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Fitzpatrick grabs early Dubai lead from Garcia, DeChambeau

Dubai: Matthew Fitzpatrick produced a burst of birdies over the closing stretch to take a one-shot lead after the Dubai Desert Classic opening round on Thursday, with Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau in an eight-way tie for second.

At the Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club, the 24-year-old Englishman birdied his last four holes, and five of his last six, to card a seven-under-par 65, playing in the decidedly tougher scoring conditions of the afternoon session.

American DeChambeau, the highest-ranked player in the tournament, fired a 66 to sit in the logjam for second alongside 2017 champion Sergio Garcia and England's Callum Shinkwin, who won a 36-hole qualifying tournament earlier in the week to make it into the field.

Defending champion Li Haotong of China, and English pair Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter were among those tied for 10th place at five-under.

Players in the morning took advantage of softer conditions on the golf course, but there was a little bit more wind in the afternoon and the greens got firmer.

But all that did not seem to faze Fitzpatrick, who is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Singapore Open last week.

With the experienced Billy Foster now on his bag, the world number 39 made just one bogey on the difficult par-four sixth hole, and was two-under par through 12 holes.

He made a birdie on the par-five 13th, before rolling in a 30-foot putt on the par-there 15th to start his birdie blitz coming in.

"It was obviously a great finish to the round," said Fitzpatrick, who is looking for his sixth win on the European Tour.

"A couple things that I've been doing in the off-season seems to have paid off a little bit. I just added a bit of extra length to my driver, so it's given me a few yards to help get on in two on the (par-five) last because I've never been able to do that. And also just wedging it a lot better has given me a few more chances coming in.

"I'm not going to lie, I was really disappointed with my season last year. I knew a lot of things needed to change. I needed to work on different parts of my game, different shots, and really did feel like I put in a lot of work."

Garcia was in supreme ball-striking form as he found 17 greens in regulation and was delighted with his effort, but DeChambeau said he "struggled" in making his 66. Both were bogey-free during their rounds.

Garcia said: "I think I got better as the round went on. I started hitting the ball very nicely on the back nine for sure. Just a couple of putts here and there would have been nice to make, but overall, I think it was a nice opening round."

And world number five DeChambeau made several of his birdie putts with the flagstick in as he looks to take advantage of changes to the rules for 2019.

"I didn't feel like I was hitting it anywhere near my best," he said.

"I was able to recover in a couple situations… made a couple long putts and even missed a couple putts. I just felt like it was a scrappy round, but I got it out and shot 66 today, so very happy."

Three-time champion Ernie Els matched European Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood in opening with a four-under par 68, while 2007 winner Henrik Stenson shot a two-under par 70.

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