Former Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson flirted with carding the first 59 on the European Tour before having to settle for an opening 62 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Donaldson, who secured the winning point for Europe at Gleneagles in 2014, began his round on the back nine of Emirates Golf Club and fired nine birdies and an eagle in his first 16 holes.
That left the Welshman needing two more birdies to break the magical 60 barrier, but after almost chipping in on the eighth and tapping in for par, the 42-year-old bogeyed the ninth to miss out on equalling the course record of 61.
Donaldson still ended the day with a one-shot lead over David Horsey and Anthony Wall, with Tyrrell Hatton a shot further back and Rory McIlroy part of a group on seven under on a day when more than 100 of the 132-strong field broke par.
Donaldson reached a career high of 23rd in the world in 2014 but has struggled for form and fitness since winning the Thailand Golf Championship in December 2015 and was lucky to escape serious injury to his left hand the following month after an accident with a chainsaw while gardening.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I was thinking about it (shooting 59),” the world number 292 said. “I birdied five and then thought if I just birdie them all coming in I’ve done it.
“Sometimes you’re best not thinking and just keep playing but I was picturing birdieing them all and then jumping in the lake on the last. McIlroy had earlier enjoyed more of the same with a bogey-free 65 which takes him to 25 under par for the first five rounds of his comeback from injury.
“The 28-year-old called an early end to a winless and injury-plagued season last October, but returned with a tie for third in Abu Dhabi last week and carried on where he left off in Dubai.
“I don’t think you could have got better conditions out there,” McIlroy said. “The greens in the morning are perfect and there wasn’t much wind for probably the first 12 or 13 holes. So you needed to take advantage of it today. Thankfully I was able to do that.
“I feel like I left a few out there but at the end of the day, 65, you’re not going to complain about that.”
Asked to compare his mood now and at the end of last season, the former world number one added: “It’s a big difference. Not being able to play to my best last year was something that I was very frustrated with.
“But from then until now, it completely different. I’m really happy with where my body is, where my game is and this is just a progression of what I’ve seen over the past couple of months, which has been nice.
“I didn’t expect to play as well as I did last week, and it’s been nice to continue that into this week. Yeah, I’m ahead of schedule right now, but I don’t mind that. That’s nice. (I) Just have to reassess everything and go from there.”
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