Francesco Molinari two shots off early lead at DP World in Dubai
By Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 15/11/18 3:28pm
Francesco Molinari bolstered his hopes of winning the Race to Dubai by staying within two shots of the lead after the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship.
The Open Champion, who needs a top-five finish to guarantee ending the season as European No 1, posted a four-under 68 despite bogeying two of his final four holes at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui share the lead on six under, with defending champion Jon Rahm a stroke back in a share of third alongside Danny Willett.
Molinari is a shot ahead of Ryder Cup teammate Tommy Fleetwood, the only player who can catch him on the Race to Dubai, with Rory McIlroy also in the group on three under.
The Italian birdied the first and added a 15-footer at the fifth before making another at the seventh and chipping in for par at the next to reach the turn in 33.
Successive gains from the 14th briefly moved Rahm into a share of the lead, as Molinari started his back nine with back-to-back birdies and added another to also get to six under.
Rahm missed a six-footer to save par at the 16th and found water at the next to drop another shot, but recovered to birdie the last and close out an opening-round 67.
Molinari lost his share of the lead after three-putting the 15th for bogey, before doing the same on the par-five last to join Thomas Pieters, Matt Wallace, Haotong Li and Ross Fisher in tied-fifth.
Smith was level-par with six holes to play but produced four birdies and an eagle over his closing stretch to set the clubhouse target, which Otaegui matched after a bogey-free start to the week.
Defending European No 1 Fleetwood birdied the last to close a blemish-free 69, with McIlroy also inside the top-10 after mixing five birdies with two bogeys during his opening day.
Watch the DP World Tour Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues on Friday from 7am on Sky Sports Golf.