Hansen lights up Dubai Desert Classic in near darkness

Joachim B. Hansen of Denmark plays a shot on the 14th fairway during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic. (AP)
Joachim B. Hansen of Denmark plays a shot on the 14th fairway during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic. (AP)

South African Justin Harding was lurking one-stroke behind Hansen after 17 holes

By James Jose

Published: Thu 27 Jan 2022, 9:05 PM

Even the darkness couldn’t put a stop on Joachim Brandt Hansen. Even as the sun had long gone behind Dubai’s picture-postcard skyscrapers, the 31-year-old from Denmark kept his composure to take the clubhouse lead on the opening day of the rebranded and Rolex Series-elevated Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

On a day when the lead changed hands amongst the big guns that included world No.2 Collin Morikawa and Spaniards — Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Dubai winner, and Pablo Larrazabal — the Dane fired a blemish-free seven–under par 65 at the revamped Majlis Course on Thursday.

When the hooter sounded out on the course to signal the suspension of play due to darkness, South African Justin Harding was lurking one-stroke behind Hansen after 17 holes. Harding’s group and the remaining groups who are yet to finish their first round, will start at 7.45 am on Friday. The second round tee times will begin at 7.10 am.

Garcia and Larrazabal, who briefly held the clubhouse lead, are tied third, two shots adrift of Hansen, along with four others including Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood.

Morikawa ended up with four-under 68 to be tied ninth.

World No.5 Norwegian Viktor Hovland, who finished tied for fourth at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last week, is tied ninth.

Meanwhile, two-time Dubai champion Rory McIlroy began well before tapering off towards the end to finish at one-under to be tied 46th.

India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who had a dream run in Abu Dhabi, finishing tied for second, a career-high finish in a Rolex Series, had to settle for par after going toe-to-toe with pace setter Morikawa.

Reigning champion Englishman Paul Casey, who won by four strokes over South African Brandon Stone last year, shot a two-under to be tied 27th.

China’s Haotong Li, who sensationally beat McIlroy by a shot back in 2018, slipped to tied 71st after briefly holding second spot behind Morikawa.

Coming back to Hansen, the Dane didn’t put a foot wrong on the day, reeling off seven birdies. Teeing off with fellow Dane and 2018 Ryder Cup-winning captain Thomas Bjorn, and Frenchman Victor Perez, Hansen stormed ahead with successive birdies from two to five. He also sunk consecutive birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th and had another birdie on the par-5 13th. Hansen could have ended up being eight-under but was unable to convert a birdie on the par-5 18th after pitching it to less than 10 feet.

“It was pretty good. I kept the ball in play. I didn’t drive it that well but I putted fantastic,” Hansen said after his round.

Hansen admitted he felt relaxed heading into the season in the knowledge that he won towards the end of last season.

“I’m a bit more relaxed and have a bit more belief in myself. But I still have to play pretty good golf to play here in 2023. So, just trying to do my best,” he added.

Meanwhile, teeing off from the 10th along with Morikawa and Bernd Wiesberger, McIlroy had a great start and was three-under through five holes, including a neat birdie putt which he sank from 38 feet on the par-3 11th, his first birdie of the day.

But McIlroy was to close out his front nine with a bogey on the par-5 18th to take the turn at 35. He managed to recover that with a birdie on the par-4 first. But then, McIlroy was unable to build on that one following bogeys on the par-4 second and the par-3 seventh.

“I started well and hit the ball nicely,” McIlroy said about his start to the day.

“I thought I hit the ball nicely most of the day. There were a couple of loose shots in there. I got away with a tee shot on 17. I feel like I bogeyed three of the easiest holes on the course, 18, 2 and 7. A couple of bad decisions or mental mistakes and then maybe made a couple of bad swings in there as well,” he added.

Morikawa was disappointed with how his round ended after starting so well.

“It was a disappointing finish but I’ve been working Monday through Wednesday, even late after the Pro-Am trying to figure things out. When you are thinking about so much, you always have to remember to go play golf. I’m happy with four-under. Not thrilled, but to see just some things that I’ve been working on just show up on the course was really nice,” said Morikawa.

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