Francesco Molinari remains on course for Race to Dubai title

Rory McIlroy the best of the Irish after first round of DP World Tour Championship

 Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood during day one of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood during day one of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

 

England’s Jordan Smith and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui sat atop the leaderboard of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, both compiling six-under-par 66s on an opening day in Dubai that provided colour on and off the golf course. Time will tell whether they are interlopers or contenders of substance for outright honours come Sunday.

Francesco Molinari (68) struck the first blow in the race for pre-eminence in the Race to Dubai standings when outscoring the only golfer who can catch him, playing partner Tommy Fleetwood (69) by a single shot. It could have been a more generous advantage but the Italian three-putted the 15th and 18th.

“It’s a shame because I putted really well up until the 14th and then I just misjudged the pace on a couple of those putts and left myself more work to do than I needed to,” said British Open champion Molinari, who would be the first Italian to finish top of the money list.

“My game was okay, probably not my best, but putting and short game was very good up until the 14th, and that’s how I built the six-under score to that point.

“It’s only Thursday so there are so many things that can happen. Both of us did not hit the ball our best but we managed to scramble well and close out two decent rounds.

“I did a good job of thinking shot by shot and that’s what I need to do. I don’t think there is any benefit to thinking about what-ifs. It’s too early.”

Fleetwood, who has to win and hope Molinari finishes outside the top five to retain his title, admitted he had to work hard to keep his round together on the back nine, but added: “Sometimes those are the rounds that maybe win you golf tournaments at the end of the week.

“You come into this week still with a chance of the Race to Dubai, one round down and we still have a chance. As long as our head’s above water for that, we’ll be happy and keep going.”

Rory McIlroy headed the Irish challenge following a fine three-under 69, while Shane Lowry (70) was a shot further back. Paul Dunne mustered five birdies but an equal number of bogeys saw him sign for a deeply frustrating level-par 72.

McIlroy made five birdies and a couple of bogeys and admitted he was happy with the way he struck the driver, manifest in his drive in 18, all 354 yards, that set up a closing birdie.

Lowry was moderately pleased with his opening 18 holes, conceding. “I left a few out there to be honest. I felt like I played nice today, just a couple of loose drives but my iron play felt good. Every putt I seemed to have, it had about a foot of break in it. There was a lot of grain in the greens this year. I just struggled to hole putts,” said Lowry in reference to the 32 he took.

“Overall, I am pretty happy with how things finished; a nice birdie on 17 and then I was unlucky there at the last. It is easy to play your way out the tournament so two under is an all right start.”

Twice Dunne stood at two under during the round but the uncertainty that he is fighting in his game resurfaced periodically to thwart any momentum.

It’s not a single issue because if he could identify it he could address it; swing gremlins are a tough opponent, the knock-on effect is not just physical but mental torment and the erosion of confidence that ensues.

His frustration is palpable, his candour striking. “I feel I am a little bit lost in my game. I don’t have any confidence in it, so five birdies is a positive but the five bogeys is so sloppy.

“In a way I can be happy that I have made some birdies but turning five under into a level par is not good. I need to find something in the ball striking if I want to have any chance to do well to be honest.”

“I don’t know really [what the issue is]; I think that’s the problem. If I knew what it is I would work on it in practice. I have been struggling for a few months, working on it, trying to find a little click; it’s frustrating when it doesn’t.”

Defending champion Jon Rahm is one shot behind the leaders, so too the 2016 US Masters champion Danny Willett, while the 2018 winner at Augusta National, Patrick Reed was on three under. There are 38 players under par, including the 2009 champion, Lee Westwood, and a double winner over the Earth course at Jumeirah, Henrik Stenson.

LEDERBOARD

(British or Irish unless stated, par 72):

66 Jordan Smith, Adrian Otaegui (Esp)

67 Jon Rahm (Esp), Danny Willett

68 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Haotong Li (Chn), Matt Wallace, Ross Fisher, Thomas Pieters (Bel)

69 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Alex Noren (Swe), Joost Luiten (Ned), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Tom Lewis, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Andrea Pavan (Ita), Wade Ormsby (Aus), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Patrick Reed (USA)

70 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Shane Lowry, Thomas Detry (Bel), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Lee Westwood

71 Xander Schauffele (USA), Branden Grace (Rsa), Chris Paisley, Matthew Southgate, Robert Rock, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Tyrrell Hatton, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

72 Alexander Bjork (Swe), Ashun Wu (Chn), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Lee Slattery, Andy Sullivan, Paul Dunne, Ian Poulter, Alexander Levy (Fra)

73 Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Chris Wood, Sam Horsfield, Russell Knox, Aaron Rai

74 Lucas Herbert (Aus), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Jorge Campillo (Esp), Darren Fichardt (Rsa), Matthew Fitzpatrick

75 Eddie Pepperell

76 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Joakim Lagergren (Swe)

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