Sergio Garcia makes strong start to Dubai Desert Classic mission

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Sergio Garcia made a positive start to his year as a five-under-par 67 put him among the front-runners at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Spaniard Garcia had just two top-10 finishes on the European Tour last season, but one of those came at this event, and he showed his liking for the tournament he won in 2017 with another sparkling round.

It was not enough for the lead, with Denmark's Joachim B Hansen ahead of the field thanks to an impressive 65 that featured birdies at four of the first five holes.

Garcia held a share of third place through 18 holes, with South African Justin Harding nudging up to second on six under through 17 holes before darkness forced him to delay completing his round until Friday.

It was as a 19-year-old in 1999 that Garcia first won on the European Tour, which has been renamed as the DP World Tour this season, with that breakthrough triumph coming at the Irish Open.

He was a champion twice on the tour that year, landed six victories in the 2000s and added eight European Tour titles in the 2010s, including a Masters victory, which counted to his win list on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now, at the age of 42, Garcia is bidding to win on the tour in a fourth successive decade, and this was a strong start, as he made five birdies and did not drop a shot.

"It was good. I think obviously it got a little bit more challenging the last couple of holes with left-to-right wind," he said. "I made a couple of nice par saves at the right times and kept it in play for the most part. I hit a good amount of greens and when I didn't, my chipping and putting was there to help me. So that was good."

In an interview on the European Tour website, Garcia added: "I still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I want to keep trying, to get better, challenge myself to improve. That's never easy and as you get older it's obviously tougher, but I'll work hard and hopefully keep fighting."

Garcia had company on five under from fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, as well as Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, Italy's Andrea Pavan, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti.

Open champion Collin Morikawa was in a group on four under, with defending Dubai champion Paul Casey two shots further back. Rory McIlroy was three under par through five holes of his round, having started on the back nine, but he fell away to a one-under 71 for a share of 46th place.

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