Victor Perez surges ahead at DP World Tour Championship but Race to Dubai wide open

Almost the entire field in contention for season's top prize at Jumeirah Golf Estates

Never before has the 27th ranked player on the European Tour signed his card after the first round of the final tournament of the season, then fielded questions about his very real prospects of winning the Order of Merit.

Nor the player ranked 22nd, who was the rookie of the year the previous season. Nor the guy ranked 16th.

Such has been the carnage wrought on the golf calendar by Covid this year, as many as 61 players of the 65 who started out at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Thursday are still mathematically able to win the Race to Dubai.

Four are able to take it, no questions asked, by winning the title at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. Namely, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa, and Lee Westwood.

As for the rest? They have to aim for the W, then reach for their calculators.

Of the top four in the standings at the start of the tournament, Fleetwood finished round one closest to Victor Perez, the Frenchman who holds the lead on 5-under par.

The 2017 Race winner, Fleetwood, signed for a 3-under par round of 69. His playing partner Reed posted 2-under, the same as Westwood, while Morikawa finished on even par.

But it really is just about anyone’s to win. Like a golfing royal rumble, everyone is in it to win it.

Perez, for his part, said the situation had allowed him to play with freedom in his opening round. Hence his fine 67.

“In the position I'm in, I have nothing to lose, and I have everything to gain,” said Perez, who started the competition ranked sixth in the money list.

“So for me it's really a going-for-it mentality that I have to keep for four rounds.

"You still have to play proper golf and hit the right shots, and sometimes take your medicine.

“But again, I have really nothing to lose, and it's a matter of making a lot of birdies.”

Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won the title around the Earth Course four years ago, said it feels surreal to have so many players in contention.

The Englishman, who finished Thursday in tied second with Robert MacIntyre and Erik van Rooyen, also pointed to the weirdness of there being so many big-name absentees, like defending champion Jon Rahm, or two-time winner Rory McIlroy.

“It's very strange,” Fitzpatrick said. “This field is obviously used to a few more players, as well, who aren't here for various reasons this week.

“It's just been a long year. To be able to have a chance to win the Race to Dubai despite everything that's going on is amazing.

“It's amazing and absolutely I'd be delighted if I could take the opportunity that I have.

“I feel like I've got off to a good start, but there's still a long way to go, so hopefully I can just press on and give myself a good chance come Sunday.”

MacIntyre, the 22nd-ranked player, played one of the shots of the day when he drained a 50ft putt for birdie at the seventh, and said he had enjoyed his day out.

“When I put in the graft and put in the practice, my golf is good,” said MacIntyre, who has finished tied-19th, tied-sixth, first, and tied-third in his past four outings on tour.

“Obviously as everyone knows, I wasn't practicing as hard. I wasn't enjoying it as much. But I've got the bug back.

“I've got the right people around me, and I'm just pushing on and see where we end up on Sunday.

“It would mean everything [to win the Race to Dubai], not just to me but to the whole team.

"But again, it's a long, long way away. Just got to keep doing what we're doing.”

A shot back from Fitzpatrick and MacIntyre is a four-player group that includes Fleetwood, as well as Martin Kaymer, the former world No 1.

Kaymer is 27th in the standings, and continuing to get to grips with the remodelling of his game.

“Last week when we played [the neighbouring Fire Course] I struggled a little bit reading the greens, but these are greens I'm more familiar with, so I played solid,” Kaymer said, after his round of 69.

“I didn't make many mistakes. I think that was the key. I kept it in the fairway most of the time, just hit very solid irons.”