Graeme McDowell got 2017 off to a sensational start when he played his first 11 holes in seven under par and posted a six under 66 to lie just two shots off the lead after the opening round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The 37-year old from Portrush, seeking to reignite his career having slipped to 91st in the world this week, took advantage of benign conditions to cover the back nine in six under 30.
He then birdied his 11th hole to go seven under for the day and while he slipped up a little coming home with a bogey at the sixth and no more than a par five at the last, he was still pleased with his first round of 2017.
Welshman Bradley Dredge posted an eight under 64 to lead by one from Finland’s Mikko Korhonen with McDowell tied for third with Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and England’s Nathan Kimsey.
It was also a great start to the week for Greystones' Paul Dunne, who birdied his last two holes for a 67 and a share of sixth on five under par.
“Yeah, very happy with that,” McDowell said. “Incredibly benign conditions for Doha. Even when it doesn't blow here, it typically blows 15, and it was perfect conditions this morning.
“Great to get off to a fast start right out of the gates, birdieing the first three holes, and that kind of set the tone for the day. I really felt like I gave myself a lot of chances, even on the tougher front nine, for my second nine.
“I felt like I left a couple out there, and always nice to shoot six-under par and feel like you left a few out there. Just the start I was looking for, and felt nice.”
Now a Floridian, as well as a father of two, McDowell joked that he’s more of a fair weather golfer these days than an Irish links player.
“The days of growing up in the wind like I did in Ireland, those days are gone,” he said. “I'm a little bit more of a spoiled child these days playing golf in the sunshine.
“Tuesday afternoon, I practiced here and it was very difficult. Certainly you're gearing your game for a tough weekend, and it's a nice surprise when you get benign conditions like we had this morning.”
He added: “It’s always been one of those golf courses that has appealed to me on a lot of levels. Obviously the conditions being tougher, typically a tough golf course, I play them well. To go out and obviously post a low one this morning was nice to start the proceedings.
“I felt good on the greens and my iron play was pretty good and I got the ball in play mostly off the tee. Obviously long way to go. It's only round one, but like the way I felt out there today.”
While he could only manage a par five at his final hole, McDowell started well with three successive birdies.
“It’s always nice, that little bit of anticipation," he said. "First tournament out, first round of the 2017 year, and to birdie 10,11, 12 was a special way to start and certainly got me in a very relaxed frame of mind.
“It was nice to keep building and keep hitting good shots from there. Like I say, a long way to go. It's early days and lots of good players here, and definitely keep the head down and hopefully keep playing well.”
He went on: “I'd certainly have taken six-under par and stayed at home this morning, no problems. Obviously I got off to a very fast start. Disappointing maybe to leave a couple out there coming in, but I'm very, very happy with that, and obviously a long way to go and we'll keep playing well.”
McDowell said in the build up that he wants to be patient with himself and get his game back to a level where he can contend for majors again.
Qualifying for the Masters, where he struggles, is not something he’s going to turn into an obsession and while he’s started well in Doha, he’s certainly not getting ahead of himself.
“My expectations were fairly low I suppose coming in,” he said of his feelings about his game starting his 16th season as a pro.
“Game felt a little bit rusty the last week or so, and you know, I was expecting tougher conditions. But no, now that I've got off to a good start, I've got to keep my expectations in check and not get too far ahead of myself and just keep calm and keep enjoying myself and stay patient and see what happens.”
Dunne also started on the back nine, moving to four under par with birdies at the 16th, 18th, first and fourth before following his lone bogey at the seventh with birdies at the eighth and ninth.
The former Walker Cup player will be keen to make up for last week in Abu Dhabi, where he was two shots off the lead at halfway but had a poor weekend and slipped to 39th.
As for leader Dredge, the Welshman has finished runner up seven times since claiming his second European Tour title in 2006, and he shared fourth place in Qatar 12 months ago.
He's now in contention once again after firing eight birdies, including a run of five in seven holes after the turn, to edge clear of Korhonen, who like Dredge also returned a bogey-free scorecard, signing for a round of 65.
