The cosmopolitan nature of The European Tour bubbled to the surface at Doha Golf Club as an Austrian, a Japanese, a Scot, a Swede and a pair of English golfers shared the lead after the first round of the Qatar Masters. The sextet all shot 68, four under par, on a windswept but warm opening day in the Gulf.
The equal division of the spoils was evident at the close of play with England’s Matt Blackey and Paul Broadhurst and Scotland’s Andrew Oldcorn all posting their scores before noon, while Swede Pierre Fulke, Japan’s Nobuhito Sato and Martin Wiegele of Austria emerged from the gathering gloom to share pole position.
Fortunately, there was no sign of the famed, swirling Shamaal wind which caused the first day’s play to be abandoned 12 months ago, and Broadhurst made hay in the first match out to shoot his 68, just weeks after picking up a nasty elbow injury at La Manga in Spain.
The English Ryder Cup player had to have his elbow strapped and missed the first two months of the season, resuming in Dubai last week and finishing tied 30th with his right elbow heavily bandaged.
“I checked it out with the Tour and it’s perfectly legal” said Broadhurst after closing with three birdies. “Rest was the only cure and – touch wood - it seems to be holding up all right.”
Oldcorn, the 2001 Volvo PGA champion, also made his seasonal debut in Dubai, missing the halfway cut, but four birdies in his opening nine holes helped him atone. Oldcorn said: “The key was to navigate my way round the course without making any serious mistakes. Last week I was very rusty but this is better. I worked hard over the weekend and I was more prepared to play today.”
Blackey opened with a 20 foot birdie putt on the tenth and drew on the confidence he derived from that fast start, picking up further shots at the 12th, 15th, 16th and 17th, although a plugged lie in a bunker at the 11th prevented him from leading outright.
Swedish Ryder Cup player Pierre Fulke picked up two shots over the last four holes to join the pack on 68 before Qualifying School graduate, Sato, became the fifth player to equal that mark.
Sato, from Tokyo, missed the cut in Dubai but enjoyed his latest experience in Doha. He admitted: “I was pretty shocked at the standard last week. On the Japan Tour, the cut at the Emirates would have been four or five over par. Here it was level par and that is the difference.”
While Broadhurst made his move in the first group, Wiegele was last to finish and a wonderful birdie two at the eighth followed by a clever up and down at the last secured his place in the group on four under par.
The Austrian, who graduated through the Challenge Tour last season, said: “Last week I didn’t play very well and changed some things in my swing and it felt good in practice. It went well today and the birdies came with my new found confidence. I didn’t miss many putts from six to ten feet.”
A further eight players are on 69, one behind the leaders, including 2000 Qatar Masters champion, Rolf Muntz, and former Masters Champion, Ian Woosnam.