DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Matthew Fitzpatrick birdied five of his last six holes to shoot a 7-under 65 and take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
Fitzpatrick's lowest score in an opening round since 2015 broke a logjam at the top of the leaderboard, with morning starters Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau among eight players to shoot 66 at Emirates Golf Club.
The biggest of Fitzpatrick's five career wins came in Dubai, at the end-of-season World Tour Championship in 2016.
The Englishman said he worked hard in the offseason to add length to his driver and to improve his wedge game. It is already paying off, with his strong start to the second stop of the European Tour's 'Gulf Swing' coming days after securing a fourth-place finish at the Singapore Open.
The benefits of having veteran caddie Billy Foster, who recently split with Lee Westwood, on his bag are also showing.
''I needed to work on different parts of my game, different shots, and really did feel like I put in a lot of work over the winter, to be honest,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''And so far I've played five rounds this year and have played pretty well for all of them.''
At No. 5, DeChambeau is the highest-ranked player in the field as he looks to win for the first time outside the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour.
Like playing partner Garcia, DeChambeau made six birdies and didn't drop a shot, despite saying he wasn't ''hitting it anywhere near my best.''
''I even missed a couple of putts,'' he said. ''I just felt like it was a scrappy round but I got out of it and shot 66.''
Nine players are a further shot behind after 67s, including Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and defending champion Haotong Li.