Thursday, 20 January 2011
Charl Schwartzel   (Getty Images)
Charl Schwartzel (Getty Images)
Charl Schwartzel continued his brilliant start to the 2011 Race to Dubai to claim the first round lead at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Four days after retaining the Joburg Open, the World Number 23 shot 64 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and is now a staggering 69 under for his last 17 rounds.

It might have been even better. The 26 year old was eight under after 12 holes, but bogeyed the 17th before picking up another stroke at the par five last.

“I went out and got off to a really good start,” said Schwartzel. “I've been struggling with my game, with my swing, for a while. Around a golf course like this, it's not best thing to be doing that.

“It just worked well today - drove the ball well and gave myself lots of opportunities and converted most of my chances, just a really solid round.”

As well as last week’s win, Schwartzel has been runner-up and had two fourth-place finishes in the first four European Tour events of the season.

“The sky's the limit, really,” said Schwartzel, when asked about his brilliant form. “If you really put your mind to it, to be realistic, my goal is to see if I can get in the top ten in the world.

“I feel I'm a good enough player to be in the top ten in the world. I don't like to think too far ahead, sort of play with each week what it gives you.

“Weeks like this where you've got a strong field, if you win the right week, you can jump the World Rankings quite a lot.”

One behind is Padraig Harrington, emerging from a winter when he made yet more changes to his golf game.

But that did not stop him carding a seven under par 65 in his first event of the season.

Harrington, without a European Tour victory since the 2008 US PGA Championship, had set the early pace helped by the luck of the Irish on the long eighth, his 17th.

The 39 year old's chip for eagle hit the flag at speed and dropped in.

"It was a shock it went in at that pace," he admitted.

Lying third after rounds of 66 were Swedes Alexander Noren and Niclas Fasth and US Open Champion and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell, who in a spectacular run birdied the last five holes for an inward 30.

One further back were defending champion Martin Kaymer and England's Danny Willett while World Number One Lee Westwood opened his year with a 69.

In a star-studded field including all four current Major champions, Masters Tournament winner Phil Mickelson marked his Middle East debut with a 71 including two birdies.

Constantly making adjustments to his swing, Harrington also has a new putting routine for the new campaign and just as important as the eagle was a closing 12 foot par putt after finding sand.

"The first putt of the day I was away with the fairies, but I made the most out of the round - another day that would have been 69," he said.

"One thing showed up in the States last year. I was about 156th in every putting category, so something needed to be done."

Harrington has never been one to leave any stone unturned in his quest to maximise his talent.

Westwood drove into the lake on the sixth for his only bogey, but was "delighted" overall.

"It's a course I battle with and it was nice to make that (15 foot) putt on the last - I felt I deserved to break 70," he commented before confirming that he will not be playing the Players Championship in Florida in May because of US PGA Tour restrictions placed on him as a non-member.

McDowell survived a rules inquiry after his round, with European Tour senior referee Andy McFee judging that the Ulsterman's ball had oscillated but not moved as he addressed it before his pitch to the last.

His 66 stood as a result and Willett was alongside him after another birdie at the 17th, but the 23 year old vicar's son finished with a disappointing bogey six and slipped back to joint sixth.


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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1KAYMER, MartinGER18-24
2MCILROY, RoryNIR18-16
T3GOOSEN, RetiefRSA18-14
T3MCDOWELL, GraemeNIR18-14
T5MAYBIN, GarethNIR18-12
T5LYNN, DavidENG18-12

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