Fleetwood’s opening 67 at Dubai Desert Classic hints at return to top form

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<span>Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
  • Joachim B Hansen tops leaderboard at seven under

  • Fleetwood and Sergio García among six players on five under

Surprise that Tommy Fleetwood has slipped to 43rd in the world – and the fifth-ranked Englishman – owes everything to appreciation of his talent. Before the pandemic, Fleetwood was inside the top 10 and looked a certainty to claim at least one major championship. Instead there has been a winless run that now stretches back to late 2019.

An opening round of 67 at the Dubai Desert Classic suggested Fleetwood is of a mind to return to earlier prominence. There has not quite been cause to ponder where it all went wrong, but day one at the Emirates Club supplied a reminder of what an impressive sight Fleetwood in full flow can be. He dropped just one shot, at the 13th, but easily offset it with six birdies.

Related: Saudi elephant in room overshadows Dubai Desert Classic buildup

“I’m very focused on my overall game,” Fleetwood said. “Obviously there are two aspects I need to improve. I need to be in the fairway a lot more with a driver and I need to be putting better.

“For the most part – I’m not going to speak too soon – but I feel like if I do put it in the fairway, that is giving me the best chance to score and I feel like I’m hitting my irons really nicely. I did two things well for the most part and I holed some nice putts and no matter what golf course I go to, that’s going to be my main focus for the foreseeable future. To get back to doing the things that I always did do so well and taking it from there.” Simple in theory, of course, but Fleetwood is thus far delivering inside the ropes.

A strong putting display from Joachim B Hansen allowed him to claim the early lead, at seven under par. On a tightly-packed leaderboard Justin Harding – who must return on Friday morning to complete his first round after darkness fell – trails Hansen by one. Pablo Larrazábal, Sergio García, Andrea Pavan and Thongchai Jaidee joined Fleetwood in posting 67s. Collin Morikawa, the Open champion, and Viktor Hovland are a shot further back. Morikawa had been seven under with four to play but from there dropped three shots.

“It was a disappointing finish but I’ve been working Monday through Wednesday, even into yesterday late after the Pro-Am trying to figure things out,” Morikawa said. “When you are thinking about so much you always have to remember to go and play golf. I’ve been thinking about everything, trying to figure out what to do.” Handily for Morikawa, it is only January.

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Rory McIlroy’s day also started brightly. The Northern Irishman was three under through five but eventually had to settle for a 71. His game appears a work in progress and he said: “There were a couple of bad decisions or mental mistakes and then maybe made a couple of bad swings in there as well.”

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