Friday, 19 March 2010
Tiger Woods and Thomas Björn declared honours even in their personal Duel in the Sun as the playing partners shared the lead after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.

In sweltering heat on the Majlis course, the World Number One and the European Ryder Cup player both carded superb eight-under-par 64s to move two shots clear of their nearest challengers.

The blistering temperatures and red-hot golf came as a stark contrast to the start of the first round, which was delayed for two hours and five minutes due to thick fog which enveloped the course and its surrounding area.

It meant that the first round was not completed, 42 players coming back this morning to complete their 18 holes.

When the first round did reach its conclusion, seven players found themselves two shots off the pace, Padraig Harrington and José Manuel Lara, both of whom finished yesterday afternoon, and Mark McNulty, Phillip Price, Lee Westwood, Angel Cabrera and Trevor Immelman, who finished off early this morning.

All of that, however, was of little concern to Woods and Björn who, after beginning their round at the tenth hole, traded shot for shot in almost exhibition fashion, ending with a better ball score of 60.

“I definitely think we fed off one another,” admitted the Dane. “We both kind of got into it with a few good birdies on the back nine, our front nine. Then, all of a sudden when we got on our back nine, we both shot 31. It just seemed like he made birdie, I made birdie, he made birdie, I made birdie.

“I was just one of those things where I don’t think either of us wanted to let the other one get away and we knew if we stuck with each other, we were both going to make a good score.”

Both players carded eight birdies and no dropped shots, Björn looking to have earned the advantage when he drilled home a 20 foot birdie putt on the eighth hole, their 17th, to move to eight under par. But Woods restored parity at the ninth, repeating the feat from 20 feet after his eight iron approach shot had found the centre of the green.

It was a fitting way to end the round by Woods who started his birdie quest at the 13th, his fourth. Having chipped to three feet there, Woods added a two at the 180 yard 15th, holed from 15 feet on the next and then reached the fringe of the green in two at the 547 yard 18th and two putted.

Three more birdies came in the first five holes of the front nine, and he completed his day's work in style with a 20-foot putt to catch Björn whose own birdie at the eighth was his eighth in an impressive 14 hole stretch.

For Woods, it was the perfect start to his debut in the tournament and came after a tortuous 25 hour journey from Los Angeles which saw the American arrive in Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

"I was up at 3.30am because I couldn't sleep, so I'm pleased with that," said Woods. “I was wide awake and so because it was 3.30 in the afternoon in America I watched CNN to see what was going on in the world. But you just see the same thing over and over again.”

Another repetition came during his round as putt after putt dropped into the cup on the immaculately prepared Emirates putting surfaces. “I said yesterday that it’s really nice to putt on greens that are this smooth and true. I just got up there and hit the ball within birdie range and was able to convert.

“Thomas is one of my good buddies and it was nice to go out and play with him. Both of us played well too. From that point of view, we really enjoyed each other’s company.”

Two shots back, Harrington and Lara might have shared the same mark of 66 but the duo were left with differing emotions. Harrington admitted delight at the continuation of his early season form, while Lara was left ruing a double bogey six at the his final hole, the ninth, after driving into a bunker and lodging his seven iron approach shot up a tree adjacent to the green.

"I'm obviously a little disappointed with the finish,” said the 23 year old from Valencia who graduated from the top 15 on last season’s European Challenge Tour. “But it was still a good round, and this is the first time I've been on the leaderboard at a European Tour event. It was great to see my name ahead of Tiger's, but then all of a sudden I wasn't any more."

Harrington carried on the form of the last fortnight which saw him finish runner-up in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open and tied for fifth in the Caltex Singapore Masters.

Like the leading duo, the Irishman did not drop a shot all day, his six birdies spread evenly on each half of the Emirates course. “I didn’t really do too much at the start of my round,” he said. “I just couldn’t settle, perhaps I was trying a little too hard because you have a lot of expectations after playing so well in the previous two weeks.

“You want to get out there and play as well, when really I should just be going out there to play. I then made a couple of birdies which settled me down and I played nicely from then on.”

Of the players who completed their first round this morning, there was a remarkable finish in the group featuring Westwood, Price and Cabrera, all of whom birdied two of their last three holes to post respective 66s.

McNulty also took his place in the chasing pack but only after clearing himself over an incident on the tenth hole.

While taking his backswing, the Zimbabwean removed several leaves from a branch above his head but, after informing tournament officials of the incident, it was decided he had not improved his intended line of swing and therefore no penalty was incurred.

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    Tournament Leaderboard

    Pos Player nameNatHolePar
    T1FORSBRAND, AndersSWE18-10
    T1JOHNSTONE, TonyZIM18-10
    3ROCCA, CostantinoITA18-2
    4BJÖRN, ThomasDEN18-22
    T5WOODS, TigerUSA18-20
    T5HARRINGTON, PadraigIRL18-20
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