Thomas Pieters was the man to catch at the top of the leaderboard when the first round of the weather-affected Hero Dubai Desert Classic was suspended due to fading light on Thursday evening.
Heavy overnight rain meant all tee times were delayed by six hours and five minutes on day one, with play finally getting under way at 13.15 local time.
Only the first wave of starters teed off – with the other half of the field having to wait until Friday – and just 12 players managed to complete their first rounds before the daylight ran out.
Belgian Pieters suffered the disappointment of missing the cut at last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as his title defence fell flat, but he bounced back brilliantly at the second Rolex Series event of the season at Emirates Golf Club, carding six birdies and a single bogey in his first 15 holes to get to five under par.
England’s Daniel Gavins had sat alongside Pieters when the hooter sounded but opted to finish up at the 18th in near-darkness and surrendered a bogey to join the large group on four under.
Gavins and countrymen Oliver Wilson and Matthew Jordan signed for 68s to set the early clubhouse target, while last week’s winner Victor Perez, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Reed were also on four under with a few holes remaining.
Nicolas Colsaerts, Ryan Fox, Fabrizio Zanotti and Matt Wallace were another shot back and will also complete the first round on Friday morning.
Play will restart at 08.00 local time on Friday, while the second wave will start their first rounds from 08.20.
Thomas Pieters: “I think it played fair. Obviously they guarded against some of the conditions, and they moved a few tees forward on holes like 12, where you normally are hitting long irons, and you’re hitting short wedges. If you found fairways and had ball-in-hand, it was definitely playable.
“Yeah, it was tough to judge because the wind was switching the whole day, I thought. Sometimes it was down and you could see it come up again and that was a different direction, so yeah, that was definitely tricky.
“Try to do the same thing. I’m finishing seven, eight, nine, tough holes. If I can finish with three pars, I’ll have a very nice opening round.”
Matthew Jordan: “If you shoot a good score here, you enjoy it. It was challenging in terms of we knew rain was coming and darkness and everything else.
“So there was a bit of uncertainty whether we would finish or what happened during the round. I just tried to get off to a good start and keep playing hole-by-hole until we stopped, basically, and thankfully we stopped at the end.
“Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, it was nice to see that at 20 past five I could roll back over in bed and have a lie-in. But it’s certainly strange around here to see water hazards and stuff in places that you don’t expect it to be whatsoever. It is challenging but then at the same time, we’ve had it plenty of other times over the course, so you start to get used to it, start to learn.
“I remember from last year, I made both cuts (in back to back Rolex Series events) but did pretty poor on the weekends and realised how much I could have gained at the start of the year. For me that was something I learnt, and yeah, the fact that it’s two Rolex events, it’s rare, isn’t it, so definitely, it is big.”
Daniel Gavins: “I feel pretty good. Struggled quite a lot off the tee today which is a bit frustrating, but my putting kind of held me. I holed quite a lot of nice putts to keep me going. Disappointed with the tee shots but I’ll sort that.
“The course was pretty good. It was dry for the most part. I went into one of the water hazards on the 10th which was not meant to be there but apart from that, there’s a few places where it didn’t really come into play, but yeah, it’s pretty dry.
“Last week, I was feeling it was a bit of a waste kind of missing the cut but if you think it’s just the start of the year, I’ve got another 30-odd events if I want them, so I’m not trying to think, yeah, it’s massive points. I’m just trying to play week-in, week-out and see where we are.”