Dubai: Wielding a red-hot putter that helped him push through the pain barrier, Mike Lorenzo-Vera upstaged some of the biggest names in European golf to grab the opening day’s plaudits with a nine-under 63 at the DP World Tour Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates on Thursday.
The 28-year-old French golfer, who is in search of a career-first tour victory since turning pro in 2005, revealed that he was battling a lung infection that had left him drained.
However, the golfer that ripped through the Greg Norman-designed course shooting an eagle and eight birdies, hardly looked like a player in distress. Whether he was striking the ball in devastating fashion off the tee or putting with freakish accuracy, Lorenzo-Vera was a man on top of his game at one of the sport’s biggest and most profitable stages where prize money totalling $8 million is on offer.
“Honestly, I’m not the feeling well at all,” he said as he got off the final green to rousing applause.
“I have no energy. I was down. I had a big lung infection in South Africa and a big treatment, and really feel bad on top of that.”
But his game was far from bad, and on the contrary was perhaps the best round he had ever played in his career.
In hot pursuit of the Frenchman was three-time DP World Tour Championship winner Rory McIlroy on eight-under, with Spaniard Jon Rahm two shots behind on six-under and the British duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Lewis on five-under.
McIlroy, who closed the opening round with a spectacular eagle, is not in contention to win the Race to Dubai, the season finale of the European Tour here in Dubai as he has insufficient points. However, the Northern Irishman can go a long way to help establish his status as one of the best players in the world.
Rahm and Fleetwood are very much in the mix for Race to Dubai honours, two of the five contenders in the season-long campaign that encompassed 47 tournaments in 31 countries across four continents.
The current leader is Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who fired a two-under 70, with Matthew Fitzpatrick leaving himself with a lot of work to do over the next three days if he hopes to lift the coveted Race to Dubai Trophy and a $3 million bonus, after returning to the clubhouse with a one-under 71.
But, for the most part, the opening day’s focus was on the wiry Lorenzo-Vera.
A pivotal eagle-three on the Par 5 second hole helped fire the Frenchman into a zone from which he could reel off incredible shots off the tee, the fairways, or just about anywhere on the picturesque Earth Course, before his scalding putter would nurse the ball into the pin.
Even the Frenchman appeared baffled by the form he displayed in damp conditions that appeared to suit his game, if not his lungs.
“You know these kind of days where you just relax and try to put the ball somewhere and you strike it perfect, and you got the lines, and there you go,” he said.
“I played four holes yesterday as practice, and I felt that if I really relaxed a lot, just swing it, like 70 per cent or maybe less, the ball was still flying pretty well. It’s like, all right. Relax. Try to be pretty clever and not too aggressive, and then the putter got hot. So that worked.
“I’m just trying to do well in every part of the performance and sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t click” he added.
“I have a lot to do better to be more consistent on good weeks. That’s why I think I haven’t won yet. So there’s plenty of work to do.”
But first, he will need a rest, which may not be easy as he has a lot on his mind.
“I will go in the room and have a nap and wait for tomorrow,” Lorenzo-Vera concluded.
1. Mike LORENZO-VERA (FRA) -9
2. Rory McIlroy (NIR) -8
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) -6
4. Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) -5
4. Tom Lewis (ENG) -5
6. Marcus Kinhult (SWE) -4
6. Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) -4