Robert MacIntyre feels his primary weapon is in “perfect” shape as he shot 67 to be right in the hunt after the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The Oban lefty switched drivers for the new season, and after just “a little tweak” at Abu Dhabi last week it was in prime order for the first day at Emirates Golf Club.
MacIntyre is in a group in fifth behind pacesetter Richard Sterne of South Africa (64) and the man the Scot edged out for the European Tour’s rookie of the year award in 2019, Kurt Kitayama of the USA.
The Scot’s first goal for 2021 is to cement a place in the World Top 50 and he actually slipped a place despite his finish inside the top 20 at Abu Dhabi. Si Woo Kim’s win on the PGA Tour on Sunday vaulted him back into the top 50 at MacIntyre’s expense.
However, MacIntyre felt he was on the cusp of a strong showing moving on to Dubai after shaking off the rust of his season opener, and the new driver was the source of that confidence.
“It took me about four, five days (to get used to it),” he said. “Just the week before Abu Dhabi I felt it was near perfect. Then just a little tweak at Abu Dhabi, and now it is perfect.
‘‘Driving the ball well at Emirates is a definite if you look at the list of former winners and with the course having been toughened up with some new tee boxes.
“A lot of the new boxes are pretty brutal.
“At the 16th, dead into the wind, you miss the drive, you can’t get to the green, simple as that.
“But overall, it played a little easier than I expected. I thought there would be more wind in the afternoon.”
The 16th was MacIntyre’s only bogey of the day and he went to finish with back-to-back birdies.
For the second week in a row, the Scot has been paired for the first two rounds with someone who is invested in his game. Last week it was European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, who was impressed with him.
This week it is Harrington’s vice-captain, the former Race to Dubai winner Robert Karlsson and the Swede was winding up MacIntyre beforehand.
“Robert was great,” said MacIntyre. “I met him at the hotel yesterday after the draw came out and he said ‘we’re keeping an eye on you’.
“I just try not to think about it,’’ said the 24-year-old.
‘‘Really, he’s just another playing partner and if you’re selected to play with him, fair enough.
“But I know if I am going to get on that team, there’s going to be no (wildcard) picks happening. So I just focus on my golf, keep attacking flags, trying to hole putts.”
Sterne made hay on the back nine, coming back in five-under figures of 32, boosted by the confidence he had from a strong finish to start his season last week.
“I had a wrist operation last March, so that was me basically out of the whole of last year,” he said. “I played the last few events of the year and did pretty decently considering how long I took off.
“I’ve come close here before, so it would be nice to have a chance going into the weekend.
‘‘I haven’t had many chances for a long time, so it would be nice to get through tomorrow and place myself well and see how the weekend goes.”
Sergio Garcia, making his season debut, opened with a six-under 66, putting some new equipment into play for the first time. Ryder Cup colleague Paul Casey was in the group on 67 with MacIntyre after opening with four straight birdies but adding only one more the rest of the way.
Drumoig’s Connor Syme, making his season debut on a sponsor’s invitation, started brightly, playing the back nine first and reaching three-under at the turn. The 25-year-old found the strengthening winds tougher and gave all the strokes back on the way home, but a par round of 72 was a solid start to his 2021 campaign.
Scott Jamieson (70), Richie Ramsay (71) and David Law (72) are the other Scots at par or better after the first 18 holes, while Abu Dhabi champion Tyrrell Hatton had a sharp reaction to his win, tumbling to a four-over 76.