Shaun Norris and Renato Paratore fired rounds of 64 to share the lead after round one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, holding off a chasing pack including World Number One Brooks Koepka.
Koepka was the centre of attention at the first Rolex Series event of the 2020 Race to Dubai, as he made his competitive comeback after a three-month injury lay-off, but his bogey-free round of 66 wasn’t enough to match Norris and Paratore’s eight under par efforts.
Italy’s Paratore birdied his last four holes to take the lead as he chases his second European Tour win, after missing out in a play-off in his last start at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open. He was joined at the summit by South African Norris, who has risen to 60th in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win, four second places and four other top tens in his last 14 events worldwide.
Koepka and Australian Jason Scrivener are two shots off the lead, with Major Champion Sergio Garcia, fellow Spaniard and Rolex Series winner Rafa Cabrera Bello, American Kurt Kitayama, China’s Li Haotong, South African Zander Lombard and Australia’s Zach Murray one shot further back at five under par.
Renato Paratore: “Today I started really good and made some good putts the first holes. It gave me confidence for the rest of the day, and I kept making putts, so it’s been a really good day. I just tried to focus on my game on every shot, and I managed to finish really good and made some putts.
“In Mauritius I played really solid from tee to green. It gave me some confidence, and then in the break, I worked on my short game and more on the body. This helped me.
“Today I hit some long drivers. I didn’t hit many fairways, but I cut some corners, so some short clubs helped me.”
Shaun Norris: “Hit the ball nicely. Gave myself a couple of chances. Didn’t fall the first couple of holes but I told my brother, I feel like I’m hitting the lines and starting to feel the greens. As soon as I made the putt on eight, and then nine, just started feeling like it’s snowballing. I started hitting better shots close to the holes. Really giving myself super opportunities after that.
“It’s been a rough year last year after losing my father but my brother is back on the bag again and feels like everything is working at moment. We are having a lot of fun out there, and that’s the main thing. Really happy with what’s happening.
“Got my card in Asia about five years ago and started to play the Asian Tour and won an event which was co-sanctioned with the Japanese Tour and a good friend of mine told me, listen, take a membership up. The Tour is very good, and the courses are phenomenal and you’ll learn a lot. Over the last four years, I think overall, my game has grown a lot. I’ve really learnt a lot out there. It’s nice to be able to take it out and bring it out here.”
Brooks Koepka: “It’s good to be back. Missed the competition, obviously. Played really solid. Missed a few putts early if I really want to pick it apart. Drove the ball well. Controlled the ball flight and controlled distances really well and that’s what you have to do out here.
“To chip one in there (on the 17th), I wasn’t expecting that, but the short game was really good. The strike was really good. I worked hard with Pete (Cowen) in trying to make sure that I know what I’m doing and understand what I’m doing and can make it repeatable.
“The knee feels fine. It was a little sore last night. Just did some treatment on it. That’s expected. This is a first week I’ve walked 18 holes and I’ve done it three times already. It’s a little tired.”
Round one scores
64 S Norris (RSA) , R Paratore (Ita) ,
66 J Scrivener (Aus) , B Koepka (USA) ,
67 K Kitayama (USA) , Z Murray (Aus) , Z Lombard (RSA) , H Li (Chn) , S Garcia (Esp) , R Cabrera Bello (Esp) ,
68 M Kaymer (Ger) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , B Grace (RSA) , T Pieters (Bel) , R Jacquelin (Fra) , E Molinari (Ita) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) ,
69 T Detry (Bel) , S Hend (Aus) , A Johnston (Eng) , H Porteous (RSA) , L Westwood (Eng) , L Oosthuizen (RSA) , R Rock (Eng) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , A Sullivan (Eng) , L Herbert (Aus) , R Bland (Eng) , N Colsaerts (Bel) , M Kawamura (Jpn) , J Harding (RSA) , Y Lin (am) (Chn) ,
70 M Korhonen (Fin) , V Dubuisson (Fra) , T Jaidee (Tha) , V Perez (Fra) , J Singh Brar (Eng) , S Kjeldsen (Den) , R Fisher (Eng) , J Luiten (Ned) , M Southgate (Eng) , S Heisele (Ger) , S Lowry (Irl) , D Howell (Eng) , D Drysdale (Sco) , D Law (Sco) , R Langasque (Fra) , A Arnaus (Esp) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) ,
71 J Morrison (Eng) , F Laporta (Ita) , B Stone (RSA) , G Migliozzi (Ita) , R McEvoy (Eng) , J Campillo (Esp) , D Willett (Eng) , A Levy (Fra) , J Senior (Eng) , T Fleetwood (Eng) , O Fisher (Eng) , S Sharma (Ind) , W Ormsby (Aus) , P Waring (Eng) , C Hill (Sco) , C Bezuidenhout (RSA) , T Bjørn (Den) , P Cantlay (USA) , M Pavon (Fra) , S Jamieson (Sco) , J Wang (Kor) , R Ramsay (Sco) ,
72 S Crocker (USA) , G Coetzee (RSA) , N Elvira (Esp) , R Kakko (Fin) , K Samooja (Fin) , A Chesters (Eng) , B Dechambeau (USA) , C Schwartzel (RSA) , T Pulkkanen (Fin) ,
73 C Paisley (Eng) , A Otaegui (Esp) , V Hovland (Nor) , I Poulter (Eng) , E Van Rooyen (RSA) , D Lipsky (USA) , S Brown (Eng) , G Green (Mas) , A Björk (Swe) , D Burmester (RSA) , S Horsfield (Eng) , J Walters (RSA) , E Pepperell (Eng) , M Wallace (Eng) , J Winther (Den) , L Gagli (Ita) ,
74 N Bertasio (Ita) , G Forrest (Sco) , S Gallacher (Sco) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , A Pavan (Ita) , P Larrazábal (Esp) , R Fox (Nzl) , R Sterne (RSA) , M Schwab (Aut) , J Smith (Eng) , J Guerrier (Fra) , A Meronk (Pol) , J Hill (am) (Eng) ,
75 J Donaldson (Wal) , F Zanotti (Par) , S Soderberg (Swe) , J Lagergren (Swe) , T Lewis (Eng) , D Horsey (Eng) ,
76 G Storm (Eng) , P Harrington (Irl) , M Kieffer (Ger) , T Aiken (RSA) , O Wilson (Eng) ,
77 M Armitage (Eng) , A Quiros (Esp) , A Wu (Chn) , B Hebert (Fra) , R Højgaard (Den) , R Karlsson (Swe) ,
78 A Rai (Eng) , P Lawrie (Sco) ,
79 G Bhullar (Ind) ,
80 J Hansen (Den) ,
84 C Wood (Eng) , A Skaik (am) (Uae) ,