Donaldson leads Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy lurks
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 number 8 Sergio Garcia, the defending champion, opened with a five-under par 67.
Last week’s champion in Abu Dhabi and reigning European number one 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’s 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 2014.
“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.