Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry frittered away great scores as veteran Pádraig Harrington produced a fast finish to lead the Irish challenge after the opening round of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
As McIlroy, Lowry and Jonathan Caldwell posted one-under 71s that left them outside the top 40, Harrington’s short game was superb, and he made the most of it and birdied two of his last three holes to share 27th after a two-under 70.
“It was a rousing finish and hard to believe as it came from nowhere,” said the Dubliner, who holed from off the green at the 16th, then brushed in a six-footer at the 17th to lie five shots behind Dane Joachim B Hansen.
“It would have been nice to birdie the last, but I got the most out of my round today. Early on, I missed a few chances, but I stuck in there and managed to hole a few at the end though a 69 would have been good.”
Caldwell was happy with a 71 on his Desert Classic debut, unlike Lowry and McIlroy, who got to three-under-par before going backwards and headed for the practice ground and the putting green respectively after the firm new greens at the Emirates Golf Club proved a challenge.
Twice a winner of the event, McIlroy was three-under after five holes and while he birdied his 10th hole from six feet, he bogeyed three of the easiest holes on the course – the 18th after a visit to water, the driveable second after a hook into the bushes forced him to take a penalty drop, and the par-three seventh following a bad push.
“Oh Rory, that’s so bad,” McIlroy groaned as he short-sided himself there and eased his frustration by putting a dent in the advertising hoarding behind the tee. “I thought I hit the ball nicely most of the day,” McIlroy said. “There were a couple of loose shots in there. And 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. Thought I did most things pretty well but just need to tidy a few things up, which is where I’m going right now.”
Lowry, who finished with two bogeys, birdied his opening hole, the 10th, from five feet and made a nine-footer at the 14th and a 16-footer at the fourth but missed five other birdie chances inside 15 feet. It was also nearly day for McIlroy’s playing partner Collin Morikawa, who birdied seven of his first 11 holes, then bogeyed three of his last four to open with a 68.
The world number two was tied for ninth, three shots behind clubhouse leader Hansen when play was halted because of darkness with six players still to finish.
The Dane, who won the AVIV Dubai Championship in November, continued his run of hot form in Dubai by carding a seven-under 65 to lead by one stroke from South Africa’s Justin Harding, who was on the 18th in three when play was suspended.
Former champion Sergio Garcia, his compatriot Pablo Larrazábal, England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Italy’s Andrea Pavan were tied third with Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, who was on the 18th tee.
Meanwhile, Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow struggled on their seasonal debuts in the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. Meadow took 33 putts in three-over 75 as Maguire hit just seven fairways in a one-over 73.
American Danielle Kang opened with seven-under 65 in her bid for back-to-back wins to lead by two strokes from Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and compatriot Gerina Mendoza.
In amateur golf, it was a rest day for Ireland in the Octagonal Matches at Costa Ballena in Cadíz, while in the Portuguese International Ladies Amateur Championship, Lahinch’s Aideen Walsh added a 74 to her opening 73 to lead the Irish challenge.
She’s tied for 22nd on three-over at Montado Golf Resort, eight shots behind Portugal’s Sofia Barroso, Italian Francesca Fiorellini and Germany’s Helen Briem.
Hermitage’s Kate Lanigan is tied 42nd on seven-over after making six birdies in an excellent 71, with Kirkistown Castle’s Beth Coulter a shot further back after a 77.
Dubai Desert Classic (4.0am), Farmers Insurance Open (4.0pm), LPGA Gainsbridge (4.30pm)
All live on Sky Sports