The European Tour’s lucrative roll along the Gulf coast continues this week, and while the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy (henceforth, the Qatar Masters) can’t quite muster the glamour of its bigger, brasher sister, the Abu Dhabi Championship, its first round was far from lacking in both excitement and oddity.
One man who straddled both of those categories was two-time major winner John Daly. The 45-year-old, resplendent in red-and-black chequered trousers, carded a five-under-par 67 in difficult conditions to seize the early lead.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the round, the world number 543 described himself as “shocked” by his performance:
“I had five and a half weeks off and really didn’t touch the clubs much so being the first tournament of the year I’m real happy.
“For me it’s probably one of the best rounds I’ve ever played in the wind like that because you can hit some decent shots and it can get away from you so fast especially as hard as this course is.”
Daly may have stolen the morning’s headlines, but it was maverick ball-striking specialist Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño who emerged from the other half of the draw to seize the overnight lead.
Virtually unplayable when he hits a vein of form on the greens, “Gonzo” stormed to the summit of the leaderboard with a round of 66 that included a stunning nine birdies. Impressive given the blustery, dust-blown conditions, it was a card rendered doubly so by the inauspiciousness of the Spaniard’s early play.
Tied for third place, two shots adrift of Fernandez-Castaño, are two emissaries from the PGA Tour, Jason Day and KJ Choi. Remarkably, both reached the sanctuary of the clubhouse without recording a single dropped shot.
They in turn enjoy a one-shot advantage over a quintet of players that includes four of the early season’s pace-setters – Nicolas Colsaerts, Paul Lawrie, Peter Hanson and Richard Finch – and Danny Willett.
Both Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer (71) are amongst a 22-strong group of players tied for 15th place.