Richard Sterne produced an impressive eight under par round of 64 to open up a one-shot lead after day one of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The South African, a six-time winner on the European Tour, birdied his final hole of the day at Emirates Golf Club to jump ahead of American Kurt Kitayama on seven under par, with Major Champion Sergio García and fellow countryman Justin Harding a further shot back.
Garcia won this event in 2017 before going on to claim his maiden Major Championship at the Masters Tournament later that year and the Spaniard enjoyed his return to the United Arab Emirates, recording a flawless round of 66.
Englishman Paul Casey made a fast start before settling for a five under 67 despite leading for most of Thursday morning, and was later joined at that mark by Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, Belgian Thomas Detry and Scot Robert MacIntyre.
Richard Sterne: “It’s always good to get off to a good start. It helps you for the rest of the week, I think. I’ve come close here before so it would be nice to have a chance going into the weekend. I haven’t had many chances going into weekends for a long time, so it would be nice to get through tomorrow and place myself well and see how the weekend goes.
“I had a wrist operation in March last year, so I was out basically for the whole of last year. Played the last few events, which I played pretty decently considering I had not played for so long.
“And then last week gave me a lot of confidence. I struggled the first few days, and played really nicely on Saturday. But finishing 25th there has given me confidence. I’m just trying to watch my back, so I haven’t put much preparation into this week. Just got nine holes in Tuesday yesterday and I didn’t even come to the course yesterday. So today, I was pretty happy with the performance.”
Kurt Kitayama: “I haven’t played this well in a while, so nice to get a round like this. Just played as many games as I could back home and tried to feel pressure under the gun like in tournament conditions. Pretty much how I tried to stayed sharp.
“(The eagle on 17 was) a little into the wind. Hit it just short of the green in the fairway. It was just pretty standard chip up into the grain and I just holed it. It was nice.”
Sergio García: “I felt comfortable out there for sure. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots. Conditions obviously were good, but they were tricky.
“I think that it’s a big year, and hopefully I can be in good shape because I want to be a part of a lot of things this year.
“I still love to compete. I love to practice, try to get better and that’s what I try to do all the time. So it’s nice to see rounds like one today, because it shows that I’m putting some good work in there and just got to keep doing more of that.”
Paul Casey: “This is a difficult golf course. The last time I played here was seven years ago. It was difficult then. It’s grown some teeth in the last few years, some new tees. Very happy. It’s difficult to read the greens and make putts around here. They have always been tricky, a bit of grain in there. Yeah, very happy with that start.
“I feel lucky because golf courses are open in Arizona. Even various other places across the state line, they are not. I feel for everybody in the UK where golf courses are closed right now.
“To be honest I took advantage of it. I spent a lot of time playing. It’s maybe something I’ve not done as much of over the last few years. We are very lucky that we’re playing golf and I feel that sort of fortunate place that we’re in to play, I feel that I’m going to take advantage of that, while I’m out here, make hay.”