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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Dubai Desert Classic: Leader Matt Fitzpatrick pleased to hit form after poor 2018

Englishman, who has tasted success in Dubai before winning 2016 DP World Tour Championship, carded 7-under-par 65

Matthew Fitzpatrick has done well in Dubai before, and he was impressive on Thursday. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Matthew Fitzpatrick has done well in Dubai before, and he was impressive on Thursday. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Matt Fitzpatrick finished with four consecutive birdies to take sole lead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the end of the opening round.

The Englishman, who has tasted success in this city before having won the 2016 DP World Tour Championship, carded a 7-under-par 65.

It gave him a one-shot lead ahead of a bunched field on a day of low-scoring at the Emirates Golf Club.

Eighteen players finished the opening day within two strokes of the lead, with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia just a shot behind Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick was runner-up on his last start, in the Hong Kong Open at the end of 2018, but he said he underachieved before that point, and hopes his opening salvo at the Classic is a sign of things to come.

“I'm not going to lie, I was really disappointed with my season last year,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Second in Hong Kong kind of saved it a little bit at the end of the year there, but I knew a lot of things needed to change.

“I needed to work on different parts of my game, different shots, and really did feel like I put in a lot of work.

"And so far I've played five rounds this year and have played pretty well for all of them. Hopefully it continues, and it's just nice to see it pay off.”

Thongchai Jaidee had held the lead in the morning when he reached 8-under, only to double-bogey the 18th when he pitched his third shot into the water. He finished at 6-under in a group that, by the end of the day, had seven other members.

Nine players were tied a shot further back, including Li Haotong, the defending champion.

“I’m very happy to see a low score here again, and especially compared to last week [when he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi], the game is definitely getting better each step,” Li said after his 5-under par 67.

“The last few shots weren’t good, but except for that, everything is pretty good. I have a lot of special memories from last year.

"Even now, every time I walk past every hole, I still remember just like yesterday. It's very cool for me.”

Li shot an identical score as each of his celebrated playing partners, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.

In shooting 65, Poulter had picked up where he left off after a promising display at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA last week.

The Englishman was grateful for the chance of an extra day’s rest. The Abu Dhabi tournament drew to a close on Saturday, rather than the usual Sunday finish, after the rescheduling caused by the Asian Cup football.

It meant Poulter was finally able to recuperate at the end of a week that had started with a 34-hour trip from Hawaii to make it to the capital.

“I don't normally get a Sunday and Monday off when I'm on a stretch of tournaments, it was unusual to finish on a Saturday, but that was actually quite nice to do,” Poulter said.

Updated: January 24, 2019 07:51 PM

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