Conor Purcell is just one shot off the lead after the opening day of the UAE Challenge at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
Purcell carded a four-under 68 to trail Ivan Cantero Gutierrez – who carded two eagles in his first round – by the minimum.
No stranger to strong winds, Purcell opened with a birdie before three successive birdies around the turn saw him cruise to four-under. A bizarre double bogey on 16 where he stepped on his own golf ball – costing him a shot – didn’t derail his round as he finished in style with birdies on 17 and 18.
“On 16 I actually missed the green and then I made a mistake, I tripped over my golf ball,” explained Purcell. “I was looking at a different ball and tripped over mine for a shot penalty and didn’t get up and down.
“It was nice to get up and down after that and finish birdie, birdie and shoot a good score.”
The 25-year-old is ranked 26th in the Road to Mallorca Rankings, helped by picking up three top-7 finishes in as many starts to open his campaign. Since then he has gone off the boil slightly with two missed cuts and no finish better than T43 but he was pleased with his morning’s work as he looks to get back into the groove.
“It was a very solid day out there, it’s been blowing since early morning so I knew it would be a tough test. It’s generous off the tee and I hit it well and gave myself plenty of chances.
“I hit some iron shots close and had a nice little stretch at the turn having three in a row which always helps. I played solid all day.”
Cantero Gutierrez is the man to catch and the Spaniard had to contend with blustery conditions on the Arabian Gulf, but a birdie on the ninth – his final hole – will see him take a one stroke lead into day two.
The 27-year-old has registered two top 20 finishes in his last two appearances on the Road to Mallorca, and after finishing tied second at the Abu Dhabi Challenge last week, he’s playing with confidence.
“I’ve worked really hard in the last few weeks at home,” he said. “I’m more confident with my game. My driving is pretty good and my putting has been great. When you have confidence, scoring is easier.
“I’m feeling great. I played really solid golf in conditions that are really tough. I hit a lot of drivers and my second shots were six or five irons.
“The course is in amazing condition. I’m really happy with my game, and hopefully it’s the same tomorrow.”
Cantero Gutierrez started his round on the tenth hole and was four under par at the turn thanks to two eagles, one of which came on his opening hole. With the wind set to drop tomorrow, he’s hoping for more scoring opportunities on day two.
“It felt really good to start with an eagle on the first hole,” he said. “I hit my driver to three metres, so it made it easier as I started well.
“I think tomorrow the course is going to be a bit easier. I think it’ll be easier to have a good score tomorrow morning, but this is golf. I’ll just try to have a good score.”
Ten players share fourth place at three under par, including Road to Mallorca Number One Ugo Coussaud, Duncan Taylor Black Bull Challenge winner Om Prakash Chouhan and Scotland’s Daniel Young, who still has one hole left of his opening round as play was suspended due to darkness.
Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy is well placed in a share of fourteenth after a two-under 70 while Paul Dunne is on level-par.
Niall Kearney and Stuart Grehan – who is making his first start of 2023 – are one-over after rounds of 73 while Cormac Sharvin and Ruaidhri McGee are a shot further back. Jonathan Caldwell is on plus four.
Round one will resume at 7:45am local time, while Cantero Gutierrez will get his second round under way at 8.15am alongside Englishman Pavan Sagoo and Belgian Alan de Bondt.
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