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Hansen on fire in Dubai desert

DENMARK's Anders Hansen set a strong early pace on a blustery opening morning of the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.

Despite strong early morning wind whipping sand across the Majlis course, Hansen picked up three birdies in his opening five holes to top the leaderboard by one stroke ahead of Italian Francesco Molinari.

Hansen, who posted the last of his three wins at last year's Joburg Open, sits sixth in the Race to Dubai after recording back-to-back third-placed finishes in South Africa at the start of the season.

After picking up a first birdie of the day at his second hole, the 39-year-old added back-to-back birdies to top the early leaderboard in Dubai.

Molinari cancelled out a first hole gain, but two birdies in three holes put the Italian on two-under-par and ahead of several players at one-under.

South African Open Championship winner Richie Ramsay, fellow Scot Paul Lawrie and Michael Hoey had all briefly moved onto two-under-par as Hansen made his move, but all slipped back alongside Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel, Brett Rumford and Ross Fisher two shots off the pace.

Schwartzel leads the Race to Dubai after winning the Africa Open and Joburg Open in successive weeks before a 14th place in Qatar last week.

Meanwhile, United States Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin last night defended his decision to appoint four vice-captains for this year's battle with Europe match at Celtic Manor, Wales.

Pavin, charged with defending the cup regained by predecessor Paul Azinger at Valhalla in 2008, must become the first American captain since Tom Watson at The Belfry in 1993 to win the Ryder Cup on European soil and he has chosen Tom Lehman, Jeff Sluman, Davis Love III and Paul Goydos as the men to help him achieve that goal.

Azinger chose three assistants in Olin Browne, Raymond Floyd and Dave Stockton to get the job done on home soil in Kentucky two years ago, but Pavin said he would feel more comfortable with a vice quartet when Team USA lands in Wales in October.

"I don't think it's necessary to have four, I think it's better for me," Pavin said after revealing the four last night. "With four I can have one go with each match. With three you lose that chance.

"I want to know what's going on and the more sets of eyes watching, there's more feedback and hopefully I'll make good decisions."

Elsewhere, PGA Tour chief Tim Finchem appeared to be pinning his hopes on golf club manufacturer Ping as the thorny issue of the controversial grooves rule continues to simmer.

Under United States Golf Association (USGA) rules implemented on January 1, U-shaped grooves have been outlawed, but a 20-year-old Ping-Eye 2 wedge is deemed legal because of a lawsuit won by Ping in 1990.

Finchem outlined three possible options available to the Tour -- maintaining the status quo, following a legal process to change the rule or banking on help from Ping.

"He (Ping CEO John Solheim) recognises this issue and, given certain circumstances, he might be open to at least evaluating a way to deal with this from a contractual standpoint," Finchem said. "If he were to take that step, it would be a terrific gesture on his part to deal with an issue that is troublesome."