South African Richard Sterne shot the lowest round of his European Tour career to lead the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 31-year-old from Pretoria, back playing a full schedule after a back problem limited him to only four events in 2010 and six the following season, fired a 10-under-par 62 that was only a single stroke outside the Emirates course record set by compatriot Ernie Els 19 years ago.
Els was five better than anybody else that day and went on to win by six but Sterne goes into the second round just one ahead of Scot Stephen Gallacher.
The scoring was such that Lee Westwood’s 67 – the same as 56-year-old Mark O’Meara, winner in 2004 – in his first competitive outing of the season was not even good enough to put him in the top 10.
Tournament director Mike Stewart had sent a letter to players in advance of the event warning them about the condition of the greens, but Paul Casey said after his 66: “I scratch my head slightly – they are absolutely pure.
“I have no idea what he was talking about. It’s the best-conditioned golf course I’ve played this year by far.
“The guys are going to go bananas when you have a course as good as this.”
Sterne stated after his 10 birdies: “Obviously when they send out something like that you do tend to worry but generally I think they are better than we expected.”
The five-time Tour winner, who could not manage the one extra birdie he needed in the last two holes to match the Els record, added: “I knew Ernie had shot 61 quite a while ago and always thought it would be impossible to get close, but I got as close as you could.”
Gallacher’s 63 equalled his lowest Tour round in 398 events, only one of which – the 2004 Dunhill Links at St Andrews – has ended in victory.
The 38-year-old, joint runner-up with Westwood last year and armed with a new driver after breaking his regular one last week, sank a 175-yard seven-iron for a two on the 485-yard sixth, added another eagle on the 13th and then had a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th. On the greens he commented: “I think it was a mountain and a molehill, to be honest. I came out here over Christmas and they were long and sandy but they always seem to get them in brilliant condition.”
John Parry is the highest-placed of the Yorkshire golfers in action after shooting a three-under-par 69.
Simon Dyson is a shot further back after a 70. Danny Willett fired a 71 and Richard Finch a 73 to leave both outside the cut mark after the low-scoring opening round.