DUBAI — Richard Sterne of South Africa fired a scintillating 10-under-par 62 in the Dubai Desert Classic first round on Thursday, to overshadow a fine start to the season by world No8 Lee Westwood.
World No165 Sterne’s 10-birdie round in scoring-friendly conditions was nearly matched by Scot Stephen Gallacher (63) while Race to Dubai money-list leader Scott Jamieson was two shots further back with Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Doak.
Former world No1 Westwood (67) matched 56-year-old twice Major winner and 2004 champion Mark O’Meara’s round thanks to a brilliant eagle at the par-five 18th, his ninth hole.
Despite a solitary birdie on the closing nine, the Englishman was left beaming after a good day’s work. "I felt very sharp — no rust there at all and I played better today than I finished off last year," Westwood told reporters.
"You never know what to expect after a few weeks off," added the 39-year-old, who moved his family to Florida last year in order to keep his game fresh in the off season.
Sterne, who has resumed playing a full schedule after a back problem limited him to four events in 2010 and six in 2011, was a shot away from equalling the course record set by compatriot and four-time Major winner Ernie Els in 1994.
"I knew Ernie had shot 61 quite a while ago and always thought it would be impossible to get close, but I got as close as you could," Sterne told reporters.
The five-time European Tour winner is hoping to notch up his first victory since 2008, when he recorded back-to-back wins in South Africa in December.
"Hopefully I can just keep going and give myself a chance on Sunday when it counts. I do want to win again and that’s one of the goals for the year. It’s been a while since I’ve won — it’s just not that easy to do anymore," he said.
Also high on the leaderboard were former world No3 Paul Casey, who three-putted his last hole but still came away with a 66 to equal his playing partner, Italian teenager Matteo Manassero.
Casey put his excellent start down to the state of the greens, which the players were warned about before the tournament in a letter from the event director, although the Englishman said fears about the course’s condition had not materialised.
62: Richard Sterne
63: Stephen Gallacher
65: Tommy Fleetwood, Scott Jamieson, Chris Doak
66: Maximilian Kieffer, Matteo Manassero, Paul Casey, Ricardo Santos, Noh Seung-Yul, Peter Lawrie
67: Mark O’Meara, Lee Westwood, Emiliano Grillo, Marcus Fraser, Fredrik Andersson-Hed, Andreas Harto, Marc Warren, Jamie Donaldson, Gregory Bourdy, Thorbjorn Olesen
68: Lorenzo Gagli, Richard Bland, Thomas Levet, Felipe Aguilar, Justin Walters, Thongchai Jaidee, Chris Wood, Victor Dubuisson