With a remarkable nine birdies helping to offset three dropped shots, Fernandez-Castano stole the lead at the top of the leaderboard from American John Daly who had earlier turned in a vintage first round performance on a day when high winds and sand storms threatened to blow away the 132-man field.
“I would have taken level par in these conditions so I’m very happy with the outcome,” said the Spaniard. “I went out with no expectations and actually made more birdies than pars, which is unusual. The key was to be focused on every single shot and three birdies on the last three holes means I will sleep very well tonight.”
Big-hitting former US PGA and Open Champion Daly is currently well down the world rankings at number 543 and playing in Doha on a sponsor’s invite. But the man from California rolled back the years with a superb five-under par 67 to hold second place one shot adrift of the early leader.
“It’s brutal,” said Daly.”There’s no doubt it’s absolutely brutal. You just feel like you have cotton in your mouth with sand in your eyes and your hair so you just have to hang in there.
“But for me it’s probably one of the best rounds I’ve ever played in wind like that because you can hit some decent shots and it can get away from you so fast, especially when the course is as tough as this. I haven’t really played for about five weeks aside from a spot of chipping and putting with my son so you could say I’ve kind of surprised myself a little. There were a lot of cross winds and sand blowing around which made it really difficult.”
No American has ever tasted victory in Doha but the flamboyant Daly looked to be at ease over the 7,414-yard course. The 45-year old carded five birdies in a flawless round, while Korean KJ Choi Australia’s Jason Day – both making their first appearances in the desert state – enjoyed bogey-free rounds of 68 (-4) to share third.
Staged in collaboration with the Qatar Golf Association (QGA), the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) and title sponsors The Commercial Bank of Qatar, the four-day event features seven of the top twenty players in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Also performing well on a difficult opening day was another former Open Champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland who shot a three-under par 69 to share fifth alongside Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, Swede Peter Hanson and English pair Richard Finch and Danny Willett.
“It’s blowing a wee bit and obviously the sand is going to cause a little bit of hassle as you can’t see very far,” said Lawrie, a former champion in Qatar who also finished eighth in last week’s Abu Dhabi Championship. “But I played nicely again and hit the ball extremely well. I was a little bit disappointed with the finish last week but it’s quite nice when you’re disappointed with an eighth place as you’re obviously playing well.”
Elsewhere, World Number Three Lee Westwood and World Number Four Martin Kaymer both recorded a one under par 71 alongside European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal and Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
There was a quiet start for another former champion Spaniard Alvaro Quiros who finished with a level par 72. In the last three Commercialbank Qatar Masters, Quiros has finished first in 2009 and second in 2010 and 2011 with the Spaniard 41-under-par for his previous twelve rounds at Doha Golf Club, a figure that remains the same after his even progress on day one. Also on level par after the opening round was Quiros’ fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia, while 2011 champion Thomas Bjorn endured a miserable start to his defence with a 79 (+7).
Caption: Fernando Gonzalez-Castano leads by one shot after the opening round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters