Sweden’s Robert Karlsson defied the elements to card a four under par opening round at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy to open up a two shot lead midway through a windswept first day in Doha.
Former European Number One Karlsson, who had his 2009 campaign disrupted following eye problems, hit every green in regulation with one only dropped shot to his name for a 68, despite high winds and thick rough limiting scoring.
Colombian Camilo Villegas dropped his only shot of the day at the last following a three putt to join World Number 14 Sergio Garcia heading the chasing pack at two under par at Doha Golf Club.
“The course is set up very difficult so I am happy with the round especially given the conditions. I hit all the greens and had a lot of long putts, but that’s what you have to when’s it’s windy so I am very happy,” said Karlsson.
“The weather makes it harder not the course - it is set up very fair and it is in a great condition.”
Karlsson, starting on the much easier back nine, made a slow start but kick-started his round courtesy of a touch of fortune with an eight iron approach over the water at the 15th that took a fortunate bounce and rolled in for an eagle two from 182 yards.
An eight foot birdie putt a hole later left Karlsson two behind early pacesetter Louis Oosthuizen, but while the South African struggled on the front nine, the Swede added two further birdies with his only blemish a three putt bogey at the seventh.
Defending champion Alvaro Quiros, Robert-Jan Derksen of The Netherlands, Dane Anders Hansen, South African Hennie Otto, Scot Marc Warren, France’s François Delamontagne and Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin were the only others to beat par at one under.
Warren produced the only bogey free round with a solitary birdie, while Maybin signed for just one bogey.
Desert expert Oosthuizen had set the early pace at five under par through the easier back nine, but last year’s runner-up saw his hard work undone after the turn, and finished with a double bogey.
Oskar Henningsson, 1999 champion Andrew Coltart and Spaniard Ignacio Garrido joined Oosthuizen at level par with the remaining 46 morning starters over par.
On the course Germany’s Marcel Siem made an electrifying start with three birdies over the opening four holes to sit just one behind the leaders.