Dubai - Jamie Donaldson led the Dubai Desert Classic with a first round
10-under par 62 on Thursday with two-time winner Rory McIlroy three
shots off the Welsh leader.
With hardly any wind at Emirates Golf Club, a slew of low scores were
produced, none better than the 42-year-old Donaldson who has a one-shot
lead over English duo David Horsey and Anthony Wall.
Another Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton, was fourth at 64, with the
tournament’s headline act McIlroy among a group of five players tied
fifth at seven-under par 65.
Spain's world No 8 Sergio Garcia, the defending champion, opened with a five-under par 67.
Last week's champion in Abu Dhabi and reigning European No 1
Tommy Fleetwood made 69 while world No10 Henrik Stenson submitted a card
of 70 after a late double bogey.
Donaldson, who won in Abu Dhabi in 2013 and represented Europe in the
2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles as then world No23, has endured a
disappointing couple of years which saw his world ranking slip to 292.
After starting from the 10th tee, Donaldson was bogey-free for his
round with an eagle on the par-5 13th and moved to 11-under par after
four birdies in a row from the fourth hole onwards.
With two holes to play, he had a shot at Ernie Els' 24-year-old
course record of 61, and more importantly, a chance to shoot the
first-ever 59 on the European Tour.
He almost holed his chip from the edge of the green for a birdie
before settling for par on the eighth hole, and then closed with a bogey
on the ninth after hitting his drive into the fairway bunker.
"I didn't know the course
record. I was only thinking of 59, really. Probably shouldn’t really be
thinking that. Should have been concentrating on hitting fairways and
hitting greens, giving myself chances," said Donaldson, whose last of
three wins on the European Tour came at the Czech Masters in August
"I don't know, I fancied it. Wasn't to be. I knew I had to chip that
one in on the eighth. It was close. Didn't go in and that was it then.
"But I'm very happy with how I've played.
"59 is only a bonus, isn't it? It's 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. Now, it's just a case of more of
the same moving on."
McIlroy said the conditions were benign and he was glad to make the most of it.
"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. Thankfully I was able to do that," said the world No 11.
"It was nice to get off to a good start that way and sort of put yourself right in contention in the tournament straightaway.
"That's honestly one of my goals this year. I feel like started off
last year a little bit sort of 71, 70, instead of getting right into the
thick of things from the start. So it's been nice to start the last
couple weeks like that."
As many as 117 players in the field of 132 shot par or better.
Leading first-round scores in the EPGA Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday at the Emirates Golf Club par-72 Majlis course:
62 – Jamie Donaldson (WAL)
63 – David Horsey (ENG), Anthony Wall (ENG)
64 – Tyrrell Hatton (ENG)
65 – Rory McIlroy (NIR), Chris Paisley (ENG), Alexander Bjork (SWE), Thomas Pieters (BEL), Lasse Jensen (DEN)
66 – Haydn Porteus (RSA), Paul Dunne (IRL), Darren Fichardt (RSA), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Li Haotong (CHN)
67 – Sergio Garcia (ESP), Alexander Levy (FRA), Dean Burmester (RSA), Chris Hanson (ENG), Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Thorbjorn Olesen (DEN), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Thomas Aiken (RSA), Bernd Wieberger (AUT), Andy Sullivan (ENG), Alejandro Canizares (ESP)
68 – Ian Poulter (ENG), Sam Brazel (BRA), Thomas Detry (BEL), Marcel Siem (GER), Brett Rumford (AUS), Paul Lawrie (SCO), Daniel Im (USA), Jamie Elson (ENG), Matthew Southgate (ENG), Branden Grace (RSA), Martin Kaymer (GER), Mikko Korhonen (FIN), Phachara Khongwatmai (THA), Mikko Ilonen (FIN), Wu Ashun (CHN), Scott Jamieson (SCO)
71 – Thomas Bjorn (DEN), Lee Westwood (ENG), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Stephen Gallacher (SCO), Joost Luiten (NED)
72 – Colin Montgomerie (SCO), An Byeong-hun (KOR), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN)
75 – Darren Clarke (NIR)
77 – Danny Willett (ENG)