Sterne passes test to lead Desert Classic after first round 64

Dubai (AFP) –


South African Richard Sterne rolled in his ninth birdie of the day at the final hole to card a 64 and take a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

Sterne, who is playing in only his fifth event since undergoing wrist surgery last March, was five-under at the turn and put in a solid back nine to finish eight under par, one shot clear of the American Kurt Kitayama.

"When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going and I hit a lot of golf shots as well. Made quite a few birdies," said the 39-year-old Sterne who has won six times on the European Tour.

"So today, I was pretty happy with the performance."

Kitayama -- also starting on the back nine -- got off to a bright start with a hat-trick of birdies before dropping his only shot of the day at the 14th, his fifth hole.

He followed up with an eagle two at the 17th, his eighth hole, before reaching the turn with another birdie.

Two more birdies on the back nine gave him a seven-under 65.

"I haven't played this well in a while, so it's nice to get a round like this," Kitayama said.

Sergio Garcia, who won this event in 2017 before going on to claim his maiden major title at the Masters later that year, and Justin Harding, who recovered from an opening bogey, sit one shot further back of Kitayama in a tie for third.

"I felt comfortable out there," said the Spaniard.

"I felt I hit a lof of good shots. It was a good solid day."

A further shot behind Garcia and Harding were Paul Casey, Thomas Detry, Adrian Otaegui and Robert MacIntyre.

Englishman Casey birdied five of his first seven holes en route to five under par in what is his first appearance at the event since 2014.

World number four Collin Morikawa, the PGA Championship winner, fired a one-under 71 to be seven shots off the lead.

Last week's Abu Dhabi Championship winner Tyrrell Hatton carded a four-over 76.