The Welshman will take a lead of one shot into Friday after carding a 10-under round around the Majlis Course.
No regrets for Omega Dubai Desert Classic leader Jamie Donaldson despite missing out on course record with round of 62
Jamie Donaldson just missed out on equalling the 24-year-old course record at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – then admitted he had been thinking of an even bigger milestone than that anyway.
A bogey at his final hole – the ninth on the Majlis Course – was the only blemish on a stunning day of scoring by the Welshman, as he signed for a 62.
He then revealed he did not even know the course record, which is the 61 Ernie Els opened with on his way to winning the Classic in 1994, but had designs on one of golf’s mythical figures.
“You can never be disappointed with 10-under,” said Donaldson, whose start in Dubai was all the more remarkable for the fact he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week.
“I knew what was on the cards out there, and I think I had five holes to go when I started thinking about 59. I thought, well, OK, just birdie every hole coming in and you've done it.”
Having gone out in 31 playing the back nine first, he then registered five birdies between his 11th and 16th holes.
Making up any more shots from there on was always likely to be a tough ask, given the eighth and ninth are habitually among the hardest scoring holes at Emirates Golf Club.
To emphasise the point, the 2016 champion Danny Willett finished triple-bogey, quadruple-bogey on those holes on Thursday.
“I didn't know the course record,” he said. “I was only thinking of 59, really. I probably shouldn't really be thinking that.
“I should be concentrating on hitting fairways and hitting greens, giving myself chances. [But] I don't know, I fancied it.
“It wasn't to be. I knew I had to chip that one in on eight. It was close. It didn't go in, and that was it.
“I'm very happy with how I've played, and 59 is only a bonus. Everybody wants to shoot 59, but it's something that is only if you're playing really good golf. That's gone now, so it's just a case of more of the same moving on.”
Donaldson’s 10-under total gave him a one-stroke lead over David Horsey and Anthony Wall, who will start Friday’s Round 2 tied in second.
Tyrrell Hatton is a shot further back on 8-under, while a group of five players including Rory McIlroy are at 7-under.
“If you shoot 9-under in the first round of any tournament, it's going to bring you plenty of momentum,” Horsey said.
“So I am looking forward to the next few days. I’ve done a lot more practice this winter than I have done previously.
"I felt something had to change because of not coming out of the blocks very fast in previous years.”
Wall’s 63 was his lowest round at the Classic, in his 22nd season as a European Tour professional.
“It's not been my favourite,” Wall said of the UAE's oldest tournament. “I love to come to Dubai, but it's never really been that kind to me.
“I think I got it all back in one go in 22 years. I played some great golf, and I really enjoyed every moment of it.”