Dubai Classic: Tiger returns to top of leaderboard

Thursday, March 01, 2001
Tiger Woods emerged from the fog to stamp his class on the Dubai Desert Classic right from the start.

A two-hour delay kept the world number one waiting to begin his challenge at the £1million European tour event, but when he did he dazzled with an eight-under-par 64, his best round of the season.

It was only good enough, however, for a share of the lead as playing partner Thomas Bjorn, the Ryder Cup Dane who lives in Dubai, also served up a treat for the 10,500 sell-out crowd.

Dubliner Padraig Harrington was two behind and Colin Montgomerie shot 69, but Ulsterman Darren Clarke managed just a 71.

Only by the standards Woods set last year could three top-10 finishes and nothing worse than 13th represent a poor start to the season and from the moment the 25-year-old birdied the long 13th - his fourth - he was off and running.

Having chipped to three feet there, Woods added a two at the 180-yard 15th, holed from 15 feet on the next and then reached the fringe of the green in two at the 547-yard 18th and two-putted.

Three more birdies came in the first five holes of the front nine and he completed his day's work in style with a 20-foot putt to catch Bjorn, who had birdied the difficult eighth to nose in front.

For a while little-known Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara, a 23-year-old graduate from last season's "second division" Challenge Tour, was eight under as well.

But then came a double bogey six at the ninth and after signing for a 66 to be point third with Harrington he said: "I'm obviously a little disappointed with the finish, but it was still a good round and this is the first time I've been on the leaderboard at a European tour event.

"It was great to see my name ahead of Tiger's, but then all of a sudden I wasn't any more."

Lee Westwood, starting his defence of the European Order of Merit title, was among the afternoon starters unlikely to finish their rounds before nightfall because of the hold-up.