Open champion Collin Morikawa was left to rue a poor finish as Italy’s Andrea Pavan made a welcome return to form in the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
Morikawa, who could replace Jon Rahm as world number one with a victory on Sunday, covered his first seven holes at Emirates Golf Club in seven under par, but bogeyed three of the last four to post an opening 68.
That left the two-time major winner three shots behind clubhouse leader JB Hansen, who completed a bogey-free 65 shortly before play was suspended for the day due to the fading light.
South Africa’s Justin Harding was a shot off the lead with the par-five 18th left to play, with Pavan part of a six-strong group on five under par which included Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood and 2017 champion Sergio Garcia.
Morikawa, who finished 62nd in Abu Dhabi last week, said: “It was a disappointing finish but I’ve been working Monday through Wednesday, even late after the pro-am trying to figure things out.”
Defending champion Paul Casey bogeyed the 16th and 18th to card a two-under-par 70, with two-time winner Rory McIlroy a shot further back.
McIlroy, who was three under par after five holes before eventually signing for a 71, said: “I thought I hit the ball nicely most of the day.
“There was a couple of loose shots in there and I feel like I bogeyed three of the easiest holes on the course, 18, two and seven.
“A couple of bad decisions or mental mistakes and then maybe made a couple of bad swings in there as well. Overall the course is tricky, firm greens. Thought I did most things pretty well but just need to tidy a few things up.”
McIlroy is joined on one under by Shane Lowry and Jonathan Caldwell, while Padraig Harrington finished one better on two under.