FIVE days after playing “horrible”, Fifer Peter Whiteford found his form again to sit a shot off the lead after the opening round of the Qatar Masters in Doha.
On a day when world No 5 Justin Rose suffered a one-stroke penalty that left him “completely hard done by”, Whiteford took full advantage of unusually calm conditions at the UAE venue to card a flawless six- under-par 66.
It earned him a share of second place as on-form Ricardo Santos, who closed with two birdies, set the pace.
Santos, who last year became Portugal’s first European Tour winner for 20 years when he claimed the Madeira Islands Open title, signed off with rounds of 66 and 68 last weekend to finish fourth in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
Whiteford had to settle for a tie for 48th in that event and admitted his opening effort this week had been in stark contrast to how he’d played in the third round in the UAE capital.
“It was a struggle in Abu Dhabi and Saturday was horrible – the worst I have played in a long time,” said the 32-year-old, who was pleased he gave a better account of himself in the company of Open champion Ernie Els in the final round.
“Sunday was better and it probably had something to do with playing with Ernie, who is a touch of class,” he added. “It was the first I had played with him and he was phenomenal.
“He’s a nice guy and was very complimentary. You are always learning out here and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing with Ernie.”
While pleased to be sitting within striking distance of the leader, Whiteford reckoned he could easily have been setting the pace himself on a day when he hardly put a foot wrong.
“It’s not often you don’t get any wind here and I was able to take advantage of it,” he said. “For the first time in a long time I hit the driver a bit better today and managed to give myself a lot of chances.
“It was one of those days where it could have been a lot better. There were a lot of flags on the right side of the greens and I like to cut the ball in, so it suited my eye today.”
Having left it late last year before retaining his European Tour playing privileges, Whiteford is determined to avoid a stressful end to his fourth successive season on the circuit.
“It was bad year last year and I just want to play better,” he declared. “This is a good start and hopefully something to build on. If I keep playing four rounds it breeds confidence.”
Runner-up to Jamie Donaldson in Abu Dhabi last week, Rose had to be content with a 68 after he was penalised a foot from the hole on the short 17th.
The Englishman had missed his birdie attempt and was addressing the ball ready to tap in when he noticed that it moved a fraction. European Tour referee Paul Carrigill was called and, with no wind to blame for the change in position, he imposed the extra shot and told Rose to move the ball back.
Rose said he felt “completely hard done by”, but accepted the penalty was correct.
“It was just unfortunate timing that, as I put my putter behind the ball, which I know didn’t cause the ball to move, the ball was finding some indentation,” he said.
“I’m deemed to have caused it to move even though in your heart of hearts you know you haven’t.”
Among the other Scots, Marc Warren bounced back from missing the cut in Abu Dhabi by carding a 69, the same as rookie Scott Henry. But the frustration continued for defending champion Paul Lawrie. The two-times Doha winner had to settle for a level-par 72, a popular score with the Scots as Stephen Gallacher, David Drysdale, Colin Montgomerie, Craig Lee and Chris Doak all matched it. Scott Jamieson, the early Race to Dubai leader, had back-to-back double-bogeys as he shot 74 to be in a tie for 108th.
The Scottish contingent was reduced to ten before the event got underway when Richie Ramsay withdrew due to illness, having felt unwell in the final round in Abu Dhabi and been forced to pull out of the pro-am for this event.
Santos, last year’s Rookie of the Year, made six unsuccessful trips to the qualifying school before coming through the Challenge Tour two years ago.
“My short game was really amazing,” he said after coming home in 31 to lead from Whiteford, England’s Anthony Wall and Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka. “Last week gave me a lot of confidence but I don’t want to put any more pressure on my shoulders. I just want to enjoy it.”
Playing with Lawrie and Els, Sergio Garcia carded a 69, two fewer than world No 5 Louis Oosthuizen after he closed with a double-bogey 7.