Sergio Garcia makes strong start to Dubai Desert Classic mission

By Sports Desk January 27, 2022

Sergio Garcia made a positive start to his year as a five-under-par 67 put him among the front-runners at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Spaniard Garcia had just two top-10 finishes on the European Tour last season, but one of those came at this event, and he showed his liking for the tournament he won in 2017 with another sparkling round.

It was not enough for the lead, with Denmark's Joachim B Hansen ahead of the field thanks to an impressive 65 that featured birdies at four of the first five holes.

Garcia held a share of third place through 18 holes, with South African Justin Harding nudging up to second on six under through 17 holes before darkness forced him to delay completing his round until Friday.

It was as a 19-year-old in 1999 that Garcia first won on the European Tour, which has been renamed as the DP World Tour this season, with that breakthrough triumph coming at the Irish Open.

He was a champion twice on the tour that year, landed six victories in the 2000s and added eight European Tour titles in the 2010s, including a Masters victory, which counted to his win list on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now, at the age of 42, Garcia is bidding to win on the tour in a fourth successive decade, and this was a strong start, as he made five birdies and did not drop a shot.

"It was good. I think obviously it got a little bit more challenging the last couple of holes with left-to-right wind," he said. "I made a couple of nice par saves at the right times and kept it in play for the most part. I hit a good amount of greens and when I didn't, my chipping and putting was there to help me. So that was good."

In an interview on the European Tour website, Garcia added: "I still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I want to keep trying, to get better, challenge myself to improve. That's never easy and as you get older it's obviously tougher, but I'll work hard and hopefully keep fighting."

Garcia had company on five under from fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, as well as Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Italy's Andrea Pavan, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.

Open champion Collin Morikawa was in a group on four under, with defending Dubai champion Paul Casey two shots further back. Rory McIlroy was three under par through five holes of his round, having started on the back nine, but he fell away to a one-under 71 for a share of 46th place.

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    Tiger Woods says Rory McIlroy "made it look very easy" after the Northern Irishman set the early pace on day one of the US PGA Championship.

    Seeking a first major in eight years, McIlroy carded five-under 65 to take a one-shot lead into the clubhouse at Southern Hills on Thursday.

    The 33-year-old, who won this event in 2012 and 2014, closed with a birdie on the final hole – his seventh of the day – to put himself in strong contention for another title.

    He teed off in a marquee group alongside Jordan Spieth and Woods, who carded 74 and 72 respectively, with the latter impressed by what he saw from McIlroy.

    "Obviously you can shoot something in the mid-60s, Rory proved that today," Woods told Sky Sports. "He made it look very easy. 

    "He had a couple of shots where he slipped away and he still shot five under and made it look very easy."

    McIlroy, who finished second in last month's Masters after shooting a record-equalling eight-under 64 on the final day, is not getting carried away just yet.

    "I came in here knowing that my game was in good shape," McIlroy said. "So it's just a matter of going out there and executing the shots that you know that you can.

    "Today I did that very well and I just need to try to replicate that tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday and not get ahead of myself, but it was a great start."

    While McIlroy is in a strong position, Woods faces an uphill battle to make the cut, as he did at the Masters last month, but he is not giving up hope of a big recovery on Friday.

    "It can be done, I've witnessed it first-hand, so hopefully I can put together something similar tomorrow and get myself back in this tournament," he said.

    The 15-time major winner is competing in just his second tournament since sustaining serious leg and foot injuries in a car accident 15 months ago.

    Woods felt some discomfort towards the end of an erratic opening round, which ended with him nine strokes behind McIlroy.

    "Physically, I've felt better," he told Sky Sports. "Emotionally, I've actually felt better too. 

    "It was frustrating. I got off to a great start today, I did exactly what I needed to do starting out the round, but I did not keep it going.

    "I hit a lot of bad iron shots, put myself in a lot of bad spots and never really gave myself any birdie putts. 

    "I actually felt comfortable with the driver, I hit a lot of fairways with it, but from there it wasn't very good. Most of my bunker shots I hit were long, came out hotter than I thought. 

    "But predominately I just hit bad iron shots. That's not normally how I play, but today unfortunately that's kind of what it was."

  • US PGA Championship: Tiger Woods makes birdie at the first, John Daly in early lead US PGA Championship: Tiger Woods makes birdie at the first, John Daly in early lead

    Tiger Woods made a bright start to his US PGA Championship quest as he headed out in esteemed company with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

    The star trio played to a bumper early-morning gallery at Southern Hills, Tulsa, where Woods won his fourth and most recent US PGA Championship title in 2007.

    Woods had a birdie at his first hole and was one under through three holes, with Spieth and McIlroy soon joining him on that mark.

    Starting at the 10th hole, all three began well off the tee, with Woods receiving by far the loudest reception and hitting the longest drive of the trio at 339 yards.

    "Do you mind giving me some breathing space please. Back off a little bit," Woods said towards a camera crew as he walked down the first fairway.

    He fired a sweet wedge to three feet away from the hole and made no mistake from that range, holing for an immediate birdie.

    Woods found the heart of the green at the short 11th, his second, and sent his putt to just six inches away, tapping in for par.

    He had a birdie chance at 12 from around 20 feet away but pushed it just right of the hole. McIlroy and Spieth made their first gains at that hole.

    Speaking on Tuesday, Woods said he could "definitely" be a title contender, despite this being just his second tournament back since the February 2021 car crash that saw him sustain serious leg and foot injuries. He made the cut at the Masters last month, before fading as the hilly Augusta course took a physical toll on the 46-year-old former world number one.

    "My team did just an amazing job just to get me to a point where I could play the Masters and I was able to have that opportunity to play," Woods said. "Right after each round, it was like getting back to the house and we have an ice bath ready for you, and off you go, get on the treatment table and let's keep working at it, keep things going, and it was tough. It was hard. It was hard on all of us.

    "But I've gotten stronger since then. But still, it's still going to be sore and walking is a challenge. I can hit golf balls, but the challenge is walking. It's going to be that way for the foreseeable future for sure."

    John Daly, the 1991 US PGA champion, was two under through seven holes and held a share of the lead with Robert MacIntyre, Max Homa, Y.E. Yang, Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris early in the first round.

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