From The European Tour
Richard Sterne turned the form book on its head to reach the top of the leaderboard after a brilliant round of 64 on the opening day of the 2021 Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Afternoon starters traditionally tend to struggle to post low scores in the Middle East as the wind picks up and the greens dry out and get firmer, but Sterne and Kurt Kitayama put those thoughts to one side to climb above early leaders Sergio Garcia and Justin Harding.
The pair looked set to share the clubhouse lead at the end of the first round but South African Sterne rolled in his ninth birdie of the day at the ninth – his last – to nudge one ahead of the American at eight under par.
Garcia and Harding sit one shot further back of Kitayama in a tie for third, while Paul Casey, Belgian Thomas Detry, Spaniard Adrian Otaegui and late starter Robert MacIntyre were at five-under.
Sterne, who has won six European Tour events, is playing in only his fifth event since undergoing wrist surgery last March.
“Yeah, pretty happy,” Sterne said. “When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going and I hit a lot golf shots as well. Made quite a few birdies.
“So today, I was pretty happy with the performance.”
Kitayama – starting on the back nine – made a fast start with a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th before dropping his only shot of the day at the 14th.
The American hit back with an eagle two at the 17th before reaching the turn with another birdie to sit one adrift of clubhouse leaders Garcia and Harding.
Two groups back, Sterne was making his move after also reaching five under through nine holes following gains at the 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th – where he was inches from a hole-in-one – and 17th.
Kitayama and Sterne simultaneously became co-leaders when they birdied the third and first holes respectively. The latter nudged ahead on his own with another gain at the third but the American rolled a testing 20-footer to join him at seven-under.
The South African climbed to eight under thanks to a 15-foot birdie putt at the fifth, only to hand the shot back immediately at the next.
Kitayama will be disappointed not to profit on birdie opportunities as putts slid by the cup at the eighth and ninth, while Sterne managed to salvage pars at seventh and eighth before holing the decisive putt at the last to take the lead on his own.
“I haven’t played this well in a while, so it’s nice to get a round like this,” Kitayama said.
Garcia produced another vintage display as he rekindled old memories in Dubai.
The world number 45 won this event in 2017 before going on to claim his maiden major championship at the Masters later that year.
He carded a flawless 66 – the 11th time he has recorded a round of 67 or better at Emirates Golf Club – to get to six under par.
Harding quietly plotted his way up the leaderboard after bouncing back from an opening bogey with an eagle and five gains – including three in his last four holes – to take the early lead before he was joined by Garcia.