Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui got off to a flying start at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai with both men carding outstanding rounds of six under par 66 to lead the pack on day one at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Englishman Smith, who was crowned the European Challenge Tour’s Number One in 2016, made the turn at level par but produced a blistering back nine of 30, including a sublime eagle on the 14th to set the pace early on. Dubai resident Otaegui, whose last victory came earlier this season at the Belgian Knockout, joined the 26-year-old at the top of the leaderboard thanks to a birdie at the last which completed an impressive bogey-free round for the Spaniard.
“Well, it’s never easy, but it’s true I played really well,” said Otaegui. “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.”
Smith was equally impressed with his performance, saying: “I just hit a lot of good shots. Not a lot happened the first nine then something clicked and everything started going in, which was nice. It’s very close to my best. The first half of the year I put too much pressure on myself, expecting too much rather than going out and just enjoying it and letting what happens, happen, which is what I’ve been doing the last couple of months and its been working. It’s been nice to finish the year on a high.”
Meanwhile, Francesco Molinari tightened his grip at the summit of the Race to Dubai with an impressive round of four under par 68 while defending champion Tommy Fleetwood finished one shot further back to lie in a share of tenth place. Although Molinari remains in control of his own destiny, there could have been more breathing space between the two with the Italian having a three-shot buffer walking up the 18th. That shrunk to just one shot after the 36-year-old missed a short par putt on the last while Fleetwood holed a superb birdie putt from off the green to keep the pressure on.
A fifth-place finish will seal the Race to Dubai title for Molinari, which would make him the first Italian to win the trophy, while Fleetwood must win and hope his Ryder Cup teammate finishes outside the top five.
English pair Ross Fisher and Matt Wallace, China’s Li Haotong and Belgian Thomas Pieters were alongside Molinari at four under par in the eighth and final Rolex Series event of the season while defending champion Jon Rahm and Danny Willett lie in second place on five under par.
The DP World Tour Championship continues tomorrow (Friday) with the second round teeing off at 07:40 am.