Lee Westwood sparkles in Dubai while big guns make slow start

The Englishman’s first-round score of 66 propels him to a one-shot lead over Julien Quesne and Nicolas Colsaerts in the DP World Tour Championship, Robbie Greenfield reports from Jumeirah Golf Estates

A compelling European Tour season is going right down to the wire after all four leading contenders for the Race to Dubai crown made slow starts on day one of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates. England’s Lee Westwood is out in front after a superb round of 66, one clear of Frenchman Julien Quesne and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, with Spain’s Sergio Garcia one of three players on four-under.

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who won his first major championship at The Open in July after a thrilling duel with Phil Mickelson, holds a near 300,000-point lead over Masters champion Danny Willett. However, the Englishman’s 71 gives him a slender one-shot advantage going into Friday after Stenson could only manage a level par 72.

Stenson’s countryman Alex Noren, who has won four titles since July and sits third in the overall race, also carded a 71, while Rory McIlroy – who could return to the world no. 1 spot if he successfully defends his title this week – struggled to an opening 75.

McIlroy and Stenson have dominated this tournament in recent years, both winning it twice and splitting Race to Dubai trophies three to one in the Northern Irishman’s favour since 2012. But if that dual hegemony is to continue, both players will require something special in the second round after Westwood scorched his way around the Earth Course.

“I’ve been looking forward to this week,” said Westwood. “It’s a golf course I’ve played well on in the past and I’ve had a few good results around here.”

That is something of an understatement. When Westwood last opened this tournament with a 66, he went on to win in dominant fashion, reaching 23-under par and lapping the field by six strokes. As things stand, Stenson remains firmly in pole position for the Race to Dubai title and Westwood could yet break into the top five if he goes on to win this week.

It has not been a vintage season for the Worksop-based player, who came agonisingly close to breaking his major duck once again at Augusta this year, but failed to find form for his great friend and captain Darren Clarke at the Ryder Cup.

The 43-year-old was the first man to win both the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai back in 2009, when the bold concept transformed the emirate into a focal point of the European Tour and propelled Westwood to the pinnacle of the game as world no. 1.

In just seven years, the DP World Tour Championship and the prestigious Race to Dubai trophy have built an extraordinary heritage at an event that has become accustomed to seeing box-office performances by the game’s biggest stars.

Stenson, Willett and the rest of the contenders will be more than aware that this is a marathon, not a sprint. As the finish line looms, the drama is set to intensify in Dubai this weekend.