Welshman Bradley Dredge remained on top of the leaderboard at the Dubai Desert Classic after the completion of the fog delayed first round on Friday morning. His stunning eight under par 64 gave him a three shot lead from Scotsman Scott Drummond and David Howell of England.
Both Dredge and Howell – early starters on Thursday – managed to finish their opening rounds in regulation time, with Drummond joining Howell in second place after finishing his first 18 holes on Friday morning.
The fog certainly did not cloud the performance of Dredge, who, after starting his round at the tenth, completed his front nine in five under par after a majestic eagle at the 18th before adding a further three birdies on the front nine to finish with 64.
Former Dubai Desert Classic winner Richard Green of Australia – who took the title in 1997 – was joined on four under par 68 by Englishman Simon Dyson, Raphaël Jacquelin of France and Ireland’s Paul McGinley when the first round was finally completed after another fog delay on Friday.
European Tour Number One Ernie Els of South Africa shot an opening day 70 to post a score of two under par – the same as his playing partner, Lee Westwood of England and World Number One Tiger Woods, who finished birdie, birdie on the resumption of his first round to get to two under.
Woods completed 12 holes before bad light ended play on Thursday evening. The 28 year old was going along nicely at two under par after nine holes, but registered a nasty double bogey seven at the par five tenth to take him back to level par before his fine finish put him within six shots of the leader.
Dredge, who won his maiden European Tour title at the Madeira Island Open last season, is playing only his third event of the year at the Emirates Golf Club and is hoping to begin the season in some style after his brilliant opening round.
“I never really play a great deal at this time of year,” said Dredge after signing for eight under par. “I always try to go to South Africa. I enjoy playing the courses there. It's a long way, but the time difference is only two hours. But then going to Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, I've been to each of the countries and I just think it's so much traveling, plus the time differences and the courses are different; I just don't think I'm going to be able to play my best golf. So I just spent some time at home and worked on my game there.
“I’ve worked on my game quite a bit since the end of last year and I always go on quite a long break over Christmas and New Year. Then I go to South Africa and I get practicing quite a bit and come home. So South Africa is a little bit like a practice event and hopefully I can build a good start for here on.
“I feel as though my preparation has been pretty good, but there’s a difference between hitting balls on the range and hitting putts on the practice putting green and actually getting out there and playing. To be honest, the biggest thing I was going to struggle with would be on the greens this week. I should be reading the greens and getting my feel, but I putted fantastic today.
“That part of my game was a bit of a surprise. Even though I have been working quite hard on the actual putting stroke itself, like I said, actually reading the greens is a different thing. I think generally you need to play your way into sort of getting the feel and the conditions, the greens are so good around here that if you hit a good putt, it is going to go in.”
Howell – like Els and Green a former Dubai Desert Classic champion – was delighted with his opening round after implementing some changes to his swing earlier in the week. The 28 year old, who won in 1999 at the nearby Dubai Creek course, picked up six birdies and a bogey en route to his 67 and would love to collect a second European Tour victory after going close on so many occasions during 2003, when he accumulated six top ten finishes and €881,640 on his way to finishing 16th on the Volvo Order of Merit.
If he can turn a few of those top ten finishes into victories this season, Howell will be knocking on the door of Bernhard Langer’s European Ryder Cup Team – a long term ambition for the Englishman.
“I managed to get with my coach last Tuesday and he just noticed a few things that he feels I could improve on – my set up, trying to get the club in one line on the backswing. All technical things, really, and I thought it was going to be really hard for me to get a feel for it. But the way the practice has gone since I got here, it’s just been easier and easier to do. Really, I'm swinging nicely.
“I definitely feel I can make The Ryder Cup. Obviously it all relies upon playing well – in previous years, I've been reasonably close. If I played like I did last year, I would be a million miles away without winning, but I think I can do it.
“I can't say I was not disappointed to play in the last Ryder Cup. I want to play in Ryder Cups, but I just look at it quite simply, really. When I'm good enough to get in, I will. There's disappointment because I'm not good enough, but ten years ago I'd say I'm pleased as punch to be where I am now. I'm very realistic.”
Drummond – who graduated to The European Tour after finishing seventh on the 2003 Challenge Tour Rankings – was content with his first round score despite bogeying the ninth, his last hole of the first round. He had made an electric start to his opening 18 holes on Thursday, with four straight birdies.
“I’ve had a couple of good opening rounds like that this year,” said Drummond. “I started the dunhill championship at Houghton with five birdies and then today I started with two birdies again which always settles you in a little bit. I started on the third hole today and went for the green which I missed left, then went into the greenside trap and holed my bunker shot.
“Then I holed a 20 footer on the next and was solid on the way in. I was off the edge of the green at the ninth and rolled it eight feet past, then rolled over the hole going for the par. But I’m happy with a good, solid start.”
Els was satisfied with a 70 after some mixed fortunes during round one. The South African tempered his five birdies with three dropped shots over the par 71, 7201 yard Emirates Golf Club.
“I made some mistakes, I guess that’s a little bit of rust – especially with my short game,” said Els. “I missed quite a few putts, but all in all I’m happy with it. I didn’t play well for my front nine and then made some mistakes on my back nine, so to shoot a two under par is not a bad start. You’re always looking for something better, but I can build on that.”
Woods, the world’s most recognised sportsman, has been an exceptional ambassador for golf since arriving in Dubai. The World Number One and his great friend, Mark O’Meara, decided to pay a visit to American troops on an aircraft carrier off Bahrain on Wednesday, and their visit had a profound affect on the servicemen and women.
“That was my idea, yes. They are out there protecting us and doing great things for our country and putting their lives on the line so it’s the least Mark and I could do – go out there and put a smile on their faces and spend some time with them. We only wish we could have spent some more time with them.”