Defending champion Henrik Stenson defied the desert winds to take the early clubhouse lead in the Dubai Desert Classic.
With gusts of over 20 mph and sand whipping across the fairways at the Emirates Golf Club, the battle was against the tough conditions as much as the course. Stenson’s two under par 70 therefore represented an impressive return as he moved to six under par 138.
The Swede has finished runner-up in the first two legs of the Gulf Swing, in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and is clearly playing well as he seeks to become the first player to successfully defend his title.
“It's very rare to have strong winds like this,” said the Dubai resident. “I play with my goggles. I had my glasses on for probably the last 12holes of the round, something like that. Early on it was still a bit dark so it was a little bit hard. But that's always a good thing, because I always play my Oakleys, it's nice to wear with them on a day like this.”
In addition to the problem of sand in your eyes, the wind was also making putting difficult, despite efforts to slow the greens down slightly with just one cut and some watering.
“It's just really awkward to stand over those three footers in the crosswind and pants are flopping and the putter feels like it wants to live its own life really, so it's just tricky to putt.”
A host of players are gathered a shot behind on five under par, including another Swede, Peter Hedblom and England’s Ross Fisher, who finished joint third last year. Both player’s matched Stenson’s two under par of 70.
Two Irishmen are also in the group on five under, Gary Murphy and Graeme McDowell, both players shooting level par 72, as did Australian Scott Hend.
“It's like you play golf, you get a free exfoliation with it, don't you,” admitted McDowell. “That's pretty impressive, playing golf in a sandblaster. You've got sand in your mouth and eyes, it's not pleasant.”