Ricardo Santos (Getty Images)
Ricardo Santos talked up his “amazing” short game after a seven under par 65 gave him a one shot lead after the opening round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The Portuguese player, whose victory in Madeira last May made him the first Portuguese winner for 20 years on The European Tour and earned him the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year trophy, finished the day one in front of England's Anthony Wall, Scot Peter Whiteford and Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka.
The 30 year old from Faro made six unsuccessful trips to The European Tour Qualifying School before coming through the Challenge Tour two years ago and his fourth-placed finish in Abu Dhabi on Sunday has taken him back into the Official World Golf Ranking's top 200.
"My short game was really amazing," he said after coming home in 31.
"Last week gave me a lot of confidence, but I don't want to put any more pressure on my shoulders - I just want to enjoy it.
“Winning Rookie of the Year gave me a lot of confidence for this season. I practice a lot to have a more consistent game and that's my target for this season, that and just enjoy myself.”
Wall has had only one victory in more than 400 European Tour starts, but was a joint runner-up in the Irish Open last July and, like Whiteford, did not drop a stroke.
"You don't often get Qatar with no wind and I took advantage of it," said the 32 year old from Kirkcaldy – one of the few players competing yet to win in a field containing 80 European Tour champions.
Kaleka was a late addition to the leaderboard – in the last group out it was only when he birdied his last hole that the Challenge Tour graduate moved into a share of second.
“I'm pretty happy,” he said. “I played solid all day; I holed a few putts and hit my irons really well.”
World Number Four Justin Rose suffered a one stroke penalty that left him three shots behind Santos.
Runner-up to Jamie Donaldson in Abu Dhabi last week, Rose had to be content with a four under par 68 after he was penalised a foot from the hole on the short 17th.
The Englishman had missed his birdie attempt and was addressing the ball ready to tap in when he noticed it moved a fraction.
European Tour referee Paul Carrigill, himself a former player on the circuit, was called and with no wind to blame for the change in position he imposed the extra shot and told Rose to move the ball back before continuing.
The incident did not unsettle him, however. After holing for a bogey four the 32 year old found the green in two at the 589 yard last and two-putted for his sixth birdie.
One of Rose's playing partners was Ryder Cup teammate Martin Kaymer, who matched his 68, while World Number Five Louis Oosthuizen finished with a double-bogey seven for a 71.
Sergio Garcia started his season with a 69, but defending champion Paul Lawrie and Open Champion Ernie Els could do no better than 72 and could well have to improve on that just to survive the halfway cut.