Dubai: Andy Sullivan was the toast of National Day in the UAE as he fired a blistering 61 early on in the opening round of the inaugural Golf in Dubai Championship on the revamped Fire Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The Englishman, who has a loyal following out here in the UAE, sadly did not have his ‘Sully Army’ legion to cheer him on but he rarely looked like needing the backing as he set about recording his best ever professional score on any golf course on a day of low scoring throughout in Dubai.
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Sullivan was the pick of the bunch as he now sits two strokes clear of compatriots Matthew Wallace, Ross Fisher and Frenchman Antoine Rozner. Sullivan is sitting on 11-under-par after his sizzling first round and had a chuckle to himself after coming off the final hole, never quite expecting to be be in the driving seat of an event that was only put together at the last moment to allow Dubai to have a season-ending back-to-back finale at Jumeirah Golf Estates. The Race to Dubai showdown begins next week with the DP World Tour Championships on the neighbouring Earth Course, but all eyes are on the Fire Course and a certain Mr Sullivan this week.
“It’s funny, I played the front nine yesterday and I played the back nine a year ago when we came over to warm up. You do all this prep on these courses and try and work out where to hit it,” said Sullivan. “This week I turned up and clattered it down and found myself being ridiculous under par through seven or eight holes on my front nine. You think ‘here we go’.
I changed my putting routine with Mike yesterday and it’s helped me trust my instincts more instead of second guessing myself, which really helped. The putter was extremely hot today.”
Sullivan had time to reflect on a season that has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The situation has hit golf — given the amount of travelling each athlete normally puts in. “COVID really changed everything for me,” he said. “I had time to sit down and think about how I was being on the golf course. I wouldn’t like to say, but I was being an idiot. It’s not nice to say that about yourself. I could think about what I wanted from the game and where I wanted to go with it. I refocused and started enjoying it again. I’ve started to play a lot better. Going out there and enjoying it I know I’m giving myself the best chance to shoot a low score. Coming back to Jumeirah, I’ve always played pretty tidy here on the other (Earth) course. It’s nice to get off to a flyer on this one.”
There are still three days to go, but even Sullivan could not have expected to be where he is right now.
Behind Wallace, Fisher and Rozner are looming threats — and Scottish title winners — Craig Howie and Marc Warren on eight-under, while the flagship names such as Martin Kaymer (T12) and Danny Willett (T20) are still in contention as the Fire Course will guarantee more low scores this week.
“I think it’s my best round of the year for sure,” said Rozner. “I have been playing well over the last few weeks but I couldn’t really put anything together in the same round and I think I did that very well today. I putted great and saved a couple of great pars. I scored the par fives well even though I three-putted on the last one but it was an amazing round, nine under is my lowest on tour so I’m really happy with that.”
A couple more like that and the Frenchman will be in the mix come Saturday.
-11 Andy Sullivan (England) 61
-9 Ross Fisher (England) 63
Antoine Rozner (France) 63
Matt Wallace (England) 63
-8 Craig Howie (South Africa) 64
Oscar Lengden (Sweden) 64
Marc Warren (Scotland) 64
-7 Pep Angles (Spain) 65
Rikard Karlberg (Sweden) 65
Francesco Laporta (Italy) 65
Lorenzo Scalise (Italy) 65