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Thursday, 01 February 2007

In 1998, the closest Ross Fisher got to Tiger Woods was passing him on the practice range at Wentworth Club where the American was playing in the World Match Play and the then teenage Englishman was picking up practice balls, his job for the week. Nine years later, Fisher, now an established European Tour professional, had the delight of looking down on the World Number One from the top of the Dubai Desert Classic leaderboard where he shared the limelight with Graeme McDowell after round one.

Fisher and McDowell both carded excellent opening 65s on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club to lead the way by a shot from three time champion Ernie Els, José Manuel Lara and Jyoti Randhawa, with defending champion Woods a further two shots back after his steady opening 68.

Fisher, who finished a fine 66th on the Order of Merit in his rookie year on The European Tour in 2006, carried on where he left off with a fine opening effort which featured eight birdies in total and which more than made up for his only dropped shot of the day at the demanding 485 yard par four sixth.

The 26 year old Englishman, now attached to the Wentworth Club, then revealed the full details of his only previous encounter with the American at the famous English venue.

“I must have been about 18 years old and I got the job of working on the range all week, sitting at the table and giving them out the golf balls and then going to collect them in the little van once they were finished,” he said.

“Once they had gone out to the course there wasn’t really much to do so I did sneak off and watch a bit of the golf and I actually saw Tiger beat Woosie (Ian Woosnam) at the first play-off hole (in the second round). You couldn’t get too close but even from a distance you could see the guy was pretty impressive.”

Should he carry on in a similar vein and Woods make the expected charge which has seen him win his last seven stroke play tournaments on the US PGA Tour, then there could be an opportunity for Fisher to view the World Number One at a lot closer quarters.

“Obviously it is still early days but if that did happen and I was paired with him it would be a real thrill to see what he is like close up and in person,” said Fisher. “So yes, hopefully that will happen.”

Sharing the first round lead, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell admitted his excellent round was a combination of three factors; the recent work put in on his swing, the help of caddie Ken Comboy who won this event in the company of Thomas Björn in 2001, and the contentment he felt off the course having moved his home back to his native Portrush.

“As far as my game is concerned, there are a lot of positives in there,” he said. “It is hard to put an exact number on it but I would think it feels about 75 per cent. But I do feel like many parts of my game have improved immensely and I’m very happy where it is right now.

“As for Ken, he is pretty experienced and to have his knowledge on the bag is great and as for Portrush, while it might not be the ideal base from a travelling point of view, it is where I can go home and really relax and rest and be surrounded by my family and friends, the people who have always supported me.”

All things manifested itself in a flawless opening round for the Ulsterman the highlight of which was an eagle three at the 13th along with five other birdies thrown in for good measure.

Headlining the trio in third place was three time champion Els, who took advantage of his early tee time to make a bold start in his quest for title number four. Unquestionably the highlight of the South African’s day came at the 12th where he holed his seven iron second shot for an unlikely eagle two.

“It was a nice start,” he said. “Anything under 70 is a good start and the conditions were perfect this morning and the golf course was in unbelievable shape. I feel comfortable on the course here and I love the way they set it up. I feel excited playing here because I enjoy the course.”

Sharing tenth spot after his opening 68, Woods admitted he felt a little frustrated with a faltering putting stroke but satisfied overall with his position in the field after the opening day.

“I hit the ball well today, a little couple of loose ones with my irons but overall I feel I had control of the ball – I’ve just got to get organised on the greens,” he said. “The greens themselves are absolutely perfect, you just have to get them started on line and I didn’t do that very well today.”

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