x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Justin Rose gets in the swing during desert stint

Justin Rose made another big splash on the UAE leaderboard, opening with a 5-under 67 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Justin Rose is congratulated by Ernie Els after sinking a putt. Christopher Pike / The National
Justin Rose is congratulated by Ernie Els after sinking a putt. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // For Justin Rose, visits to the UAE have hardly resulted in culture shock.

Far from it.

When the Englishman plays in the desert, he seemingly is surrounded by Britons, Americans, Australians and plenty of people shouting encouragement – which he can clearly understand and put to good use.

"The Emirates have been, 'so far, so good' for me," Rose said.

The world No 5 made another big splash on a UAE leaderboard today with a stellar 5-under 67 as winds strafed the afternoon session of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, moving into a share of the lead with Welshman Jamie Donaldson.

Rose has been oh-so-close in the two other European Tour events in the UAE, finishing second at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November.

"Some nice feelings playing in the desert," said Rose, who received an undisclosed appearance fee this week. "You get some of the same crowd [as Dubai], the expats, and it's a comfortable place to play golf."

That is pretty self-evident. Eight weeks ago, Rose blitzed the course in the final round in Dubai, breaking the course record by two strokes with a 62, and it took birdies on the last five holes from the world No 1 Rory McIlroy to turn Rose away.

While Rose is tied for the lead, he arguably posted the best round of the day, playing in the most brutal portion of the day's steady wind. It seemed as though his final round in Dubai from last autumn carried over.

"That is, by far, the round of the day," said his countryman Paul Casey, who played right behind Rose and saw many of his shots.

Rose, 32 and a professional since he was a teen, knows not to get ahead of himself, especially since the event features one of the best European Tour fields of the season.

"I would say it's seamless, but it's just the first round of golf, he said."

Now he needs a perfect finish. In both of his runner-up finishes in the UAE, it was McIlroy who beat him at the end.

If there was a modicum of mollifying news in that regard, it is that the world's top player, who announced a lucrative new endorsement deal this week, shot 75 and is eight shots back.

Rose said he was, and wasn't, surprised at the Ulsterman's struggles today.

"Yes and no," the Englishman said. "Surprised because he is No 1 and such a talent, and no because he's had a whole lot of things occupying the space between the ears."

Rose bogeyed the first hole, birdied the next two, and never looked back.

He holed a 50-foot birdie putt on the fifth and a sand shot on the ninth, both for improbable birdies, and held on with pars on the last eight holes as the wind whipped through the course.

"Yeah, it is the perfect start, to get straight up on the leaderboard and test everything I've been working on the first week of the year, absolutely," Rose said.

"I still see it today as the start of a very long week and I see it as the start of an even longer year obviously.

"So I'm not really throwing a lot of weight on this round of golf, either. It's just a good start."

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