Dubai: It was the day of the underdog at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (ODDC) on Thursday as two players outside the top 100 in the world rankings led the way after the opening round.
World No. 143 Kurt Kitayama carded a seven-under 65 to sit one behind journeyman and world No. 320 Richard Sterne. The South African 39-year-old went round Emirates Golf Course in a cool 64, with a colossal nine birdies offset by a sole bogey at the sixth (his 15th as he started on hole 10) to sit on eight-under on his own in an unfamiliar position at the top of the leaderboard — his last triumph came way in the 2013 Joburg Open.
American Kitayama got off to a flyer with three birdies in his first four holes (11-13), and a brilliant eagle at 17 helped him to the turn in 32. A bogey-free back nine, with two birdies, kept him in touch with Sterne and one ahead of another low-ranked player — Justin Harding of South Africa (No. 179) — and 2017 ODDC champion Sergio Garcia.
Two-time Abu Dhabi champion Paul Casey was tied for fifth on five-under alongside Spain’s Adrian Otaegui, Belgium’s Thomas Detry, Scotsman Robert MacIntyre and France’s Romain Langasque
Other fomer UAE winners Tommy Fleetwood and Martin Kaymer were in a bunch tied for ninth on four-under.
Race to Dubai defending champion Lee Westwood was in a tie for 17th (-3), DP World Tour Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick was a stroke further back in a share of 20th, while Abu Dhabi HSBC champion Tyrrell Hatton had a horror show and is way down in 115th spot after a four-over round of 76. Defending champion Lucas Herbert shot a two-over 74.
Sterne, who has won six European Tour events, is playing in only his fifth event since undergoing wrist surgery last March. “I’m pretty happy,” he said. “When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going. I hit a lot good shots and made quite a few birdies. So today, I was pretty happy with the performance.”
The 2017 champion Garcia, who carded a bogey-free 66, added: “I felt good out there. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots. It was a good solid day and I am very happy with the way it went. It is nice to see rounds like the one today as it shows I am putting good work in there and let’s just hope to see more rounds like that one today. It’s a big year and let’s hope I can stay in good shape as I want to be a part of a lot of things this year.”
-8 Richard Sterne (RSA) 64
-7 Kurt Kitayama (USA) 65
-6 Sergio Garcia (ESP) 66
Justin Harding (RSA) 66
-5 Paul Casey (ENG) 67
Thomas Detry (BEL) 67
Robert MacIntyre (SCO) 67
Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 67
-4 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 68
Adri Arnaus (ESP) 68
Ross Fisher (ENG) 68
Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 68
Martin Kaymer (GER) 68
Romain Langasque (FRA) 68
Wade Ormsby (AUS) 68
Kalle Samooja (FIM) 68