Abu Dhabi:Shane Lowry fired a course record-equalling 10-under-par 62 to grab a three-shot lead on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Championship on Wednesday.
The Irishman, currently ranked 75th in the world but without a win since his triumph at the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2015, was bogey-free on what looked a demanding Abu Dhabi Golf Club course with narrow fairways and juicy rough.
Despite finding just four fairways, the 31-year-old Lowry was rarely troubled as he fired one dart-like approach shot after another in his 10-birdie round.
That matched the tournament record low of 62 established by Henrik Stenson in the third round of the inaugural edition in 2006.
A group of four players were tied for second place at seven-under par, including 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and his fellow South African Richard Sterne, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and 2014 champion Pablo Larrazabal, who holed out his second shot from 174 yards on the par-four 16th hole and birdied the last two.
England’s Ian Poulter made light of a 34-hour trip from Hawaii to reach Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night, shooting a six-under-par 66 to be tied sixth along with compatriot Lee Westwood and three-time champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
World number two Brooks Koepka opened his campaign with a bogey-free 67, while former number one Dustin Johnson managed a three-under-par 69, a score matched by two-time defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.
Lowry credited his preparation for the tournament after a long lay-off for his round.
“It equals the best score I’ve ever shot, but I think I’ve had better rounds in tougher conditions. But it’s right up there,” said Lowry when asked if it was his best round ever.
“Perfect conditions this morning out there, and I just went down and did pretty much a lot of things right. The one thing I was very happy with is how I didn’t panic at all when I got to like six, seven, eight-under.
“I had a lovely break at Christmas. I was home for the whole lot of it, and I came out with my family and rented a house in Dubai.
“Myself and (fellow Irishman) Paul Dunne are sharing the house and we’re practising together and we’ve been playing a lot together and we got some great work done.”
– Oosthuizen continues strong form –
Oosthuizen, who recently won the South African Open, was two-over after his first five holes, but made nine birdies in his last 13.
“I won (recently), but it’s very important to keep going and play well,” said the world number 26. “A good start to the season is always nice for the rest of the year. You can sort of build on that.”
Two-time major champion Kaymer was bogey-free for his round, but after making six birdies in his first 11 holes, he was disappointed to not add to his tally.
“Made a few nice putts early in the round, and even though I created more chances, the putts didn’t go in. But overall, it was a very satisfying, solid and controlled round,” said the German.
The cut will be applied after the second round on Thursday and the tournament, which is now part of the Rolex Series on the European Tour, ends on Saturday.