Dubai Desert Classic: Lee Westwood off to hot start

England's Lee Westwood benefitted from a strong offseason in Florida and fired a 5-under 67 to open Dubai Desert Classic, writes Steve Elling.

DUBAI // What cobwebs?

England's Lee Westwood, the top-ranked player in the Dubai Desert Classic field, showed up for his maiden round of 2013 looking fit and tan after having relocated to sunny Florida over the winter break.

One thing seemed certain after he logged a 5-under 67 on Thursday – he is rested, not rusted.

"It didn't feel like the first round of the year," he said.

Indeed, he played better than at any point at the end of the 2012 season, jumping into a share of the early lead at familiar Emirates Golf Club before finishing the day five shots behind leader Richard Sterne of South Africa.

It is probably a good thing that Westwood, the world No 8, uprooted himself and moved to a milder locale from snowy England, because the weather at Emirates Golf Club was warm and the scores were even hotter.

Westwood, 39, who is moving into a new home at Old Palm Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens in two weeks, spent more time practicing in the offseason than he had in years, thanks to the perfect Florida weather this time of year.

"I have come from a golf course in Florida where the greens are firmer, they are faster, I have been practicing out of thicker rough around the greens and it's a longer course as well," Westwood said. "I don't want to say it felt easy playing the golf course today..."

OK, we'll settle for easier.

Westwood did not have a bogey on the card and hit 15 greens in regulation. Making his 19th appearance at the Dubai event, it represented his lowest first-round score on the Majlis course since a 66 in 2001.

Westwood mixed in new woods, a hybrid club and putter in the offseason, yet experienced few transitional issues yesterday.

"They all behaved," he said.

Three more days of this and he might finally break through the final threshold – Westwood has three times finished second in Dubai, but never won. Most recently, he was second in 2010 and 2012.

"It's always nice to get off to a good start," he said. "The good part is, I've come to a course I have good feelings for, really. I've played well here in the past and I feel like it sets up well for my game."

He eagled the 18th and did not put himself in any difficult positions, making it nearly stress-free, a rarity for any player in a season opener.

"I didn't play like I had eight weeks off," he said.

That said, perhaps he should have relocated sooner.

"I tend to not look back in hindsight and have regrets and stuff like that," he said. "I'm pleased I've done it now and the first signs on the golf course have been good."

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