familiarity with the course, the Pakistani holing his second shot on the par-4 12th and then eagling 15.
"I have played this course about 50 to 60 times and know what it takes to shoot low here," Masih said. "The fairways demand accuracy off the tee and the greens are tricky, meaning you have to be more on the mark with approach shots."
Harrold kept pace with Masih, the Englishman firing three consecutive birdies from the seventh to go out in 33. But he only picked up one more shot on 13.
"I played steady on the front nine and on the back avoided getting into major trouble," he said.
"The course is challenging but offers many scoring opportunities if you keep the ball in play."
Stewart makes up the trio on four-under par, the Scot birding the eighth before sinking an eagle on the following hole.
"It's nice to start with a 68 considering the pin positions were a bit tricky," he said. "I putted well and that was the key."
Amine El Malki, the young Moroccan, heads the amateur challenge with a superb 69 to match Scotland.
"You need to play smart golf on this course if you aim to shoot low," said El Malki, who currently sits eighth on the amateur Order of Merit.
"Three-under is not a bad start, but I have to stay focused on the job. That's easier said than done, although this round has given me enough confidence going into [today]."
Saif Thabet, the only Emirati in the 98-strong field after Ahmed Al Musharrekh withdrew before the event, opened with an eight-over par 80.
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