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Smith, Rai and Burmester shine at Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

Smith, Rai and Burmester shine at Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

Jordan Smith and Aaron Rai produced superb first rounds of 65 to join early clubhouse leader Dean Burmester on five under par at the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Jordan Smith

Smith has been consistent since golf's resumption following the global health crisis lockdown which halted the schedule for over four months, recording five top 40 finishes in eight events.

And that consistency translated over to County Antrim as the Englishman was one of only two players to go bogey free as he carded five birdies in a testing first round at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, where just 22 players were in the red numbers.

Early starter Burmester recorded a sixth placed finish at the English Championship and a top 25 placing at the ISPS HANDA Wales Open and continued his fine form in Northern Ireland.

The South African raced to seven under after 12 holes as thoughts of only the second 59 in European Tour history came into the reckoning as he led by five shots.

However, a double bogey at 17th saw his advantage cut to three as he set the clubhouse lead at five under before he was joined by Smith and Rai.

Smith's fellow Englishman Rai was only the second player to not blemish his card as he came home in 32 courtesy of four birdies on the back nine to make it a three way tie at the top late in the day.

"I am happy with today," Smith said. "I need to go work on my driving a little bit and holing out but apart from that, very happy.

"It is all weather dependent. If it stays like this it is going to be a challenge for everyone including myself, so more of the same, more good golf, and see how it goes."

Aaron Rai

Smith got his round underway at the second hole when he registered his first birdie before adding another at the eighth.

The 27-year-old picked up further shots at the tenth and 12th to sit one adrift of Burmester and when he rolled in his fifth birdie at the 16th, he was joint leader.

Smith found the rough with his tee shot at the 17th but produced a fine approach to reach the green before rolling his birdie putt short.

He had the chance to go into the solo lead at the par five last but was wayward off the tee once again, finding the thick stuff.

His approach to the green also flew right into more rough but hit a fine chip to 12 feet for birdie, only for his effort to pull up short by a matter of inches to stay at five under.

Burmester began his round with a par, which was followed by a hat-trick of birdies from the second to propel the South African into an already commanding early advantage at the top of the leaderboard.

He reached the turn in 30 thanks to a birdie at the seventh before the 2017 Tshwane Open winner started the back nine in positive fashion.

The 31-year-old picked up shots at the tenth, 11th and 12th to climb up to seven under, with his closest rivals some five shots adrift.

A double bogey six at the 17th trimmed his lead to three shots at five under before a finishing par saw him set the early pace in Ballymena.

"For 16 holes, I played flawless golf pretty much," Burmester said. "I didn’t really miss a shot.

"A couple of great up and downs kept the momentum going and then unfortunately on 17 I fell asleep over a three-footer but other than that, honestly I played great."

Rai worked his way into his opening round and carded his solitary birdie on the front nine at the sixth.

However, he it was on the back nine when he found his range as he holed gains at the tenth, 12th, 14th and 16th to move alongside Smith and Burmester.

The par five last represented a great chance for Rai to nudge ahead on his own but he could not improve his score from five under in near darkness.

Toby Tree endured a roller coaster round which saw an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys for a 66 to sit in solo fourth place.

Irish amateur James Sugrue carded a superb round of 67 to reach three under, alongside Swedish pair Oscar Lengden and Rikard Karlberg. American John Catlin and Scot Stephen Gallacher, who was co-leader after seven holes, were also at that mark.

Shane Lowry's return to home soil after clinching the The 148th Open Championship saw him finish on five over par, while European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington ended his first round at one over par.

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