Pieters leads in Dubai but it's Westwood woe for Abu Dhabi champion

By John Skilbeck 23 January 2020 3
Pieters leads in Dubai but it's Westwood woe for Abu Dhabi champion

Thomas Pieters recovered from a dramatic mid-round slump to snatch the first-round lead at the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Belgian began on the back nine and made a storming start with five birdies by the turn, but a double-bogey six at the first and another dropped shot at the second threatened to undo his good work.

Yet Pieters showed his steely side by making three birdies in succession from the fifth, signing for a five-under-par 67 and a one-shot cushion at the top of the leaderboard.

The impressive effort nudged him ahead of American David Lipsky, whose 68 contained no such dramas.

At one stage Lipsky, who also began at the 10th hole, was five under too, but a dropped shot at the fourth halted his charge.

South African Shaun Norris would have held the outright overnight lead but for a calamity at his final hole.

He was another to start at the 10th, and the 37-year-old reached the ninth sitting pretty on six under; however, a triple-bogey seven after finding water resulted in a sorry slide back into a share of third on three under.

Norris had plenty of company on that mark at Emirates Golf Club, with 11 players alongside him including England's Eddie Pepperell, Sweden's Robert Karlsson, Dane Soren Kjeldsen and China's three-time European Tour winner Wu Ashun.

American Bryson DeChambeau was in a group of four on two under, with major winners Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen all one under, the same mark as Ian Poulter. Open champion Shane Lowry was tied for 30th after a level-par 72.

Thursday's round was one to forget for Lee Westwood, though, four days after his triumph at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The 46-year-old Englishman earned over €1million for his efforts last week but faces a likely missed cut in Dubai after starting with a 78, six over par, that left him down in a tie for 113th place.

Former Masters champion Danny Willett was another off the pace, a four-over 76 leaving him with plenty of ground to make up on Friday.

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John Skilbeck