DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Sergio Garcia took advantage of better playing conditions in the morning and carded a 7-under-par 65 for a one-shot lead to open the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
Playing ahead of Tiger Woods, who could not make any headway and posted a 5-over 77, Garcia made six birdies and an eagle before finally dropping a shot on the eighth hole, his 17th.
Chile’s Felipe Aguilar and South Africa’s George Coetzee were tied on 66, and the resurgent Ian Poulter led a group of four players with 67.
Henrik Stenson, the highest-ranked player in the field at 4, posted a bogey-free 68.
Danny Willett started his title defence with a 71.
Six players didn’t finish because of poor light. None were threating the leaders.
Woods missed fairways and greens, and he needed 33 putts in his second comeback event.
"I left probably about 16 putts short. I just couldn’t get the speed of these things," he said.
Only seven players were below Woods in the field of 132. The two-time winner was 12 shots behind Garcia.
Garcia, yet to achieve a top-10 finish in seven previous Dubai appearances, appreciated his morning tee time and the lack of wind.
"The last probably six holes or so, (the wind) started picking up it, and (the course) was playing a little bit tougher," he said. "But I hit the ball nicely. I got away with a couple of loose shots."
Of the afternoon groups, the best finisher was New Zealand golfer Ryan Fox with a 4-under 68.
Two-time champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland closed with a 72 in the afternoon, and said it was some of the toughest conditions he has faced on the Majlis course.
"It was tough to putt, really," Gallacher said. "The wind was moving the putts on the greens, so you would aim for it one time and do it the next and it would move. It was just really tough to get the ball close, as well. Anything under par is a great score this afternoon.
"I’d say that’s one of the toughest rounds I’ve played. I hit irons into holes I’ve never hit anywhere near before. It’s always a tough wind here, right across."
Gallacher is the only back-to-back champion of the Dubai Desert Classic, in 2013 and ’14.