Pablo Larrazabal and Louis Oosthuizen shared the clubhouse lead in the first round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters as Oosthuizen again threatened to make his trademark flying start to the year.
Larrazabal carded seven birdies in a flawless 65 at Doha Golf Club, a score matched by former Open champion Oosthuizen as the players made light of the relatively cool and breezy conditions.
Another fromer Open winner, Paul Lawrie, stayed in touch with the leaders with an impressive 67. The Aberdonian’s five-under-par round started badly with a bogey at the first but it was his only blemish on a day in which he racked up six birdies.
Lawrie is tied for sixth placed in Doha. Fellow Scot Clarke Lutton is a shot further back after a 68. Richie Ramsay and David Drysdale were the other Scots to break par, each returning a 71. Oosthuizen has a remarkable record in his first event of the calendar year, winning the Africa Open in 2011 and 2012 and following that with consecutive victories in the Volvo Golf Champions in 2013 and 2014.
Injury meant the South African did not start his 2015 campaign until March, but his first event produced a sixth-placed finish in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and he went on to lose out in a play-off for the Open and finish joint second in the US Open.
The 33-year-old has not played competitively since finishing joint 11th in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on 6 December, but felt refreshed after such a lengthy break. Starting on the back nine, Oosthuizen birdied his first two holes and also picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to reach the turn in 32, while birdies on the first, sixth and ninth saw him join Larrazabal at the top of the leaderboard.
Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts also did not drop a shot in his 66 to lie third, one shot ahead of England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg, Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello and South Africa’s George Coetzee.
Oosthuizen was delighted to keep his card blemish-free, saying: “There were two occasions where it looked like I was going to make bogey but recovered well and the rest was very solid, good ball-striking and I made one or two putts.
“I like playing in windy conditions. The whole day is going to stay like this, which is fair, but they are expecting some horrible winds later in the week and then it gets really difficult.”
Larrazabal won on the ‘Desert Swing’ in Abu Dhabi two years ago and claimed his fourth European Tour title in the BMW International Open last June, but suffered a back injury during the Open which kept him out for several weeks.
“Last year I was playing very good in the middle of the season and had a big injury at the Open Championship,” Larrazabal said. “After that it was very difficult to keep the rhythm and come back.”
Defending champion Branden Grace was among the later starters and was one over par after seven holes, with playing partner and 2014 winner Sergio Garcia one under.
Garcia missed from six feet for an eagle on the ninth after a superb three-wood approach, but the tap-in birdie was followed by another from close range on the 10th. And when the world No 12 made it four birdies in five holes on the 12th, he was just three shots off the lead on four under par.
However, the best round of the afternoon was coming from Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson, who had started from the 10th with four straight birdies and picked up further shots on the 16th and 18th to race to the turn in 30.