Swede Peter Hanson and Briton Paul Lawrie parried the punches of the European Tour’s heavyweights to lead the way after the Dubai World Championship first round on Thursday.
While Rory McIlroy (66) seized the early initiative against money-list leader Luke Donald (72) in their fight to end the season as Europe’s No. 1 golfer, Hanson fired a record-equaling 64 at the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course.
Lawrie produced the sort of display that earned him victory at The Open in 1999 as he tucked into second place on 65, one ahead of McIlroy and two in front of Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
Hanson, a member of last year’s triumphant Ryder Cup team, was bursting with pride after his round.
“I think it’s the best golf I’ve ever played,” he told reporters.
“It is quite a demanding course and the wind picked up a little over the back nine, so I am very happy with the way I struck the ball and rolled a few putts in,” Hanson said.
“My ball-striking was very pure. I gave myself a lot of chances and my first five birdies were tap-ins which was nice,” he said.
Hanson started his round quietly, but a sequence of six birdies in eight holes from the 10th separated him from the rest of the elite, 57-man field.
The 34-year-old spurned a good chance to eclipse the course record held by Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher.
“I chipped it up to about six feet at the last and missed my birdie putt,” Hanson said. “But I had no idea about the record. It was a really hard putt, it broke hard off the right. I tried to drop it in from there and it went just a little too hard.”
Veteran Lawrie ended a barren run of nine years without a victory when he captured the Andalucia Open title in March and said he still believed he was capable of improving as a player.
“I probably hit more balls and work harder at my game than I ever did,” he said.
“I’m only 42 and have got a long time to go,” the Scotsman added.
“If you want to get better you have to put the time in and I’ve been doing that. I want to be back in the top 50 of the rankings,” the world No. 163 said.
McIlroy put together a stunning run of scores to climb the leaderboard, roaring home in 30 strokes thanks to five birdies in the last six holes.
“That back nine was pretty much flawless and I holed some really nice putts,” McIlroy, the world No. 2, said. “I just kept giving myself birdie chances and luckily enough I was able to take a few.”
“It was a perfect start to the tournament for me. To shoot a great score like that sets me up nicely for the next three days,” he said.
USPGA Tour money-list winner Donald is bidding to become the first player to land the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic.
He has a lead of US$1.06 million over second-placed McIlroy at the top of the money list and needs to finish in the top eight to guarantee he ends the season as Europe’s No. 1.