Thomas Pieters. Pic: Getty Images/ DP World Tour
Dubai, Jan 26: Thomas Pieters seeking to make amends for a disappointing week in Abu Dhabi was the leader at 5-unbder through 15 holes in the weather-hit Hero Dubai Desert Classic. A little over six hours of play was lost due to heavy overnight rain and a thunderstorm in the wee hours of Thursday. That left the course unplayable before the staff made it golf worthy to see a start at 1.15 pm.
India’s lone player at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, Shubhankar Sharma, drawn to play in the afternoon did not get a chance to tee off and will not start only on Friday. Sharma said he spent the entire day at the hotel and had lunch and relaxed with friends. He will play his first and second rounds with Jordan Smith and Thorbjorn Olesen.
Only 12 players, that is two groups on either side of course were able to finish the first round and the clubhouse lead was shared by three English players, Matthew Jordan, Daniel Gavins and Oliver Wilson, who carded 4-under 68 each.
There was a scramble to finish to finish by some of the earliest groups to tee off so that they could avoid coming early on Friday to play a few holes.
Pieters, who came to Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships to defend his title, missed the cut last week. Pieters started at the tenth tee on Thursday and produced a good up-and-down from a bunker at the short 11th to keep his card clean. He holed a monster birdie putt at the 14th but gave the shot straight back on the par-three 15th.
A hat-trick of birdies at the 17th, 18th and first got Pieters’ round back on track and he moved to five under with two more gains at the third and fourth.
Pieters had a nine-foot birdie attempt from the edge of the sixth green after the hooter had sounded but had to settle for a par there.
He said, “I’ll try to do the same thing. I’m finishing on the seventh, eighth and ninth – tough holes. If I can finish with three pars, I’ll have a very nice opening round.”
Two-time champion here, Rory McIlroy, looking for a winning start to 2023, was one-under through 15 holes. He had a four-foot putt for birdie on the seventh, his 16th hole of the day.
McIlroy opened his round with a birdie on the 10th, missed the green on the 12th and ended with a bogey and then again missed the green on Par-3 15th and failed to hole a 9-foot putt for a second bogey. He did well to birdie 18th after getting on to greenside bunker with his second shot and then putted from nine feet to get to even par. There were two further birdies, and he was 1-under when play was stopped.
The morning start was delayed by over six hours on account of heavy overnight rain which left standing water in some places.