G-Mac and Dunne start well but day to forget for Clarke and Woods
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 02:  Sergio Garcia of Spain on the 10th tee during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on February 2, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 02:  Sergio Garcia of Spain on the 10th tee during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on February 2, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods had his highest European Tour score in a non-Major or WGC and Darren Clarke had a shank but there were encouraging starts for Graeme McDowell and Paul Dunne in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

As Woods, physically far from fit and putting abysmally, failed to make even one birdie in a five over 77 and Clarke suffered the indignity of a shank/socket trying a demanding, cut up wedge over a bunker in a 75, Dunne shot a 70 and McDowell a fine 68.

The pride of Rathmore says he's a man on a mission, albeit a "slow-burning" one, after he ended the opening day just three strokes behind clubhouse leader Sergio Garcia.

"Compared to last week I drove the ball like a different man," McDowell said after making five birdies and just one bogey. "Today I hit a lot of fairways and gave myself a look at some flags with my irons.

"That was really the only thing that held me back last week at Qatar, the lack of hitting fairways. I solved that issue today.

"It was a decent day. I thought conditions were pretty favourable early on this morning, not much wind at all. The golf course was soft and receptive, greens were good.

"Starting on the back nine, you felt like you had to make some birdies. I felt like from the fifth tee to the ninth tee, it's a tough little stretch. But apart from that, you've really got some opportunities out there."

Ranked 95th in the world, the 2010 US Open winner is trying to adjust to his new life as a family man and challenge for majors again.

"I'm on a mission, but it's a slow-burning mission," he said. "It doesn't need to happen tomorrow. My goals this year are to be really hard-working and patient. We'll see what happens."

He's tied for eighth behind pace-setter Garcia, whose seven-under 65 was his best round at the Emirates Golf Club.

Starting on the back nine, the Spaniard got off to a great start with four birdies on his front nine.

He then made a four-footer for eagle thanks to a stunning approach to the third before his only dropped shot of the round on the eighth saw the 11-time European Tour winner finish one shot ahead of South Africa’s George Coetzee and Chilean Felipe Aguilar.

Ian Poulter, Nino Bertasio and David Lipsky finished one shot further back on five under, while Dubai-based Indian amateur Rayhan Thomas, 24th in the Leinster Boys Championship at Balcarrick two years ago, joined reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson in a group of five players on four under.

It was a tough morning for Woods in his first regular season appearance on the European Tour since this tournament in 2014. 

The 14-time Major champion's 77 was his first ever birdie-free round at the Emirates Golf Club.

With wind speed increasing throughout the day none of the afternoon groups could match the morning’s scoring and play was suspended due to fading light, with two groups scheduled to complete their first rounds on Friday morning.

Dunne is tied for 25th after making four birdies in his 70 while Clarke is 102nd after his 75.

The 2016 Ryder Cup captain birdied his third hole, the 12th, alongside 2018 skipper Thomas Bjorn but bogeyed the 14th after shanking his 50-yard third into a greenside bunker.

Despite a bogey there and a double bogey fivce at the next, he was just one-over par playing his final hole but took six and ended up reacting to some Twitter criticism that took aim at both him and Woods.

Clarke might have been fuming but Bjorn, who has upped his Twitter game considerably in recent months, saw the funny side of it all.

Sergio Garcia (65)

“I've done very well I guess. Obviously, it was a nice way to start, with a good, solid round. It was getting a little bit tasty there at the end, the last five, six holes, so it was nice to be able to get it in on a good score. Tomorrow is supposed to be a tough day, so we'll see.

“I've done very well I guess. Obviously, it was a nice way to start, with a good, solid round. It was getting a little bit tasty there at the end, the last five, six holes, so it was nice to be able to get it in on a good score. Tomorrow is supposed to be a tough day, so we'll see.

“The wind was definitely blowing harder as we went on. Eight, for example, is playing tough. It's driver, five iron when it’s usually driver and eight iron or maybe nine iron, so it was definitely playing a little tougher. 

“I think there were a lot of good positives out there. I played quite nicely, hit some really nice shots and made some really nice putts here and there. So overall, I was very happy with it. I felt like I was quite committed for pretty much every shot I hit."

George Coetzee (66)

“I hit a lot of good shots. I kind of waited for my birdies and didn't try to force them. Kind of played my game and luckily they came. That score is pretty good – I think with this wind, it will play a bit trickier and surfaces are pretty good on the golf course, so no reason not to make birdies.”

Felipe Aguilar (66)

“Every time you beat the course, it's nice. The course is playing really good. Greens are perfect. I mean, I'm quite happy with the round I played today. Not too many mistakes. It was quite an easy round – I made a couple birdies on the par fives, so it was a fun day. I only missed one green, and everything else was around the hole. So let's say, I didn't sweat it too much today, which is good.” We knew the winds was going to pick up during the round and quite happy to be under par early on and kept it going.

Ian Poulter (67)

“I'm pretty happy with that. I haven't been here for nine years but I feel fresh and ready and I played nice today. I feel ready to go. I'm not sure I'm hitting my stride just yet. I think there were still a couple of mis-hits in there today and the perfectionist I am, I want to eradicate those, and when I do, we'll start to shoot some real low rounds of golf. But I'm happy, five under par is a good score. As I say, it's been nine years since I've been here and I've got to familiarise myself with it again and I've done that pretty well again today.”

Tiger Woods (77)

“I didn't hit the ball very well. I left about 16 putts short out there. I just couldn't get the speed of these greens, and consequently, it added up to a pretty high number. I wasn't in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job. At the end, I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done. On top of that, I could have hung in there, I could have shot something near even par if I would have made some putts, but I made nothing.

“I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short. What I thought was down grain, downwind, would be quick, downhill, and I still came up short. Into the wind, uphill putts into the grain, I put a little more hinge on it going back to try to get a little more hit to it and it still didn't work. So I'll try to figure something out, maybe more left hip on it, something, a little more weight, do something to try to get some of these putts to the hole.

“Hopefully this wind blows tomorrow and I shoot a good round and get back to even par now. That's certainly not out of the realm of winning the golf tournament. But I have to go out there and do it, I have to go out there and execute and it's going to be tough and hopefully it is tough and I can play a really solid round, and give myself more looks. I mean, I haven't given myself a lot of looks at birdies and I need to give myself a lot more looks.”