Thursday, 04 February 2016
Day 1 Highlights - Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Alex Noren admitted he exceeded his own expectations after establishing a one-shot first-round lead at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

The Swede finished second here last year but revealed he does not believe his game suits the Emirates Golf Club layout, which often requires a right-hander to draw the ball from right to left.

Couple that with a less than satisfactory warm-up and you could have been forgiven for expecting the Nordea Masters champion to struggle on Thursday, but he recorded a bogey-free 66 to sit six under, a shot clear of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Trevor Fisher Jnr, countryman Peter Hanson and Brett Rumford.

Race to Dubai champion Rory McIlroy was then in the group at four under with 28 players within three shots of the lead.

"I hit a lot of good shots but a few bad shots and got away with it, and then you end up with 66," said Noren, who only missed a single cut last season at the US Open Championship.

I'm very happy, I didn't really expect it and then it feels even better - Alex Noren

"I was very happy when it was all over because it didn't feel that good warming up. I hit my irons really good all day, pretty average driving.

"It was tough on a few holes, a lot of draws here and I don't like to draw it. So I'm really happy.

"I hit a lot of fades off the tee and here you know it's a drawer's course. So you feel a bit down as a fader. But you just have to accept it and maybe play less aggressive on some holes."

Noren and Cabrera-Bello were playing in the same group and it looked like the 2012 champion was going to steal the show again with birdies on the 11th, 13th, 17th and 18th.

But he could only add one more gain on the third as Noren made birdies on the first, fourth, fifth and seventh, to add to those at the tenth and 17th to move ahead.

Rumford had set the early pace to turn in 33 but would make only one further gain on the third while Fisher Jnr turned in level par 35 but picked up shots on the tenth, 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th to catapult himself into contention.

Hanson, the best of the afternoon starters, briefly joined Noren at the top after his seventh birdie of the day on the seventh but dropped a shot on the ninth - his closing hole - after a three-putt.

Two-time winner and defending champion McIlroy opened with a bogey on the tenth but recovered in fine style to sit in a group with plenty of pedigree in Dubai, alongside three-time champion Ernie Els and 2011 winner Alviro Quiros.

Simon Dyson, David Lipsky, Graeme Storm, Bernd Wiesberger and Chris Wood were also at four under.

Henrik Stenson, the 2007 champion, Graeme McDowell and amateur James Allan were then all in the group a further shot back in a share of 14th.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1WILLETT, DannyENG18-19
T2SULLIVAN, AndyENG18-18
T2CABRERA-BELLO, RafaESP18-18
T4QUIROS, AlvaroESP18-16
T4AN, Byeong HunKOR18-16
T6MCILROY, RoryNIR18-15

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