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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 9 March 2021

Omega Dubai Desert Classic: Richard Sterne flying high again in UAE with Sergio Garcia close behind

South African is round one leader after struggling since near miss in Abu Dhabi two years ago

The last time Richard Sterne shone in a tournament in the UAE, he said he hoped it would set him up for a concerted spell in contention for trophies.

That was back at the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, when he had the Falcon Trophy snatched from his grasp at the 72nd hole by his final-round playing partner Shane Lowry.

As it turned out, he missed the cut the very next week up the road in Dubai, and has barely been spotted near the top of a European Tour leaderboard since.

Add in a wrist injury that all but accounted for his 2020 campaign, and the time since that Abu Dhabi epiphany has been wholly dispiriting for the 39-year-old South African.

As such, when Sterne signed for the lowest round of the opening day at the 2021 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, he was in no rush to get ahead of himself.

“It's always good to get off to a good start,” Sterne said, after an 8-under 64 that gave him a one-stroke lead at the end of day one at Emirates Golf Club.

“It helps you for the rest of the week I think. I've come close here before. So it would be nice to have a chance going into the weekend.

“I haven't had much chances going into weekends for a long time, so it would be nice to get through tomorrow, place myself well and see how the weekend goes.”

The world No 320 might be remaining cautious, but he did allow himself one moment of excitement in round one, when he nearly drained his tee-shot on the tricky par-3 15th.

“I was hoping that it was going to have a chance, and when I got up there and saw it was quite close,” Sterne said.

“I've only had one hole-in-one my whole life, so I'm not exactly prone to hitting a lot of hole-in-ones, but a two on that hole is really good.”

Sterne’s 64, which included nine birdies, left him a stroke ahead of Kurt Kitayama, with his South African compatriot Justin Harding and Sergio Garcia tied for third on 6-under par.

Garcia had shone the brightest in the showpiece three-ball of the morning matches.

Playing with Collin Morikawa, the 23-year-old PGA Championship winner from the United States, and Abu Dhabi champion Tyrrell Hatton, Garcia fired six birdies in a blemish-free round.

It was a show of class from a player who made his first cut on the European Tour two years before Morikawa was born.

“The desire’s still there,” Garcia said, after signing for a 66 that gave him a tie for the lead among the early finishers in the opening round.

“At the end of the day, we’re still competitors. I really enjoyed playing with Collin today, but my focus, it's a little bit different than it was with family and getting married and having kids.

“That doesn't mean that I'm not a competitor. I still love to compete. I love to practice, to try to get better, and that's what I try to do all the time.

“It's nice to see rounds like that one today, because it shows that I'm putting some good work in there and just got to keep doing more of that.”

Paul Casey is one of a group of four players who will start their second round on 5-under par.

The Englishman had made a rapid start, registering birdies at his first four holes on his return to the Classic for the first time in seven years.

“It was difficult then, and it's grown some teeth in the last few years, with some new tees,” Casey said.

“I’m very happy. It's difficult to read the greens and make putts around here. They have always been tricky, with a bit of grain in there. So I’m, very happy with that start.”

Published: January 28, 2021 07:37 PM

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