Pierre Fulke put his mind to playing golf courses rather than designing them at Doha Golf Club and was rewarded with a six under par 66 and the first round lead in the Qatar Masters. Fulke leads fellow Swede Henrik Stenson, Australian Richard Green and Garry Houston of Wales by a shot.
The 34 year old, who played his part in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States at The De Vere Belfry in 2002, admitted that his focus changed when he began turn his hand to designing.
However, with his five year exemption for winning the Volvo Masters due to expire at the end of this season, Fulke is ready to rededicate himself to his primary business of contesting golf tournaments.
Refreshed by seven birdies and a solitary bogey Fulke, who dropped to 134th on the Order of Merit last year, Fulke explained what went wrong. He said: “There were lots of reasons, really. I didn’t play well after The Ryder Cup in 2002 and just got very busy designing courses in Sweden.
“There are two already open in Sweden and two more to open down the line plus two nine hole courses and some re-designs. The fact that I didn’t play well after The Ryder Cup was self-inflicted because I was more passionate about designing than playing.
“Now I am trying to be more passionate about my game. After this tournament I will take eight weeks off to sort out the designing side of things then return to the Tour in May to play for five or six months.”
Fulke needs to perform this year, as his Membership eligibility hasn’t escaped his notice. He added: “I’ve never worried about that before but I guess I do now. It should concentrate the mind on playing again.”
Stenson could have finished level with Fulke but bogeyed his penultimate hole, the eighth. However with two top ten finishes already in the Heineken Classic and the Carlsberg Malaysian Open, the Swede is not complaining too loudly.
“It’s been a good time since I won The Heritage last September” he said. “I am a little disappointed today as I left a few shots out there, but overall I am happy with the way things are going.”
Similarly, left hander Green is content with his opening to the new year, encouragement coming in the form of a third place behind Niclas Fasth in the Holden New Zealand Open. After finishing one shot better than playing partner Fasth in Qatar, Green said: “I’ve been playing some good stuff. Finishing third in New Zealand was good but I was a bit unlucky to run into the eventual winner, David Toms, in the first round of the WGC – Accenture Match Play.”
Houston, a Challenge Tour graduate from 2004, had sweeter memories of this year's Qatar Masters than his previous experience in 2000. On that occasion he limped off in agony as a prelude to undergoing two knee operations.
This time he moved into a three way tie for second place with five birdies and no dropped shots. He said: "I didn't enjoy that event in 2000. I knew I wouldn't be able to play again until after the re-rank for Qualifying School players and that had a lot of consequences for me."
Just five days after his stirring victory in the Dubai Desert Classic, South African Ernie Els was back in action at Doha. However this time the adrenalin wasn’t flowing as Els signed for a one over par 73.
Typically, there were no excuses from the European Tour Order of Merit winner. He said candidly: “I couldn’t get anything going. I just wasn’t quite on and made a few mistakes. Nothing crazy, but it was frustrating. Now I need to get fired up and play better tomorrow.”