Kaymer in the Swing

The German has won three of the previous nine editions of this tournament, and he put himself on course for victory No 4 after an impressive 10-birdie opener to the European Tour’s Desert Swing which earned him a one-shot lead.

Thomas Pieters appeared destined to end the first day at the summit of a star-studded leaderboard after he upstaged the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler among the early starters to set a testing clubhouse target at seven under.

But Kaymer’s obvious affinity with the layout was evident once again as he birdied four of the last six holes to steal the headlines from the young Belgian.

The US Open champion birdied the first and added three in four holes before making his first mistake of the day at the ninth, but he responded immediately with back-to-back birdies to begin the inward half.

Kaymer blotted his card again at the 12th, but he pulled level with Pieters after further birdies at 13, 15 and 17 before a delightful three-wood to 15 feet at the par-five last set up a great chance for eagle which pulled up just short.

Pieters ignited his challenge with four consecutive birdies around the turn, although he cost himself a share of the lead with his only bogey of the day at the 15th.

Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Branden Grace continued his encouraging start to the season with a faultless 66 which included a mid-round run of six birdies in eight holes, and the South African was later joined at six under by Gregory Bourdy, Tyrrell Hatton, Alexander Levy and Mikko Ilonen.

But Kaymer and Co will be looking over their shoulders at McIlroy, who was struggling to make anything happen until embarking on a superb late birdie blitz which helped him match the 67 of playing-partner Fowler.

The world No 1 looked primed for a big day when he started with a birdie at the 10th, but he could not better par at each of the next six holes and then bogeyed the 17th.

However, a birdie at the third revived McIlroy’s fortunes as he picked up five shots in six holes, while Fowler was one better until taking the gloss off an excellent day with a closing bogey at the ninth.

While Kaymer, McIlroy and Victor Dubuisson (69) enjoyed positive opening days, the other European Ryder Cup stars on show will be facing a battle just to avoid a weekend off.

World No 2 Henrik Stenson was the biggest disappointment, the Swede failing to muster a single birdie as two bogeys and a double-bogey at the 10th added up to a four-over 76 which left him tied for 113th in the 126-player field.

Justin Rose showed little signs of early-season rust as he cruised to the turn in three under, but he stumbled to three straight bogeys at 11, 12 and 13 and spilled another shot at the 16th to hand in a frustrating 73, while Jamie Donaldson also finished the day one over par.