Conor Purcell fired an opening three-under at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to take pole position among the seven Irish contenders at the Challenge Tour’s Abu Dhabi Challenge.
After back-to-back top 10s to start the year, Purcell’s form had dipped somewhat in his four previous starts, but he came out firing in Abu Dhabi with a birdie at the tenth – his first – before adding two more on the 14th and 18th to make the turn at -3. Six consecutive pars on the front side came to an end with a bogey-four at seven, but he’d reply in style with a birdie at the par-5 eighth and closed out the round with a par at the last to lie tied for 12th.
Ruaidhri McGee is next best placed of the Irish at -1. Pars at the first and second were followed by a double-bogey-six at the third, but it would be the only blemish on the Derry man’s card, and he’d birdie the eighth, the 13th and the final hole to finish T46.
Making his first Challenge Tour start of the season, Jonathan Caldwell went round in level par, carding four birdies, three bogeys and matching McGee’s double-bogey on three.
He was later joined by Dermot McElroy, and they occupy a tie for 61st. McElroy’s day began with a double-bogey at the tenth, but back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 made amends and he’d trade two birdies and two bogeys over the next 15 holes.
A missed-cut on his only Challenge Tour start this year has left Paul Dunne a long way down the pecking order, and he couldn’t capitalise on another rare start as the Greystones man made just one birdie enroute to an opening, two-over 74, the same scoreline as Niall Kearney who played his opening nine in one-under before dropping three strokes on the way home.
Englishman Tom Lewis is the early leader, firing nine birdies on his way to an eight-under 64 to lead fellow countryman Joshua Greenville-Wood and France’s Julien Sale by one stroke, with Spain’s Ivan Cantero Gutierrez a shot further back in solo-fifth.
“It’s obviously a great start,” said two-time DP World Tour winner Lewis. “I haven’t shot a score like that around this course. Conditions were perfect. There wasn’t too much breeze and it’s so warm here that the ball is going an extra club length. It was great to be out there.
“My putting was really nice. That’s usually something that’s been my Achilles heel but today I holed putts when it mattered. I holed some lengthy putts and I holed some good mid-range ones too. That’s probably the big difference from shooting eight under and being level par around here.”
Having played here in 2021 in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, Lewis was familiar with the course and used that knowledge to his advantage.
“I recently played here in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.” he said. “Knowing the rough is down, you can still get at pins when you’re a little out of position which makes it feel like the fairways are slightly bigger. I’ve never really hit many fairways around here, but to shoot that score, I’m delighted.
“It’s just one round, there’s three left to go. Tomorrow I’ll be telling myself I’m at level par. If I can get off to the start I did today and shoot in the 60s, that would be great.”
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