Dubai Desert Classic: McIlroy fights back but Pieters grabs lead

Pieters did not appear to be unduly affected by the wind, cold, or drizzles during the day as he played some solid golf

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland during Day One of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. — Photo by Shihab
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland during Day One of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. — Photo by Shihab

Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 10:01 PM

With one eye on the skies and the other on the greens, World No 1 Rory McIlroy battled back from a sluggish start to finish a truncated first round at the DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, three shots behind the leader, Thomas Pieters.

The Northern Irishman, who is chasing a record-equalling third title at the Emirates Golf Club following wins in 2009 and 2015, had to endure not just the cold winds but a pair of bogeys in his first six holes.

However, he showed just why is regarded as one of the best golfers in the world today, stringing together three birdies over four holes to finish the day on 2 under par.

Pieters, last year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Champion, looked unaffected by the wind, cold or light drizzle during the day as he turned in some solid golf to lead the field on 5 under after 15 holes.

Several players including Matthew Jordan, Daniel Gavins, and Oliver Wilson returned cards of 4-under 68 together with Tommy Fleetwood (after 15 holes), Victor Perez (16 holes), and Patrick Reed (16 holes).

Talking about how he plans to complete his round on Friday, the 6foot 5inch Belgian said: "I'll try to do the same thing. I'm finishing on the seventh, eighth and ninth - tough holes. If I can finish with three pars, I'll have a very nice opening round."

Speaking about how the Majlis Course behaved after enduring heaving rainfall overnight Pieters said: “I think it played fair. Obviously, they guarded against some of the conditions, and they moved a few tees forward on holes like 12, where you normally are hitting long irons, and you're hitting short wedges.

“If you found fairways and had ball-in-hand, it was definitely playable.

Pieters, who began his round on the tenth tee, warmed up when he holed a huge birdie putt at the 14th only to let it slide on the par-three 15th.

The Belgian reached the turn in good shape following brilliant birdies at the 17th, and 18th and moved to five under with two more birdies at the third and fourth.

England's Daniel Gavins opted to finish his round in failing light to return a four under 68, a score matched by countrymen Oliver Wilson and Matthew Jordan.

One of several six-footers on the European Tour, Gavins would have been pleased with the six birdies he collected against two bogeys.

"I feel pretty good,” he said. “Struggled quite a lot off the tee today, which is a bit frustrating, but my putting kind of held me.

“I holed quite a lot of nice putts to keep me going. Disappointed with the tee-shots but I'll sort that."

The Classic, now in its 35th year (it was not held in 1991), only teed off at 1:15 pm local time thanks to the sterling efforts of the grounds men worked relentlessly from the wee hours of the morning to rescue the course after the battering it took from the rains.

Play was suspended earlier than expected due to fading light conditions.

Only half the field of 132 players were out on the course on Thursday with the other half scheduled to tee off at 8 am on Friday as the tournament organisers try to play catch-up.

The second wave will start their first rounds from 8.20. am.

Second day's play open to public

Organisers of the DP World Hero Dubai Desert Classic have announced that the tournament will welcome spectators for the second day of the event to watch the action live at the Emirates Golf Club.

The opening round of the Rolex Series event on Thursday was played behind closed doors to the rains and as a precautionary measure.

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