Order of Merit leaders experienced opposing first rounds that swung the momentum in favour of Rose.
DP World Tour Championship: Advantage Rose in Race to Dubai battle as Fleetwood laments 'nervy start'
Close friends, compatriots and combatants in this year’s Race to Dubai, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose had contrasting opening rounds at the DP World Tour Championship.
Rather understandably, they registered different emotions as well.
“Delighted with my play today,” Rose said. "It was a lovely start."
His mood was perfectly justified. Playing alongside Fleetwood, and as the only guy with genuine hope of usurping him as the chase for the Order of Merit reaches its conclusion, the Englishman shot 66 around the Earth course on Thursday. It included five birdies, a chip-in eagle and a solitary bogey. Consequently, Rose is tied-second, one shot off leader Patrick Reed.
Yet crucially, he is way ahead of the man on pole in the Race to Dubai. On the first day of their final battle for seasonal honours, Fleetwood got flustered. He began horribly, double-bogeying the first - “a comedy of errors” - and dropping another at the third before clawing back the shots between holes five and seven.
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Then he traded two birdies with three bogeys on the back nine to eventually post a 1-over par 73. Needing to equal or better Rose’s finish this week, currently he sits tied-46th.
“I was just hit and miss all day really,” Fleetwood said. “It was such an up-and-down day. Obviously it was a nervy start. You're always going to be nervous. It all comes down to this at the end of the year and playing for the biggest achievement in my career, essentially. Never been in this position before.”
Crucially, Rose has. He has been Europe’s No 1 golfer already, in 2007. Fleetwood, on the other hand, finds himself in fresh territory, courtesy of a standout season that began with a win in Abu Dhabi and included another in France.
But Rose has won more recently, on his past two starts. It has propelled him into direct duel with Fleetwood.
“This wasn't really on the radar a month ago," he said. "That's the perspective that I have to keep because it's an opportunity for me. Certainly be easy to start to think about it now as being in my hands, but for me, it's still a bonus at this point."
Trailing by 256,737 points, the 2013 US Open champion needs to finish no worse than solo fifth to have a chance of clinching the crown. As long as Fleetwood doesn’t win, solo second would secure a second Order of Merit.
After an opening 66, Rose is on route for that.
“I wanted to come out today with good intent and get myself moving forward quickly,” he said. “I was happy to be patient no matter what happened. But also, conscious that I've won from eight back on the weekends the last two times - that's not really a recipe that you want to continue to follow. I was very cognisant today of getting off to a strong start.”
Objective met, he acknowledges he now represents the one with a target on his back.
“It's probably shifted today, but tomorrow could be a whole other day,” Rose said. “I know the scenarios for the most part. But it's exciting for sure. My job this week is to try to take as many scenarios out, and just to try to win the tournament.
"There's two things to think about: winning the tournament and winning the Race to Dubai. I know that if I do the first one, then the second one happens. I've just got to try and put together a really good final three rounds and do what I always do.
"Some weeks it happens, some weeks it doesn't. But right now things are certainly feeling a bit easier than they normally do.”
Conversely, not so much for Fleetwood.
"Obviously it looks a lot worse next to Rosey,” he said. “He played absolutely flawless golf today. It was unreal. But there's three more days. At the moment, it is actually kind of out of my hands all of a sudden, but you never know what can happen. Three days to go, that's the luxury of four rounds of golf.
“Fifty-four holes is a lot of holes and anything can happen. It's been similar to the last few weeks where I've not had great first rounds, but climbed the leaderboard steadily. I've just got to go out and do my best.”