European Tour Rookie of the Year Martin Kaymer held a one stroke lead over Dubai Desert Classic champion Henrik Stenson following the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship after the German carded an impressive opening round six-under-par 66 in Abu Dhabi.
Kaymer, the 2006 Order of Merit winner on the third tier European Professional Development Tour, made a brilliant start to his first tournament since winning the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year accolade with an eagle three at his first hole, the 10th.
The 23-year-old, who represented Germany at the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup and claimed a sixth place finish alongside four-time European Tour winner Alex Cejka, dropped his only shot of the round at the par three 15th before quickly regaining the stroke three holes later to reach the turn two under par.
Four birdies on the front nine followed to hand Kaymer, who ranks Ernie Els as his golfing role model, a slender lead over Dubai-based Stenson.
“I have had a long break since playing at the World Cup eight or nine weeks ago so I couldn’t wait to get out here and play a tournament,” said Kaymer.
“I am really pleased with the round because I made several putts and it wasn’t that easy to play today because it was windy,” added Kaymer, who shot an incredible 13-under-par 59 at the Habsberg Classic on the EDF Tour in June last year.
“When I saw Henrik Stenson’s round of five under I was surprised and wondered how he did that, but now I know.
“I feel really relaxed now. My goal was always just to make the cut. I felt nervous today because if I play well over the next three events I will get the chance to play in the match play in Arizona and that is a big goal and that’s why I was a little nervous and the pressure was there, but now I am raring to go in the morning.”
Stenson, the 2006 Qatar Masters champion, had earlier set the pace in blustery conditions at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club with an opening round 67, which included just two dropped shots.
“The key here is to stay out of the rough, this is the thickest rough we have seen here and the thickest I’ve played all year,” he said.
“I was also delighted with my putting. I had struggled a little bit in the last couple of months but I made four really long putts out there and that made the difference to my score.”
Stenson’s compatriot and Ryder Cup team-mate Robert Karlsson was a further shot adrift alongside Australian world number eight Adam Scott, with Lee Westwood, Ignacio Garrido and another Swede, Peter Hedblom, a stroke further back.
Wales’ Jamie Donaldson, Ian Poulter and Ireland’s Damien McGrane was at two under par, a stroke ahead of English trio Phillip Archer, Graeme Storm and Luke Donald.
A resurgent Darren Clarke, on the back of successive top four finishes, joined a congested group including Open champion Padraig Harrington, Nick Dougherty and Colin Montgomerie on level par.
“I am playing much better. I didn’t hit the ball quite as well today but my short game was very good and so to be able to shoot level par when I’m not playing at my best is perhaps another sign that I’m moving in the right direction,” said Clarke, who was disappointed to end his round with a bogey at the last.
“I would have hoped for better but I am pleased with level par,”
Defending champion Paul Casey made a disappointing start to his challenge and signed for a birdie-less three-over-par 75.