The blistering sunshine was hardly Scandinavian but, nevertheless, it turned out to be Sweden’s day in the first round of the Qatar Masters as Klas Eriksson and Joakim Haeggman shared the lead at Doha Golf Club.
After waiting nearly two hours for early morning fog to lift, the Swedish duo took their chance to shine when it arrived, both posting six under par 66s to lead the way by one shot from Ian Garbutt, Søren Hansen and Adam Scott.
Because of the delay, the first round was not fully completed with 13 groups still on the course and one or two players still in with a chance of stealing Eriksson and Haeggman’s thunder. But the duo did not mind and admitted they were enjoying their time in the limelight.
Eriksson, who regained his card through last season’s Challenge Tour, completed a flawless day’s work with three birdies in each half, the highlight being a four iron to 25 feet at the testing 224 yard third before rolling in the putt for two.
“It was one of my best ever rounds today,” said Eriksson who played regularly on The European Tour between 1994 and 1998 before losing his playing privileges. “I didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hit it exactly where I wanted it to go, so I was very happy.
“I played well last weekend in Dubai and finished 12th and I gained a little bit more confidence from that because I felt like my ball striking had improved. On the range this week, I hit the ball better than I had ever done so I had good expectations coming into the week.”
Ironically, fellow countryman Haeggman felt the exact opposite, having carded rounds of 75 and 74 to miss the cut comfortably at the Emirates Golf Club. But the 32 year old, who was the first Swede to play in The Ryder Cup Matches in 1993, quickly pinpointed the reason.
“I changed my putter last week in Dubai and didn’t putt well at all so I quickly realised I’d made a mistake and switched back to my old one for this week and it was a lot better,” he said.
Proof of that pudding came with a quick glance at his scorecard which showed, like Eriksson, not a single blemish, the only difference being that Haeggman made four birdies on the inward half of the Doha course, and two on the outward stretch.
“I was very, very steady out there which was good,” said Haeggman. “I drove the ball particularly well on the back nine and actually had about two or three other good chances for birdie which just slipped past – but I can’t really complain.
“I am trying really hard to get back to the level I once was and to get into the top 50 or so in the world would be my main goal because then I could compete in the Majors and the World Golf Championship events. The standard is so good now that it is really hard to compete against the players on The European Tour who play those events, but that is my aim.”
Of the trio in third spot on 67, perhaps the most disappointed was Australian Adam Scott who missed numerous chances aside from making six birdies. “I think five under was the least I could have scored the way I was playing,” he said.
“I do feel a little tired though. I was up at 5am but then we had the two hour delay which tends to make you feel a little worse – if I’d known it was going to be like that I’d have grabbed another couple of hours in my bed!”
Scott will at least have the luxury of a longer lie-in before his second round begins at 11.40am, a luxury not accorded to the 39 players who will have to get up extra early to complete their first rounds before beginning their second rounds.
Further down the leaderboard, ten players finished their first rounds on four under par 68 including defending champion Tony Johnstone and Colin Montgomerie, who rallied well with a flawless effort after missing the cut last week in Dubai.
The Scot’s round was all the more creditable considering he ended it suffering from a splitting headache. “The sun here is really intense and the glare really got to me out there,” said Montgomerie.
“I actually practiced wearing sunglasses on Monday and Tuesday but I didn’t really think they were ‘me’ for the tournament. However, the way I feel now, I will give serious consideration to wearing them in the second round.”
Meanwhile, Gary Player, winner of nine Major Championships and one of the legends of golf, helped to inaugurate the new Doha Golf Academy in Qatar, where he is competing in the Qatar Masters.
Surrounded by budding young golfers, Player was assisted by His Excellency Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamed Al Thani, President of the Qatar National Olympic Committee (tenth left) and Hassan Al Naimi, President of the Qatar Golf Association (eighth left).