Francesco Molinari made a steady start in his quest to become the first Italian to be crowned European Tour Number One, as the Race to Dubai leader opened with a 68 to sit two shots off the lead at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai – the eighth and final Rolex Series event of the 2018 season.
Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Englishman Jordan Smith share the first round lead at Jumeirah Golf Estates after carding a pair of six under par rounds of 66, but they will enter day two with a world-class chasing pack breathing down their necks.
Included among them are defending champion Jon Rahm and 2016 Masters Tournament winner Danny Willett, both a shot off the lead on five under par. Molinari, meanwhile, lipped out from two feet at the 18th for a bogey six to sign for a four under par 68, alongside English pair Ross Fisher and Matt Wallace, China’s Li Haotong, and Thomas Pieters of Belgium.
The 2017 Race to Dubai Champion Tommy Fleetwood, who needs a win this week to be in with a chance of retaining that crown, delighted the crowds with a birdie at the last for a bogey-free 69. He joined four-time Major champion and two-time Race to Dubai winner Rory McIlroy among a group of 12 players on three under par.
Jordan Smith: “I just hit a lot of good shots today. I didn’t really struggle but not a lot happened the first day I was here. Then something clicked and everything started going in which was nice.
“I struggled at the start last week but bounced back and ended up finishing tied 21st after five-under in the last round. So I’ve come in with a lot of confidence and just went out there and didn’t have any pressures or anything. I just went out and enjoyed it.
“I think you can just take a lot of confidence into the next few days. Me being 44th in the Race to Dubai, I can go out and go for it, there’s not too much pressure. I can just enjoy the next few days and carry on with the same play that I had today.”
Adrian Otaegui: “it’s never easy but it’s true I played really well and it seemed easy. I was solid from tee-to-green. I left myself lots of birdie chances and I thought I putted well. Six birdies, no bogeys, it’s always a very good start.
“I think it was a positive season for me. I’ve kept on improving on the European Tour, and on the World Ranking. It’s been better than last year, so it was a positive season for me. I feel good with the game. The last two weeks were good, I was playing solid. Hopefully I will keep that momentum.”
Jon Rahm: “It was my third chance this year to defend the title. Earlier in the year at Torrey Pines, I started off great, wasn’t able to close it out and finish strong. In Ireland, I almost got it done.
“I’m just continuing the same thing. I am defending champion, I like the thought that I am the only one who can win it two years in a row, so I’m keeping that in mind. But it’s really important to keep the ball in the fairway off the tee.
“If I keep hitting good drives like I have today and like I did last year, with decent iron play, I’m going to have a lot of birdie chances. So if I keep hitting the driver like I did today, I’ll definitely have a chance Sunday.”
Francesco Molinari: “It’s a shame because I putted really well up until the 14th and then I just misjudged the pace on a couple of those putts and left myself more work to do than I needed to. My game was okay, probably not my best, but putting and short game was very good up until the 14th, and that’s how I built the six-under score to that point.
“It was still fun. It’s only Thursday, so there are many things that can happen. It’s really too early. I think Tommy and I, we didn’t really hit the ball our best, but we managed to scramble well and put two solid rounds together.”