Jamie Donaldson came close to producing the first 59 in European Tour history in the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic but had to ‘settle’ for a brilliant ten under par 62 to take early control of the tournament.
The Welshman was in irresistible form at the Emirates Golf Club as he compiled an eagle and nine birdies in the space of 16 holes to set up a chance of shooting golf’s magic number.
But after almost chipping in for birdie on the eighth (his 17th hole), the 42 year old dropped his only stroke of the day on the tough par four ninth to finish the day at ten under and one stroke clear of the English duo of David Horsey and Anthony Wall.
Tyrrell Hatton lies in fourth position on eight under, while Rory McIlroy continued his positive comeback to competitive golf with a seven under 65 to join Swede Alexander Björk, Denmark’s Lasse Jensen, Thomas Pieters of Belgium and in-form Englishman Chris Paisley in a tie for fifth place.
Paisley, who won his maiden European Tour title in South Africa two weeks ago before finishing tied fifth with Pieters in Abu Dhabi last week, is a combined 45 under par for his last nine rounds on Tour; while McIlroy is 25 under for the five rounds he has played since taking a four month break from the game.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia made a solid five under start to the defence of his Omega Dubai Desert Classic crown, but the day belonged to Donaldson who just missed out on equalling Ernie Els’ 14-year-old course record of 61 around the Majlis Course with that closing bogey.
Despite that late aberration, the Welshman is the man to catch heading into the second round.
Jamie Donaldson: “You can never be disappointed with 10-under, can you? I knew what was on the cards out there, and you know, I think I had five holes to go and I started thinking about 59. I thought, well, okay, just birdie every hole coming in and you’ve done it.
“I birdied five, six and seven and hit a great chip on eight after a poor tee shot and it nearly went in but after that I knew the chance had gone. I really fancied it, but it wasn’t to be. I didn’t know the course record. I was only thinking of 59.
“But I’m really happy with the way I played. Drove the ball fantastic and putted really well. The 59 is only a bonus, isn’t it? It’s the icing on the cake. Everybody wants to shoot 59, but it’s something that is only if you’re playing really good golf, and that’s gone now, so it’s just a case of more of the same moving on.”
David Horsey: “I’m obviously very pleased. I’ve been doing a lot of work the last four or five days since missing the cut last week in Abu Dhabi and it felt a little bit better on the back nine today. I was a little bit hit and miss on front, but holed quite a lot of nice putts, sort of lengthy ones, as well. The golf course is immaculate, so if you’re playing well with no wind as we did this morning then you can make a good score.”
Anthony Wall: “I love to come to Dubai but I have to be honest and say this course has never really been that kind to me. I think I got 22 years’ worth of revenge all in one go! No, I played some great golf and I really enjoyed every moment of it to be honest. I played all right last week. I was a little bit rusty, but I changed something quite big on Tuesday evening which was good. It’s amazing when you aim at the target how much easier it is.”
Rory McIlroy: “I don’t think you could have got better conditions out there. The greens in the morning are perfect and there wasn’t much wind for probably the first 12 or 13 holes. So you needed to take advantage of it today. Thankfully I was able to do that.
“I sort of started the same way last week in Abu Dhabi. I think I only birdied one of the par fives on the first day but I knew there’s so many chances out here and just tried to keep hitting fairways, hit greens, give myself chances. There’s so many chances out here that I knew if I got into a rhythm that some would fall. I feel like I left a few out there but the end of the day, 65, you’re not going to complain about that.
“It’s a big difference to last year. I wasn’t down in the dumps about having to take the break because I was excited about the process of trying to get better and trying to get my body better, my game better, so I was excited about that. But not being able to play to my best last year was something way that I was very frustrated with.
“But from then until now, it completely different. I’m really happy with where my body is, where my game is and this is just a progression of what I’ve seen over the past couple of months, which has been nice. I am definitely ahead of schedule. I didn’t expect to play as well as I did last week, and it’s been nice to continue that into this week.”
Round one scores
62 J Donaldson (Wal);
63 D Horsey (Eng); A Wall (Eng);
64 T Hatton (Eng);
65 T Pieters (Bel); R McIlroy (Nir); C Paisley (Eng); A Björk (Swe); L Jensen (Den);
66 P Dunne (Irl); H Porteous (RSA); D Fichardt (RSA); M Jiménez (Esp); H Li (Chn);
67 A Dodt (Aus); D Burmester (RSA); T Olesen (Den); C Hanson (Eng); T Aiken (RSA); A Cañizares (Esp); E Molinari (Ita); B Wiesberger (Aut); S Garcia (Esp); A Levy (Fra); A Sullivan (Eng);
68 I Poulter (Eng); S Jamieson (Sco); M Kaymer (Ger); B Grace (RSA); A Wu (Chn); S Brazel (Aus); J Elson (Eng); M Ilonen (Fin); M Southgate (Eng); D Im (USA); P Lawrie (Sco); M Siem (Ger); B Rumford (Aus); T Detry (Bel); M Korhonen (Fin); P Khongwatmai (Tha);
69 S Sharma (Ind); R Wattel (Fra); S Crocker (USA); D Lipsky (USA); L Slattery (Eng); D Huizing (Ned); A Johnston (Eng); J Norris (Aus); M Manassero (Ita); R Karlsson (Swe); T Fleetwood (Eng); P Perez (USA); M Wallace (Eng); R Paratore (Ita); F Zanotti (Par); R Cabrera Bello (Esp); R Bland (Eng); G Bourdy (Fra); M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra); N Elvira (Esp); T Immelman (RSA); J Wang (Kor); D Frittelli (RSA); L Oosthuizen (RSA); N Colsaerts (Bel); R Fisher (Eng); T Clements (am) (Eng);
70 H Stenson (Swe); J Scrivener (Aus); A Rai (Eng); E Els (RSA); R Rock (Eng); A Otaegui (Esp); N Bertasio (Ita); A Chesters (Eng); O Fisher (Eng); M Warren (Sco); A Romero (Arg); G Green (Mas); T Jaidee (Tha); S Chawrasia (Ind); P Larrazábal (Esp); R Ramsay (Sco); G Havret (Fra); J Campillo (Esp); R Sterne (RSA); C Syme (Sco); M Kieffer (Ger);
71 E Pepperell (Eng); C Wood (Eng); H Sturehed (Swe); M Pavon (Fra); R Fox (Nzl); K Aphibarnrat (Tha); S Gallacher (Sco); L Bjerregaard (Den); J Lagergren (Swe); L Joy (Eng); L Westwood (Eng); S Horsfield (Eng); T Bjørn (Den); J Luiten (Ned); S Hend (Aus);
72 A Connelly (Can); S Lee (Kor); S Kjeldsen (Den); B Stone (RSA); W Ormsby (Aus); B An (Kor); G McDowell (Nir); D Brooks (Eng); C Montgomerie (Sco); R Gouveia (Por); J Morrison (Eng); C Pigem (Esp); H Tanihara (Jpn);
73 P Waring (Eng); Z Lombard (RSA); M Fitzpatrick (Eng); J Singh Brar (Eng); J Smith (Eng); R Thomas (am) (Ind);
74 G Coetzee (RSA); B Hebert (Fra); A Marjan (Mar); G Storm (Eng); A Quiros (Esp);
75 D Clarke (Nir); C Shinkwin (Eng);
76 M Fraser (Aus);
77 D Willett (Eng);