"I’m delighted with the score today. I’m a bit surprised, I thought I was going to hit the ball a bit better off the tee than I did, but I hit a few more fairways. I putted really well, and at the end of the day, I was just compiling a score, and 64 was a good number out there."
"I have a good history here. I'm not quite comfortable on the greens. It seems as though it's slightly less grain at the moment on the greens. So for me, the lines were a little bit clearer today. I'm sure you could ask me tomorrow and I'd say I couldn't see them."
"I hit it pretty solid off the tee, and my irons as well. I didn't make too many mistakes. I hit it in the rough a couple of times, and it's not easy, I'd have to say. It's more difficult than past years.
"I made a few putts - a few long ones – and I didn't miss any short ones. That's basically it. It was definitely the calmest day I've seen. It was scorable."
Round One scores
64 B Dredge (Wal),
65 M Korhonen (Fin),
66 Graeme McDowell (Nir), N Kimsey (Eng), K Aphibarnrat (Tha),
67 A Knappe (Ger), T Detry (Bel), J Lagergren (Swe), N Elvira (Esp), Paul Dunne (Irl), R Jacquelin (Fra), J Van Zyl (RSA), S Dyson (Eng),
68 S Walker (Eng), C Shinkwin (Eng), C Hanson (Eng), D Brooks (Eng), A Sullivan (Eng), A Wall (Eng), G Bourdy (Fra), E Els (RSA), T Bjørn (Den), D Im (USA), A Noren (Swe), R Ramsay (Sco), A Karlsson (Swe), T Aiken (RSA), G Storm (Eng),
69 T Jaidee (Tha), C Wood (Eng), R Karlberg (Swe), J Wang (Kor), J Campillo (Esp), P Larrazábal (Esp), L Haotong (Chn), A Levy (Fra), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), A Björk (Swe), S Lee (Kor), R Gonzalez (Arg), S Hend (Aus), L Bjerregaard (Den), J Stalter (Fra), G Havret (Fra), M Warren (Sco),
70 F Aguilar (Chi), M Manassero (Ita), N Colsaerts (Bel), M Kaymer (Ger), P Lawrie (Sco), R Bland (Eng), P Edberg (Swe), P Angles (Esp), M Kieffer (Ger), P Hanson (Swe), R Langasque (Fra), R Cabrera Bello (Esp), T Olesen (Den), S Chawrasia (Ind), O Fisher (Eng), R Karlsson (Swe), B Wiesberger (Aut), B Hebert (Fra), D Burmester (RSA),
71 T Immelman (RSA), A Cañizares (Esp), J Smith (Eng), R Paratore (Ita), A Otaegui (Esp), J Quesne (Fra), D Drysdale (Sco), R Gouveia (Por), J Luiten (Ned), D Frittelli (RSA), M Pavon (Fra), M Siem (Ger), J Carlsson (Swe), P Peterson (USA), R Wattel (Fra), D Howell (Eng), N Bertasio (Ita), Y El Hassani (Mar), S Tiley (Eng), D Lingmerth (Swe),
72 L Jensen (Den), J Scrivener (Aus), M Armitage (Eng), E De La Riva (Esp), J Fahrbring (Swe), D Fichardt (RSA), D Lipsky (USA), D Perrier (Fra), S Gros (Fra), R Rock (Eng), R Fox (Nzl), S Jamieson (Sco),
73 N Fasth (Swe), H Porteous (RSA), T Fleetwood (Eng), P Waring (Eng), F Zanotti (Par), G Stal (Fra), L Slattery (Eng), M Carlsson (Swe), B Ritthammer (Ger),
74 G Coetzee (RSA), M Southgate (Eng), S Brazel (Aus), M Ilonen (Fin), D Stewart (Sco), J Walters (RSA), C Lutton (Sco), C Paisley (Eng), K Broberg (Swe),
75 S Gallacher (Sco), J Olazábal (Esp), J Lima (Por),
76 A Quiros (Esp), W Ormsby (Aus), A Al Kaabi (am) (Qat),
77 N Holman (Aus), P Verlaar Junior (am) (Ned),
78 E Molinari (Ita),
79 S Henry (Sco),
82 P Dedek (Cze),
84 A Al Shahrani (am) (Qat).