Sterne leads at Dubai Desert Classic after 8-under 64

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Richard Sterne took a one-stroke lead at the Dubai Desert Classic with an 8-under 64 on Thursday in the first round.

The South African rolled in his ninth birdie of the day — on his ninth and final hole — to move ahead of American rival Kurt Kitayama (65) at the Emirates Golf Club.

Sergio Garcia and Justin Harding (66) were tied for third.

The 39-year-old Sterne, who has battled an array of injuries in his career, last won on the European Tour nearly eight years ago. His only blemish on Thursday was a bogey on the sixth.

“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 golf shots as well. Made quite a few birdies,” said Sterne, who has had knee, hip and wrist problems in the past.

Robert MacIntyre, Paul Casey, Adrian Otaegui and Thomas Detry (67) were all tied for fifth.

Tyrrell Hatton’s hopes for a desert double took a blow with five bogeys en route to a 4-over 76. The Englishman reached a career-high No. 5 after winning the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday.

With No. 4 Collin Morikawa in the field, Kitayama wasn’t the American to watch heading into the tournament. But he recorded an eagle and six birdies, dropping only one shot at the 14th.

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

Morikawa (71) was seven shots off the lead. The 23-year-old American, who won the PGA Championship last year, is making his second appearance in a regular European Tour event. The first came in December at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, which was also staged in Dubai.

Garcia, who won in Dubai in 2017, was flawless with six birdies. The 41-year-old Spaniard withdrew from the rescheduled Masters in November after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I felt comfortable out there, for sure,” Garcia said. “I’m very happy with the way it went. It shows I’m putting some good work in.”

Nacho Elvira (71) hit a hole-in-one on the par-3 11th.

The Dubai Desert Classic is the second stop of the “Gulf Swing.” The Saudi International is next.

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