Golf: Belgian Thomas Pieters takes early lead in Dubai as Lee Westwood slumps to a six-over 78

In a photo taken on Jan 17, 2020, Thomas Pieters of Belgium in action during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DUBAI (AFP) - Belgium's Thomas Pieters fired a five-under 67 in difficult conditions to grab a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday (Jan 23).

The former Ryder Cup winner rolled in eight birdies to set the early pace, despite a double-bogey on the first hole, having started on the 10th.

"I know I'm hitting the ball quite nicely and I'm just looking forward to the next three days," said Pieters, who won his fourth European Tour title at the Czech Masters last year. "It's always a bit scary starting out, you don't know what to expect even though you've put the work in - that competitive mindset sometimes takes a while to kick in. But I think today was one of my better rounds of the year."

American David Lipsky sits alone in second place after a four-under 68, but a host of big names appear ready to pounce.

Last year's winner Bryson DeChambeau carded a 70, while former Major champions Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia all signed for one-under first rounds of 71.

It was a bad day for Lee Westwood, though, after the 46-year-old followed his impressive victory last week in the Abu Dhabi Championship by slumping to a six-over 78.

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