Andy Sullivan shot a new course record 61 to set the early pace at the inaugural Golf in Dubai Championship presented by DP World.
The Englishman sank five birdies on the front nine and did even better on the back nine with six more to end the opening day two strokes in front at the Fire Course of the Jumeirah Golf Estates on Wednesday.
Sullivan’s 11 birdies in a bogey free opening round saw him miss out on becoming only the second person to record a 59 in European Tour history after Oli Fisher at the 2018 Portugal Masters.
“I changed my putting routine yesterday and it’s helped me trust my instincts more instead of second guessing myself, which really helped,” Sullivan said of his performance on the day.
“Covid really changed everything for me. I had time to sit down and reflect on how I was being on the golf course.
“I refocused and started enjoying it again. I’ve started to play a lot better. Going out there and enjoying it, I know I’m giving myself the best chance to shoot a low score.
“Coming back to Jumeirah, I’ve always played pretty tidy here on the other course. It’s nice to get off to a flier on this one.”
Two strokes behind and locked in second are England’s Matt Wallace and Ross Fisher, and Antoine Rozner of France on nine-under-par 63.
A further stroke behind in joint fifth are the Scottish pair Craig Howie and Marc Warren and Swede Oscar Lengden, all on eight-under 64.
Wallace started strongly with six birdies on the front nine. He added a seventh on the 12th hole, bogeyed the next before rounding off with a birdie and eagle on the last two holes.
“My preparation has been the same for a long time now,” Wallace said. “As you know I prepare really well, as well as I possibly can to be ready to shoot those scores. That’s something that’s a given for my preparation for the week.”
Rozner carded seven birdies and an eagle on the 13th, and described it as his best round of the year.
“I have been playing well over the last few weeks but I couldn’t really put anything together in the same round and I think I did that very well today,” he said.
“I think it’s my best round of the year for sure. I putted great and saved a couple of great pars.
“I scored the par fives well even though I three-putted on the last one but it was an amazing round, nine under is my lowest on tour so I’m really happy with that.
“I think the two pars that I saved on eight and 17 kept the momentum going for me. I think the eagle on the par five 12th really made a big difference in the round, going from six under to eight under.”
Fisher was the pick of the late starters as he rolled in seven birdies and an eagle. He reached the turn at two under after gains at the third and fifth and continued his hot streak with successive lengthy birdie putts at the tenth and 11th.
“I feel like it's been there but haven't been able to find it,” Fisher said. “So to go out there and do that, I'm delighted.”
The day also marked the 49th National Day of the UAE and the Emirati invitational amateur Ahmed Skaik was provided with the opportunity to hit the opening tee shot to start the new event.