World Number Three Retief Goosen shrugged off any signs of rust from a six week break as he burst out of the blocks in the Dubai Desert Classic with an eight under par 64 to share the early clubhouse lead with Australian Richard Green and Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
Goosen, who edged ahead of Phil Mickelson in the Official World Golf Rankings as he enjoyed a welcome rest, fired six birdies and an eagle in a faultless opening round at the Emirates Golf Club.
“The first three holes I was all over the golf course but I hit a good drive down the 13th and hit a five iron in there to about 20 feet and made the putt,” said Goosen. “Suddenly you feel a little bit better and more relaxed. So it was nice to get off to that start and then I had a good run in the middle of the course.”
Goosen, who has already one European Tour title under his belt this season following his win in the South African Airways Open at the end of last year, heads a star-studded cast that includes late starter Tiger Woods, the World Number One, and defending champion Ernie Els, the World Number Five.
“I'm glad that the field is so strong,” added Goosen. “You know, it doesn't matter where you play in Europe these days, the field is strong. You've got to play really well to win. The golf is so strong on The European Tour, but it's nice to see Ernie and Tiger here.”
Left-hander Green rekindled memories of his 1997 triumph with a bogey-free 64 to join Goosen at the top of the leaderboard. Three birdies on the front nine laid the foundations to his round before five birdies coming home catapulted him through the field.
But Green’s back nine was eclipsed by that of Donaldson who raced home in a staggering seven under par 30, finishing with six successive birdies to move into a three-way share of the lead.
Els launched his defence with a solid four under par 68 to sit alongside a host of players former European Number One Lee Westwood of England.