DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Richard Sterne nearly broke the course record at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, shooting 10-under 62 in the first round to finish one shot ahead of Stephen Gallacher.
The 165th-ranked South African, who has struggled in recent years with back problems, started with three birdies on his first four holes. Sterne was on pace to break the course record of 61 set by Ernie Els in 1994, but couldn't convert late birdie chances.
''It's as good a start as I could have hoped for,'' said Sterne, whose back trouble limited him to a handful of tournaments in 2010 and 2011.
Gallacher also had a strong start with three birdies and an eagle on the front nine en route to his 63. He had two straight bogeys on the back before an eagle and three birdies on the final four holes to pull into contention.
Scott Jamieson, Chris Doak and Tommy Fleetwood shot 65s. Paul Casey was another stroke back, while Lee Westwood shot a 67, five behind the leader. Sergio Garcia, who finished second last week in Qatar, shot a 68.
Westwood said he ''really enjoyed'' the first round. The Englishman has been through a lot of changes in the offseason – moving his family to the United States, and adding some new clubs to his bag. But unlike top-ranked Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut in Abu Dhabi with his new Nike clubs, Westwood didn't seem to miss a beat in his season-opening tournament.
''Very sharp, made some nice putts, and I played better today than I finished off the last few tournaments so really pleased,'' Westwood said. ''It was steady. Still not made any bogeys this year, so it's good ... It didn't feel like the first round of the year.''
Westwood will spend the evening at the nearby Meydan Racecourse cheering on Rerouted, a 5-year-old horse he co-owns with his manager, which is running in the Dubai Casthouse Trophy.
Two-time major winner Mark O'Meara also shot 67, playing the kind of golf that earned him the 2004 Dubai title.
''I realize that I can't hit the ball like the kids can, but yet I'm still driving it a reasonable distance and around here, it's so important to hit the fairway, and I drove the ball pretty well today,'' said O'Meara, who won in Dubai when he was 47. ''I kept the ball in play most all day long and that enabled me to be a little more aggressive and hit more greens.
''Listen, when I can hit the ball like that and give myself opportunities, I look forward to getting back out there tomorrow.''