x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Classic first day as six share lead

The race for the Dubai Desert title could hardly be closer after the top guys battled it out in a sand storm.

Schwartzel had little luck in the Abu Dhabi and Doha tournaments on the Desert Swing but was part of the six-way lead here.
Schwartzel had little luck in the Abu Dhabi and Doha tournaments on the Desert Swing but was part of the six-way lead here.

DUBAI // The race for the 21st Dubai Desert Classic could hardly be closer after a sand storm and a capricious wind made low scoring difficult for a high-class European Tour line-up on the toughest of opening days. Six players, including Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, and India's Jeev Milkha Singh are locked together at the top of the leaderboard on four-under par but the field is tightly bunched behind them, with 28 players within three shots of the pace.

McIlroy, aiming to repeat his splendid triumph of a year ago, said he was feeling "very comfortable" about the tee shots he faces on the Majlis course. Another of the leaders rightly oozing with self belief is Charl Schwartzel who already has two titles under his belt in this fledgling year and had his eyes firmly set on a third after posting a bogey-free round of 68. "I couldn't have asked for a much better start to my year," said Schwartzel, who was honoured to be named European Tour player of the month for January. "You can never have enough trophies," he said. Singh was also in celebratory mood after his first competitive round since becoming a father a week ago.

"It would be great if I could make it nice double by winning the Desert Classic," said Singh. Completing the leading sextet going into the second of four rounds today are Sweden's Alexander Noren, the only player to get to five under on the opening day before making his only bogey on the final hole, Welshman Stephen Dodd and Italy's Edoardo Molinari. Another Italian, the exciting young amateur Matteo Manassero, is one of five players on three under. That quintet includes Paul Casey and Alvorao Quiros, who, like McIlroy have enjoyed a taste of Desert Swing success in Abu Dhabi and Doha respectively.

Tom Watson's first competitive round in the UAE was a one-over-par 73 but that was still good enough to put the veteran American ahead of 72 players. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae