Thomas Pieters marked his biggest victory just over a year ago when he claimed the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as the event set up home in its new residence at Yas Links. While it is early days at the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic, the Belgian has maneuvered himself into a comfortable position to go for a second Rolex Series event on the DP World Tour in a 12-month span.

After adverse weather and a late start, Pieters took a one-stroke lead into Friday morning with three holes of his first round still to play, with Tommy Fleetwood and Daniel Gavins among his closest chasers.

Reflecting on a first day in overcast conditions on the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course, Pieters said: “I think it played fair. Obviously, they guarded against some of the conditions, and they moved a few tees forward on holes like 12, where you normally are hitting long irons, and you’re hitting short wedges. If you found fairways and had ball-in-hand, it was definitely playable.

“It was tough to judge because the wind was switching the whole day, but I will try to do the same thing when I am out  in the morning. I’m finishing 7, 8, 9 — these are tough holes. If I can finish with three pars, I’ll have a very nice opening round.”

Gavins, who won the 2021 ISPS Handa World Invitational for his biggest win to date, added: “I feel pretty good. I struggled quite a lot off the tee which is a bit frustrating, but my kind of putting kind of held me. I holed quite a lot of nice putts to keep me going. Disappointed with the tee shots but I’ll sort that.”