28 January 2021: As the sun shone on a resplendent Emirates Golf Club, the golfers competed against each other to produce a slew of low scores in the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic. Richard Sterne shot a sizzling 64 to ride up the leaderboard, surprisingly in the afternoon heat. Kurt Kitayama trailed him on the heels, just one shot back. Earlier in the day, Justin Harding and Sergio Garcia enjoyed the clubhouse lead with a 66, before settling into T3. Shubhankar Sharma played some solid golf for his two-under 70 containing four birdies.
Gaganjeet Bhullar is staring at an empty weekend, barring a spectacular effort on Friday. He shot 77 in the first round, after conceding three bogeys in his last four holes.
Shubhankar started with three straight pars, before spilling a shot on the par-3 fourth hole. He addressed the damage to his card immediately though, as he fired back-to-back birdies at five and six. With three more pars, he coasted past the bend in 34 strokes and added a birdie on the tenth to go two-under.
But another bogey on the par-3 tenth hole dented his card again. Shubhankar shot five pars from there as he steadied his boat in search of a smooth finish. He managed just that with a birdie on the 17th hole to account for 2-under returns from the first day.
Sterne made nine birdies with a lone blemish at the par-4 sixth hole. Greens tend to play faster in the afternoon as the moisture evaporates under the desert sun, but neither that nor heavier winds during the afternoon session could hold Sterne back on Thursday. Sterne underwent wrist surgery in March of last year, but the South African showed no signs of rust. He is playing just his fifth event since returning from surgery and the six-time European Tour winner hopes to keep up his good run into a promising weekend.
“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.”
Garcia is familiar with the iconic course in Dubai, shooting a spotless card on Thursday. He won the title here in 2017, before going on to clinch the only major title of his career at the Masters. The Spaniard shot 66 for his eleventh round of 67 or better at the Emirates Golf Club. Despite a bogey to open the day, Harding played some relentlessly attacking golf for an eagle and five birdies. He shot three birdies off his last four holes to emerge as an early leader, before conceding space for Kitayama and Sterne.
Paul Casey, returning to Dubai event for the first time since 2014, was hardly affected by his absence. He opened with four straight birdies, getting most of the work done early in his round for an impressive 67.
Paul Casey, Thomas Detry, Adrian Otaegui and Robert MacIntyre are all at five-under 67 in T5.