x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Spaniard leads by one shot after first round in Dubai.

Alejandro Canizares during the first round of the DP World Tour Championship. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Alejandro Canizares during the first round of the DP World Tour Championship. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

DUBAI // Alejandro Canizares’s personal paperwork was in far better shape on Thursday than it was on Sunday night.

After playing in last week’s European Tour event in Turkey, the Spaniard went through pre-flight screening before his plane trip to Dubai when a customs agent imparted some jarring news.

Canizares, who makes his own travel arrangements, had forgotten to secure a visa for Ingrid Banochova, his Czech girlfriend of the past four years. After some serious hand-wringing, and thanks to a fortunate confluence of events, they sorted through the mess upon landing in Dubai at 3am, with a major assist from the European Tour’s Middle East director, Nick Tarratt, who was waiting with a high-ranking UAE customs official when the flight arrived.

“We were very lucky and had help from a lot of people,” said Canizares, 30. “We paid the fee and they let us in.”

His documentation after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship was certainly well in order. Despite entering the season finale in the Race to Dubai ranked 54th in a field capped at 60 players, he shot a six-under 66 to take a one-shot lead at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Canizares several times described his Sunday as “stressful”, and he was not including what had transpired earlier in the day. Very much in contention entering the final round in Turkey, Canizares played with the world No 1 Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson, the Race to Dubai leader and the perceived leading candidate for the European Tour’s top-player honours.

Canizares was the guy in the pairing that probably got limited TV air time, since he shot 73 and toppled into a tie for 18th. Still, it was his first pairing with Woods or, as he described him, “the guy I grew up watching”.

“I think it was a positive experience for me,” Canizares said. “It was difficult to get in my normal state, but it was positive because I now know I can play with the top guys.”

In a similar vein, Canizares has twice played in the star-filled Dubai finale, and has yet to finish in the top half of the field, finishing a career-best joint-36th last year.

With one career victory, in 2006, he might be unnerved to know that a couple of the season’s heavy hitters are directly on his tail.

Three of the top four in Race to Dubai points, Stenson, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, are tied for 10th or better and within four shots of Canizares, who is ranked No 184 in the world. Ian Poulter, fourth in points, is three shots back.

Canizares got his biggest shove from two other journeymen, Australia’s Marcus Fraser and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who were tied for the lead, but bogeyed the tricky 18th to fall one back. Fraser, who does not exactly leave a vapour trail when he strikes the ball, birdied all four of the par-3 holes.

“To play the par-3s in four under on this golf course, for someone who hits it my length, is pretty good,” he said.

Yet nobody was happier than Canizares, who admitted the visa issue was entirely his fault. As the mini-drama played out, he was getting the silent treatment, which is never a good sign.

“She didn’t open her mouth,” Canizares said.

Now he has the best of both words: Domestic and professional bliss.

selling@thenational.ae