Separation Anxiety: Day One at the Dubai World Challenge
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Peter Hanson made it all look remarkably easy on Thursday.

Lo, Robert Karlsson came down from on high and declared the Earth course a ball-striker’s paradise. And so it came to pass.

Played in that balmy stillness that counts as winter in the Gulf, the opening round of the Dubai World Challenge proved the scene of some impressive scoring, with a long, demanding layout and eerily true putting surfaces combining to tilt the balance of power resolutely in favour of those who routinely rely on their prowess with the longer clubs to manufacture scores.

Leading the way is a man who conforms perfectly to that archetype: Sweden’s Peter Hanson. The Ryder Cup alumnus reached the turn in a relatively modest 34 shots before blazing for home a with a run of four consecutive birdies.

His eight-under-par round of 64 was enough for a one-shot lead over former Open champion Paul Lawrie.

The names at the very summit of the leaderboard aren’t without pedigree, but it’s the player in third place– Rory McIlroy– who’ll bear the bulk of press and public expectation heading into tomorrow’s second round.

The US Open champion requires both a 72-hole victory and a relatively poor finish from his first round playing partner, Luke Donald, if he’s to emerge with the Race to Dubai title at week’s end.

Though a double-bogey at the second hole augured poorly for the round ahead, the Holywood native recovered impressively to play the following 16 holes in seven-under-par to card a 66.

Like Hanson, he covered the back nine in a mere 30 shots, appearing to elevate the tempo of his performance at the precise moment his playing partner began to falter.

Panicked, perhaps, by the manner in which he’d ceded momentum to the Northerner, Donald slumped to a hat-trick of consecutive bogeys from the 14th.

By the time the two players shook hands on the final green, they were separated by a margin of six shots, the difference between third place and a more pedestrian share of 26th.

The names of Sergio Garcia (67), Alvaro Quiros, Robert Rock and Ross Fisher (68) round out the top five.

Conor Nagle