Branden Grace five strokes adrift of the leaders at Qatar Masters
By Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 28/01/16 1:17pm
Defending champion Branden Grace posted two late bogeys to slip five shots off the pace after the opening round of the Qatar Masters.
The South African had made a fast start by opening with back-to-back birdies, but dropped shots at the sixth and seventh saw the world No 11 post a two-under 70 to lie five adrift of early pacesetters Pablo Larrazabal and Louis Oosthuizen.
Larrazabal and Oosthuizen carded seven birdies in flawless rounds at Doha Golf Club, where 36 players broke 70 despite the relatively cool and breezy conditions.
Sweden's Bjorn Akesson threatened to overhaul the leaders when he raced to the turn in 30 and reached seven under after 11 holes, but a late bogey meant he had to settle for a share of third on six under with Andrew Johnston and Nicolas Colsaerts.
"My game feels really good," Akesson said. "I changed my grip a little bit this morning on the driving range, and it worked out really well today.
"I putted well on the front nine and I had lots of chances on the back nine, as well, but missed many of them. It feels like I'm developing my game all the time, and hopefully I'm looking bright for the future."
Colsaerts also did not drop a shot in his 66 to lie third, one shot ahead of England's Tommy Fleetwood, Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg, Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and South Africa's George Coetzee.
Two-time Qatar Masters winner Paul Lawrie was also part of the eight-strong group on five under, with Ernie Els a further stroke off the pace after finishing his blemish-free 68 with a final-hole birdie.
"When I drive it that well, it makes a round a lot easier," Colsaerts said. "When it's on like this, it's very stress-free.
"If I'm as good as I was off the tee today, it makes a big difference to the rest of my game because I can come in with shorter irons into the greens."
Sergio Garcia, playing alongside Grace and British Masters champion Matt Fitzpatrick, joined Grace on two under after an up-and-down first competitive round of 2016.
The Spaniard carded four birdies in six holes from the seventh but bogeyed the 13th, three-putted the 17th and lipped out for birdie on the last.
"I feel like I should have done better," Garcia told Sky Sports. "Obviously it's my first round of the year, but I felt like I probably turned a 68 or 67 into a 70.
"It's unfortunate, but with the high winds that we have on the forecast, obviously the greens are a little bit slower to make sure the ball doesn't move, and these greens are a little bit grainy already.
"It's not easy to hit some of the spots and into the grain they are quite tough. They don't roll as true as you would like to but it is what it is."
Two eagles over the final three holes lifted Haydn Porteous to one under, while Fitzpatrick picked up a shot at the last to close a disappointing three-over 75.
Watch the Qatar Masters throughout the week live on Sky Sports 4 - your home of golf - or watch without a contract on NOW TV. Live coverage of the second round gets underway from 6.30am on Thursday.