American Patrick Reed overcame a back injury to lead after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai as Justin Rose took a massive step closer to a remarkable Race to Dubai triumph.
Reed carded a flawless 65 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to finish seven under par, a shot ahead of Rose and Australia’s Scott Hend, with defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick part of a six-strong group on five under.
Rose was a distant tenth in the money-list until claiming more than 2.3 million points with back-to-back victories in China and Turkey and came into the week trailing long-time leader Tommy Fleetwood by 256,738.
That means the Olympic champion needs at least a top-five finish to overhaul Fleetwood, whose 73 suffered hugely in comparison with another superb display from playing partner Rose.
“It looks worse and feels worse,” Fleetwood admitted. “He played flawless golf. I don’t know how long he’s going to keep doing this for – but it’s doing my head in.
“To do well I have to improve things myself. I can’t go out and play my round and then go out and watch him and hope he doesn’t do very well.”
Fleetwood admitted he was feeling the pressure as he double-bogeyed the first and dropped another shot on the third, but an eagle on the seventh helped him get back to level par before a three-putt bogey on the 17th.
Rose’s only bogey also came via a three-putt on the ninth, but the 37-year-old holed out from a bunker on the 14th for an eagle in a back nine of 31 and admitted he was now the man to catch.
“It’s probably shifted but tomorrow could be a whole other day,” Rose said. “This was not really on the radar a month ago. That’s the perspective that I have to keep because it’s an opportunity for me. [It would] certainly be easy to start to think about it now as being in my hands, but I think for me it’s still a bonus at this point.”
Ryder Cup star Reed might have something to say about that, with the world No 23 intent on making the most of his surprise place in the field.
Reed thought he had not played enough events to retain his European Tour membership, only to be told that the Presidents Cup counted towards the requirement of five.
“I feel like the hard work I did with my coach right after missing the cut in Mexico really paid off,” Reed said. “I felt like the swing was right where it needed to be and I woke up this morning and had this really awful pain in my back, close to my shoulder.
“The warm-up wasn’t how I wanted. I was kind of spraying it and then my caddie just looked at me and reminded me, ‘Hey, you’re a gamer, not a range guy.’
“Any time you can start birdie, birdie it gets you started and I was able to right the ship and make some putts and hit some good shots.”
Playing in the same group as Reed, Marc Warren carded a level-par 72 to be leading Scot along with Richie Ramsay in a share of 40th spot. Warren only got into the event on Wednesday afternoon after Englishman Matthew Southgate was forced to withdraw due to an injury.
David Drysdale signed for a 73 while it was a disappointing start for Scott Jamieson, who finished runner-up behind Branden Grace in last week’s Nedbank Challenge in South Africa to get into the season-ending event, as he opened with a 76 to sit joint last in the 60-man field beside Englishman Graeme Storm.