DUBAI, Jan 25 — Jamie Donaldson flirted with the long-standing course record 61 before settling for a 10-under 62 to sit atop a tight leaderboard as idyllic conditions brought a raft of red-figure rounds on the opening day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
The 42-year-old Welshman raced to 11 under with two holes to go, but bogeyed the ninth, his last, after hitting his tee shot into a bunker and that the only blemish in his card prevented him from having a successful crack at Ernie Els’ record of a 61, the great South African set in 1994.
David Horsey and Anthony Wall shared second on nine-under, one clear of fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton as four-time major Rory McIlroy, picking up where he left off last week, continued his impressive run to put himself straight away in contention for a third win in Dubai.
The Northern Irishman, chasing a third win in Dubai, carded a stress-free seven-under 65 to move into a five-way tie for fifth as defending champion Sergio Garcia also kept himself in the frame with a 67 that left him tied for 15th.
Making his first appearance in Dubai, American Pat Perez settled for a 69 to join last week’s winner and European number one Tommy Fleetwood for a share of 42nd on a day when 104 players broke par in reflection of remarkable scoring at the Majlis course.
It was Donaldson, who dominated the proceedings from the word go and the Welshman, a three-time winner on the European Tour, later admitted that the thought of a sub-60 score did cross his mind. “I’m not going to lie to you, I was thinking about it,” he said.
“I birdied five and then started thinking, ‘if I just birdie them all coming in, then I’ve done it’.
“Sometimes you’re best not thinking and just keep playing but I was picturing birdieing them all and then jumping in the lake on the last. I’m standing here at ten under which I’m very happy with,” he said, adding: “Everything worked perfectly today.”
McIlroy, who missed this event last season due to the rib injury, was equally pleased with his day’s work.
“I didn’t expect to play as well as I did last week and it’s been nice to continue that into this week,” said the Northern Irishman, who finished in a tie for third at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I’m ahead of schedule right now but I don’t mind that. That’s nice. Just have to reassess everything and go from there,” said McIlroy, who missed this event last season due to the rib injury.
“It was nice to get off to a good start that way and sort of put yourself right in contention in the tournament straight away,” he said.
“There’s so many chances out here that I knew if I got into a rhythm that some would fall. I feel like I left a few out there but the end of the day, 65, you’re not going to complain about that.”
Elsewhere, MENA Tour Order of Merit winner Jamie Elson of England shot a bogey-free 68 while the tour’s leading amateur Todd Clements returned a 69 to make their presence in the star-studded field.
England’s Luke Joy and Swede Henric Sturehed shot matching one-under 71s, but Morocco’s Ahmed Marjan (74) and India’s Dubai-based prodigy Rayhan Thomas (73) will have some catching up to do if they aim to make it the weekend.