On a day when players wore black ribbons in memory of the BBC’s ‘Voice of Golf’ Peter Alliss following his death at the weekend, Perez set the pace in the $8 million Rolex Series event with a five-under-par 67 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
In a testing breeze and with the pins tucked away, an effort containing six birdies earned the 28-year-old, who was living in Dundee when he won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year but has now moved to Edinburgh, a one-shot lead over MacIntyre, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and South African Erik Van Rooyen.
Tommy Fleetwood, who sits second in the Race to Dubai standings as he bids to claim that title for the second time in four years, is already lurking ominously on three-under, one ahead of the man he is trying to overhaul this week, American Patrick Reed.
Perez, who is sixth on the points table and is trying to become the first French player to be crowned as European No 1, made his score by coming home in four-under 32, which included him failing miserably with a first attempt to run a 3-wood up over a slope just off the green at the par-5 14th then hole the next one.“That was obviously a good bonus because I could have easily walked away with 6 and the round might not have ended up the way it did. But those things happen, and we'll take them,” he said afterwards.
Perez, who has already enjoyed two runner-up finishes in Rolex Series events this year, including the BWW PGA Championship at Wentworth, is determined to keep his foot to the pedal in the European Tour finale.“In the position I'm in, I have nothing to lose. I have everything to gain,” he insisted. “So, for me, it's really a going-for-it mentality that I have to keep for four rounds. Obviously you still have to play proper golf and hit the right shots and sometimes take your medicine, but it's a matter of making a lot of birdies.”
MacIntyre, who clinched the Rookie of the Year title with a top-15 finish on his debut in the event last year, also carded six red numbers, including three in a row to start, in his equally-pleasing day’s work.
"I didn't drive it great today, so I was always in a bit of trouble here and there, but we took our punishment,” said the 24-year-old left-hander. “It's a golf course that I like. It suits my eye, so just going to try and keep doing what I'm doing.”
MacIntyre is ending the season in hot form, having tied for third the week before his breakthrough win in the Cyprus Showdown last month then backing that up with a couple of top-20 finishes. In all those events, he’s been either holing putts left right and centre or threatening the hole.
“I feel my putting has come on leaps and bounds in the last eight weeks,” he admitted. “My stats were horrific at the start of the year, but now they're coming on and, last week, I had the best putting round I've had in my life.
“Graeme Leslie, who does Golf Data Lab, has been working with me on my stats on my putting, and he's definitely helped me to get to this point.
"I call him my stats geek. But he's helped me with my putting, as has Davy (Burns, his coach). Davy keeps an eye on it when we're out here playing on Tour and the putter is back feeling the way it was last year.”
The winner on Sunday will pick up $3 million, but MacIntyre is not even thinking about that at the moment or the fact a top-seven finish or better should see him break into the world’s top 50 for the first time.
“I can't do anything about that $3 million,” he said. “I can only hit a good tee shot off the first tomorrow and see where we are come Sunday afternoon.”
Fitzpatrick, who won this event in 2017, also covered the inward half in 32 without dropping a shot, while Van Rooyen signed for five birdies.
"It was a really good day,” said Fitzpatrick of his effort. “I felt like I played solid all over. I think I only missed one green. I'm really happy to get in with four-under.”
Fleetwood birdied two of the last four holes to sit alongside two-time major champion Martin Kaymer, BMW PGA Championship winner Tyrrell Hatton and Finland’s Sami Valimaki, who landed the Oman Open earlier in the year.
Two double Race to Dubai winners Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson lie level with Reed on two-under while US PGA champion Collin Morikawa marked his first European Tour start with a solid 72.
Marc Warren started with 10 straight pars before having an adventurous journey thereafter - two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey - as he signed for a level-par 72.
On his debut in the event, Connor Syme birdied the last for a 73, one less than Scott Jamieson, who had four birdies but also two double-bogeys and two bogeys on his card.
Grant Forrest, who is also making his first appearance on this stage, had just one birdie in his 75 alongside Syme.
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