Matthew Fitzpatrick ended in a blitz of birdies to take a one-shot lead on the first day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 24-year-old, who narrowly missed out on a Ryder Cup pick in Paris in September, birdied six of the last nine holes to shoot a seven-under-par 65 at Emirates Golf Club.
The Englishman has been in fine form recently, winning his fifth European Tour event in September, and shot his best opening round score since the 2015 British Masters.
“It was obviously a great finish to the round,” Fitzpatrick said. “A couple of things that I’ve been doing in the off-season sort of looked to have paid off a little bit.
“I just added a bit of extra length to my driver, so it’s given me a few yards to help get on in two on the last because I’ve never been able to do that. And then, just wedging it a lot better has given me a few more chances coming in.”
Fitzpatrick did however concede that there was still room for improvement after a ponderous end to the front-nine.
“I was able to recover in a couple of situations, made a couple of long putts and then got up and down on six, which was huge,” Fitzpatrick continued.
“I even missed a couple of putts. I just felt like it was a scrappy round, but I got it out and shot 66 today, so I’m happy.”
Lurking in the shadows just one-shot back though is a prolific pack including physicist enigma and world No 5 Bryson DeChambeau and Ryder Cup hero Sergio Garcia, who is playing his first tournament since November. The pair both shot bogey-free 66s on the expansive desert course.
Lee Westwood, who this week revealed he wasn’t ready to take up the Ryder Cup captaincy role in 2020 because he still feels he is capable of challenging for a spot in the team, added a five-under par round to his strong T16 finish last week in Abu Dhabi. The 45-year-old lies two shots back alongside Ian poulter and defending champion Li Haotong.