MUSCAT, Oman – Andy Sullivan showed signs of turning around his fortunes by producing a superb back nine to start the Oman Open with a 5-under-par 67 on Thursday.
He birdied six of his last 10 holes but still trailed English compatriots – cancer survivor Matthew Southgate and Paul Waring – by two shots on a day when the winds stayed away from the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.
Sullivan was part of Europe's losing Ryder Cup team in 2016 at Hazeltine. But he struggled throughout 2017, posted only two top-10s, and dropped in the ranking from top 30 to outside the top 130.
Playing in the afternoon, Waring, winless on the European Tour in 11 seasons, started with a bogey-free round of 65.
Southgate, who made his second hole-in-one in a month, joined him on top moments later.
Dutch golfer Daan Huizing, who turned pro after reaching No. 2 in the world amateur ranking in 2012, made the most of a sponsor's exemption and was in third place at 6-under 66.
Starting the day on the 10th tee, Sullivan was 1 over after eight holes with back-to-back bogeys. But a birdie on the par-4 18th got him going, and a hat trick of birdies from the second took him to 3 under.
The putt of the day came on the sixth hole where he drained a birdie attempt from 45 feet.
''My game has come back,'' said Sullivan, who tied for sixth in the Dubai Desert Classic last month.
''I've worked really hard over the seven weeks I had off after the World Tour Championship in Dubai (in November), and it's nice just to be back at the right end of the leaderboard.
''It was just a bit of complacency. I got to the Ryder Cup pretty early and achieved everything in really quick time, and you just don't realize how hard you have to work to maintain these things. I'd be guilty of that.”
Southgate, who overcame testicular cancer in 2015, aced the par-3 fifth hole – his 14th – and moved to a bogey-free 7 under with another birdie at the eighth.
Southgate also holed a tee shot in Dubai last month.
Waring's best finish on the European Tour was a tie for second a year ago at the Joburg Open.
''I felt really in control today,'' he said. ''I took advantage of the par 5s.''