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29 November 2023

Austrian Wiesberger leads Dubai Desert Classic opening round, McIlroy lurks

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in action during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on January 29, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Getty)


Austrian Bernd Wiesberger emerged the sole leader at Omega Dubai Desert Classic after Thursday's first round featuring a deluge of birdies at the Emirates Golf Club Thursday.

The 29-year-old Wiesberger appeared to be struggling on the greens as he did not make a single birdie in his first five holes, but warmed up his putter nicely, needing just 25 putts to complete a round of eight-under par 64.

It kept him one ahead of American Peter Uihlein, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts and the English duo of Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan.

And gave him a two-shot advantage over the world number one Rory McIlroy and the defending champion Stephen Gallacher, who both shot matching 66s.

The scoring conditions were ideal, with not an iota of wind on the course for much of the day with the greens extremely receptive and rolling well.

The scoring average for the field was more than a shot less than par - 70.97 - and as many as 80 players in the 132-man field submitted sub-par scores.

Westwood, who closed his 2014 season with a win in the Thai Golf Championship, started his year well, and two huge birdie putts in his last five holes - one was from 35 feet on the fifth hole and the other from 18 feet on the ninth - saw him close on a 65.

McIlroy also finished on the tough par-4 ninth, but he made his only bogey of the day there after struggling to find fairways off the tee.

Colsaerts met with a similar fate as McIlroy, and having started from the 10th tee and making eight birdies, he too closed with a bogey on the ninth for a 65.

Wiesberger, who finished inside the top-six in the previous two events, could have closed his round with six straight birdies, but missed a chance on the par-5 18th for his 64.

"Just a bit disappointed to miss that last birdie. It would be my first 63 out there but still a great day," said Wiesberger, who could move into the top-50 of the world ranking with a good result this week.

"It was a special back nine today. Played really well from the ninth onwards. I hit a lot of birdies. I didn't quite jump off that train really and it was nice to get to 8-under par.

"I had a bit of problem with the pace of the greens early on and I left a lot of good chances short, which I didn't like really. It was all right after I started getting the pace right."

Westwood said he did not feel rusty at all despite this being his first start of the year.

"No, there wasn't any. That's one of the joys of living in Florida. You get to play a lot of winter golf and remain sharp and I just tried to keep myself at the level I was when I finished up in Thailand at the end of last year, and obviously working on a few things as well.

"After Thailand, I didn't pick a club up for 10-12 days, to regain a bit of freshness, mental freshness more than anything. So, it is nice to come out this year with a good balance of freshness, a bit of sharpness, as well."

McIlroy did not have the best driving day of his life - he just found five out of 14 fairways - but he still managed to hit 14 greens in regulation and made his only bogey on his closing hole with another errant tee shot.

"A little disappointing to bogey the last but the golf I played up until then was nice. It's a solid start," said McIlroy.

"I started pretty similar to how I started in Abu Dhabi. I didn't hit a fairway until the 17th, which was my eighth hole, but I scored well for those holes. I can't complain with 66 to start."

Defending champion Gallacher joined McIlroy on 66, while Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell were among a group on 67.

World number two Henrik Stenson could not get enough birdies in his two-under par 70, while number five Sergio Garcia was one of the few who struggled on the course, making a 75.