Irishman Paul McGinley and Phil Price of Wales set the pace in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
Both shot five-under-par rounds of 67 to snatch the 18-hole lead, while the cosmopolitan nature of the leaderboard was reflected in the fact that the next three places were filled by an Australian, a German and a gifted Spanish amateur.
Wayne Riley, playing on an invitation after losing his playing privileges last season, returned a 68 which was matched by Sergio Garcia, the teenage Spaniard of whom great things are predicted. Later in the day, a back-to-form Alex Cejka of Germany joined the group on 68.
However the early part of the day belonged to Price and McGinley, who out-scored his playing partner and former Dubai champion, Colin Montgomerie. The big Scot opened his season with a 70 to trail McGinley by three. However the Irishman was full of praise for Montgomerie’s patience in his opening round of 1999 and admitted: "He’s so strong mentally. That’s what sets him apart."
McGinley, who has built a fully equipped gym in his garage in a bid to get fitter, had six birdies and one dropped shot in his 67 and explained his new-found passion for working out. "I won’t go manic at it. It’s just an extra dimension to my game that I think will help" he said.
Price carded five birdies, the same as Garcia, who will play in the Masters at Augusta in April as a likely prelude to turning professional.
Another Spaniard, defending champion José Maria Olazábal, had looked on schedule to join or even surpass the feats of the leaders when he birdied four of the first five holes. He was five under with one to play but cut his drive at the last into the water.
A missed putt for four feet ultimately cost him a double bogey six, and Olazábal was furious at throwing away the opportunity to share the lead. He said: "The last hole annoyed me a lot. It was a good start but then I started missing some drivers and struggled."
Montgomerie began 1999 steadily rather than spectacularly, with three birdies and a three-putt bogey at the 11th and commented:"Overall I’m delighted. I had only one three putt so things are going in the right direction."
The performance of the first morning came in the first group, as local Dubai Creek club professional, Peter Downie, shot a 69 to enjoy some of the limelight among the leaders while Stuart Cage holed in one with a four iron at the eighth on his way to a 76.