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Pepperell contending in Dubai: 'At least I didn't run out of balls'

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Eddie Pepperell often finds a humorous slant on life as a professional golfer, and that tendency was on full display Thursday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Battling difficult conditions, the Englishman shot a 3-under 69 that put him two shots off the early lead of Thomas Pieters. Speaking to reporters after the round, he offered a frank assessment of his play.

"At least I didn't run out of balls today," Pepperell said.

'U.S. Open standard' rough for players in Dubai

There won't be anyone shooting 20 under par or lower this week at the Dubai Desert Classic, as the course is biting back from last year.

That would be a reference to the Turkish Airlines Open in November, when Pepperell ran out of balls in the middle of his round and was disqualified from the event. His effort in Dubai went markedly better, as he managed four birdies in a six-hole stretch and made only one bogey all day.

Pepperell endured a lean 2019 season, dropping from 35th in the world rankings to outside the top 50, barely missing out on a Masters exemption in the process. He teed off this week ranked No. 61 in the world, but he shared that last week's win by Lee Westwood in Abu Dhabi served as a bit of inspiration.

Full-field scores from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Describing himself as having "never been a good putter," he watched Westwood shine on the greens after a similarly mediocre putting record. Pepperell promptly switched to the claw grip this week and he needed just 21 putts to complete his opening round after starting the year with two straight missed cuts.

"For me, it's about not being a terrible putter. My good results tend to come when I'm just not horrific on the greens, especially inside 5 feet," Pepperell said. "So I was watching the golf last Sunday and couldn't believe how comfortable Lee looked on the short putts, especially. I thought, 'I might as well give this a try.' I was very good today inside 6-8 feet, so I'm optimistic. Best I've putted for a while."