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05 March 2024

Sweet start to tour for Swedes

The Swede shot 6-under at the National Course in Abu Dhabi yesterday. (REUTERS)

By John McAuley

The Swedish flag was flying high at the top of the leaderboard yesterday, as compatriots Johan Edfors and Mikael Lundberg conspired to shoot a pair of 66s in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

Both players remained unaffected by the rain-induced 90-minute delay at the National Course to card an impressive 6-under par 66 and get their Desert Swing series of the European Tour off to a good start.

Edfors, currently ranked 173rd in the world, birdied three of the first five holes to reach the turn in 33, then tore into the back nine with a trio of successive birdies on 10, 11 and 12 before a bogey, two holes later, blotted his scorecard.

However, the Swede accounted for the blemish when he pegged a shot back on 16, only to three-putt on the final green after he had reached the par-5 18th with a majestic second shot.

"I played nicely today and gave myself a lot of good birdie opportunities and made a few good putts," said the 33-year-old. "Unfortunately there were a couple of three-putts on the back nine there, but I'm hitting my driver really good and the irons as well.

"It would be nice to get off to a good start for the year. I'm really looking forward to the season – I've worked hard for the past couple of years and hopefully it's going to pay off."

Mikael Lundberg, Edfors' fellow countryman, was equally pleased with his round, having birdied four of the front-nine and two of the back-nine to go into the clubhouse without any bogies and with a share of the lead.

"I'm very pleased considering I haven't played since the second week of November," said the 35-year-old, who has been practising in Dubai intermittently since the end of last year. "I just thought that, since I was exempt, I didn't need to play and I obviously had a lot of stuff I needed to sort out.

"It's fantastic [in Dubai]. You can't be in a better place. You come and practise in the winter and then you have the tournaments here – it's fantastic. So I'm very pleased. I just hope I can keep it up for the next couple of days."

Three players were a shot further back in second place. Jarmo Sandelin, another in-form Swede, joined England's Oliver Fisher and Italy's Francesco Molinari in posting 5-under 67s.

"Overall, I just played really nice," said Fisher after registering six birdies. "I hit a lot of fairways and gave myself a lot of chances on the greens."

Meanwhile, Molinari admitted he didn't expect to witness hailstorms in the desert. "It was a bit of a surprise, but hopefully we won't get any of that in the next few days," he said.

Kaymer content

Defending champion Martin Kaymer was pleased with his 4-under par 68 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship yesterday.

However, it could have been better for the German, who was two shots better off at this stage last year, as a series of putts just shaded the hole on the inward nine.

"I think I had three lipouts on these nine holes," said Kaymer. "But I'm happy about the 4-under. I made a few unexpected putts and had a really long birdie putt on five, so that was a bonus."

A cluster of players were tied on 68, with hot prospect Rory McIlroy the pick of the bunch. Sergio Garcia, the world No2, was one shot back before both were forced off early on the back nine due to fading light.