Ernie Els conjured some of his old magic to join defending champion Rory McIlroy in a tie for sixth on a 68, just two shots off the pace, as young amateur James Allan led the MENA Golf Tour challenge with a tidy 69 on the opening day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
South Africa’s Els, who is a three-time champion of the ‘Major of the Middle East,’ as the tournament is fondly referred to, mixed five birdies with a lone bogey (on the 18th) while McIlroy overcame an early bogey start to begin his title defence on a decent note.
It was Sweden’s Alex Noren who set the early pace, shooting a bogey-free 66 to take a one-shot lead over Brett Rumford of Australia, Trevor Fisher Jr of South Africa and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, the winner of the 2012 edition of the event.
Making his second appearance in the longest-running European Tour event in the region, England’s Allan made his presence in a world-class field with a tidy tee-to-green showing.
The 21-year-old prodigy from Chelmsford, who made the turn at two under, raced to five-under after the 13th, but dropped shots on the 14th and 18th to join a 16-man group on three-under, which included Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
“I hit a lot of quality shots and I am feeling good about this week. I want to get a good one on Friday and see what we can do this weekend,” said Els, a four-time major winner.
“I went through a very tough spell on the greens, especially last year, but have rekindled my love for putting again. The rest of the game has always been there. So I feel like I can still do something,” he added.
McIlroy was equally pleased with his day’s efforts. “I thought I did well, considering the (bogey) start and some wayward shots I hit during the round. All in all, a decent day and a decent score,” said the 26-year-old Holywood hero.
Sweden’s Noren said he did not feel that good warming up, but was very happy when it was all over. “I hit my irons really good all day, but my driving was pretty average.
“It was tough on a few holes, a lot of draws here and I don’t like to draw it. So I’m really happy.
“I hit a lot of fades off the tee and here you know it’s a drawer’s course. So you feel a bit down as a fader. But you just have to accept it and maybe play less aggressive on some holes.”
Rising English star Allan, who made it the starting line-up after winning the 2015 MENA Golf Tour Order of Merit for amateurs was the surprise package of the day and upstaged some of the biggest names in the field.
“I am loving the chance to play and enjoying just the whole atmosphere of the place. Just loving,” said the Englishman. “The (Majlis) course is fantastic and the greens just amazing.
“I have never played on greens as fast as this. I am very pleased with myself and how I have adapted to that. Very happy to be in the position I am just loving it, really.”
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is backed by OMEGA as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, JA Resorts and Hotels, Mercedes-Benz and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi’s drive to showcase the emirate’s vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.