It was an unusually calm day at the Doha Golf Club yesterday. The trademark gusty winds, which have almost become synonymous with the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, stayed away.
These are conditions most golfers like and the British duo of Eddie Pepperell and Aaron Rai and Frenchman Gregory Havret were the ones who made the most of them.
The trio fired opening rounds of seven-under par 65 to share the lead at the end of the first round of the prestigious European Tour event.
Former champion Alvaro Quiros from Spain, Italian Edoardo Molinari, German Marcel Schneider and England’s Oliver Fisher were in second one shot off the pace.
The Oxfordshire native Pepperell, who missed his first two cuts of the season but made the cut in Malaysia and Oman, started at the 10th yesterday and was four-under through his opening nine holes having seen five gains undone slightly by one bogey, and he picked up a further three shots on the way home.
“I surprised myself out there today. It’s been pretty nice on the range. I got some good shots today and I’m looking forward to the weekend but even more so moving forward to the rest of the season. I want to push forward and I just feel like my game has been hitting ceilings a bit. I want to break through that,” the 27-year-old Pepperell said.
Havret’s round was more dramatic as he scored five birdies in six holes. He then went toe-to-toe, with Pepperell, who put an approach on the fifth to six feet and the Frenchman holed from eight feet after an excellent tee-shot on the par three 13th.
“I was putting well and that’s definitely the key,” Havret, who has a 50 per cent success-rate from six cuts so far this season, said.
“Last week I didn’t play much different and I missed the cut by a lot.”
His smart approaches to the seventh and 16th respectively had the duo in the clubhouse where they were joined by Rai in style.
Rai made an eagle at the last to join the leaders. He registered five birdies through 16 before finishing with a three at the par-five 18th, his completed his best round of the season.
“I drove it well and then gave myself a lot of opportunities with the approach play, didn’t miss too many greens,” said Rai.
“Gameplan-wise, you have to be doing something right and playing some good golf to shoot a 65 so I’ll just continue in the same vein and try not to change too much,” the 22-year-old said.
Starting on the back nine, the leader of the 2018 Order of Merit Rankings, India’s Shubhankar Sharma overcame a double bogey to post a three-under. Sharma had five birdies and was lying tied-38th. He began with birdie-birdie, but then a double-bogey on par-5 15th played spoilsport. He quickly recovered with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and the 17th.
One more birdie against no bogeys on his second nine, which was the front side of the course, saw Shubhankar finish at 69.
“I think it is not a bad round at all. I was not driving the ball well off the tee and had a lost ball on the 15th hole. My drive went to the right, hit the rocks and I could not find the ball,” Sharma told Gulf Times.
“After that I played well. My driving could have been better. Considering everything, I think it was a good round. The conditions were good and the key here is that you have to hit the fairways, which are very narrow. If you don’t, there are not many opportunities then.
“The minus three card on the first day is not a bad round. I need to work on my hitting tomorrow so that I can catch up with others,” Sharma, who has won two titles so far, said.
His compatriot SSP Chawrasia, who defends his Hero Indian Open title in just over two weeks from now, shot one-over 73 and was lying way down at tied-105th spot and in danger of missing the cut.
The 1999 Open champion and two-time champion in Qatar Paul Lawrie is four under par, after round one. England’s Chris Wood, who is 2013 champion, also finished on four under par, along with defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea. Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Tomas Bjorn opened with a three-over 75.
Today’s second-round action starts at 6.30am, with the last groups teeing off at 12.40pm.
LEADING FIRST ROUND SCORES
65: Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Grégory Havret (FRA), Aaron Rai (ENG)
66: Oliver Fisher (ENG), Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Marcel Schneider (GER), Alvaro Quiros (ESP)
67: Detry Thomas (BEL), Sean Crocker (USA), Lorenzo Gagli (ITA), Joshua White (ENG), Sebastian Heisele (GER), Adrian Otaegui (ESP), Mikko Ilonen (FIN).
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