Shane Lowry was the best of the Irish contingent at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after a two under par round of 70.

The Offaly man's card featured four birdies, including consecutive birdies on 17 and 18, and two bogeys, and he sits six shots off the lead held by South Africa’s Richard Sterne. 

Sterne is a six-time winner on the European Tour but has not tasted victory since 2013 and missed the majority of last season after wrist surgery.

"It's always good to get off to a good start," the 39-year-old said after a round containing nine birdies and a solitary bogey.

"I’ve come close here before (finishing second in 2013) so it would be nice to have a chance going into the weekend.

"I had a wrist operation in March last year. I played the last few events, which I still played pretty decently considering I had not played for so long.

"And then finishing 25th last week in Abu Dhabi gave me a lot of confidence. I struggled the first few days and played really nicely on Saturday."


Former winner Sergio Garcia made a strong start, carding six birdies in a bogey-free 66 to finish two shots off the lead, with American Kurt Kitayama on seven under and Paul Casey and Robert MacIntyre among the group on five under.

In contrast Tyrrell Hatton, whose victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday lifted him to a career-high fifth in the world, found himself in a tie for 115th along with Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell after struggling to an opening 76.

"I felt comfortable out there for sure," said Garcia, who lifted the title at Emirates Golf Club in 2017, two months before winning the Masters.

"I felt like I hit a lot of good shots. Conditions obviously were good, but they were tricky.

"The greens are a little patchy when it comes down to firmness. Some spots are really firm and some spots you can definitely spin it. But other than that, I felt like it was a good, solid day, and very happy with the way it went."

Garcia made his first cut on the European Tour at the age of 15, two years before playing partner and US PGA champion Collin Morikawa was born, but the 41-year-old added: "The desire’s still there.

"Obviously my focus, it’s a little bit different than it was with family and getting married and having kids and stuff.

"But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a competitor. I still love to compete. I love to practice, try to get better and that’s what I try to do all the time.

"So it’s nice to see rounds like one today, because it shows that I’m putting some good work in there and just got to keep doing more of that."

Padraig Harrington signed for a 71 in a round that included three birdies and two bogeys.