MacDonald carded a four-under-par 68 on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club to lie joint-second on a day when Thailand’s Supamas Sangchan set the pace in the final LET event of the season with a a bogey-free effort.
“I made a couple of birdies in the first few holes, which was nice,” said MacDonald. “I have got one of my best friends, Katy McNicoll, on the bag this week and that made things more enjoyable.”
MacDonald, who qualified for her second US Women’s Open earlier in the year, has a decent record in this event, having finished 31st in 2015 and joint-27th last year.
“This is my favourite event apart from the Scottish Open,” added the Nairn woman. “They (the organisers) look after us so well. Also, the course is really good. Each hole is different, but I seem to get momentum going, which is really good.”
Thomson, who produced her career-best performance when finishing runner-up in the Indian Open last month, is joint-14th after a 70, which was matched by Dryburgh in her first outing since securing a card for next season’s LPGA Tour.
Sangchan, a 21-year-old from Bangkok, came to life on the front nine after starting from the 10th, making the turn at one-under before reeling off four birdies in six holes to leave a strong field trailing in her wake.
Noora Tamminen celebrated the centenary of Finland’s independence in style, producing the shot of the day when she aced the par-3, 11th to join fellow countrywoman Minea Blomqvist, also dressed in her national colours, and Nanna Koerstz Madsen of Denmark alongside MacDonald in a share of second.
Laura Davies mixed five birdies with two bogeys to move into a seven-way tie for seventh on three-under but Women’s British Open champion In-Kyung Kim had to settle for a one-over 73 on a day when 45 players broke par.
American Brittany Lincicome, making her debut in Dubai, carded a one-under 71 to sit six shots off the pace along with India’s Aditi Ashok and China’s Muni He, who has just turned professional.
English duo Charley Hull and Georgia Hall shot matching 70s while Pamela Pretswell Asher, the top Scot on the LET for the last two years, opened with a 72 along with Kylie Henry.
Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and Carly Booth both carded 73s to sit just inside the projected cut, with Vikki Laing the only Scot outside that after a 75.