By Kent Gray
Consider, for a moment, that Sergio Garcia made his first cut on the European Tour aged just 15. Now ponder the fact that momentous occasion, way back at the 1995 Turespaña Open Mediterranea, was two years before reigning U.S. PGA champion Collin Morikawa was born.

Don’t worry, we feel old too. We also felt a little for Morikawa (and a lot for Tyrrell Hatton) after Garcia, now 41, handed the Californian, just 23, a lesson in longevity on Thursday to put himself in the conversation for a second Dallah trophy triumph in four years.

The dual 2017 OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic and Masters champion produced a ball-striking masterclass on the Majlis, signing for a six-under 66 and his 11th round of 67 or better in the ‘Major of the Middle East’.

Garcia outgunned debutant Morikawa (71) by five strokes and the third member of the event’s marquee threeball, Hatton (76), by 10.

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You’ve been out here for more than 550 events. With all the success you’ve enjoyed – including 16 European Tour wins – what fuels the desire to keep on keeping on?

“I really enjoyed playing with Collin today, but you know, obviously my focus, it’s a little bit different than it [once] was with family and getting married and having kids and stuff,” Garcia said.

“But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a competitor. I still love to compete. I love to practice, try to get better and that’s what I try to do all the time. So it’s nice to see rounds like the one today, because it shows that I’m putting some good work in there and just got to keep doing more of that.”

When Garcia won the Sanderson Farms Championship for his 11th PGA Tour title last October, he declared the old Sergio back. He credits comfort with his equipment for that and showed why in the first round. There was an exquisite pitch to set up birdie on the 2nd (his 11th) and a delicate repeat over a bunker to a short-sided pin in the par-5 next for another gain. But the undisputed highlight was a 8-iron he very nearly holed for eagle on the Majlis’ tricky 6th.

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“I’m a lot happier with the equipment that I have now because I feel like I can shape shots and I can do a little bit more what I used to do,” said Garcia whose driver cooperated fully on Thursday too. “That obviously has been a process, it comes down to confidence and I’m very happy to see where I’m heading.

“So I think that it’s a big year, and hopefully I can be in good shape because I want to be a part of a lot of things this year.”

On the evidence of Thursday, Garcia certainly looks set to give his 2021 goals a decent nudge.

“Yeah, I felt comfortable out there for sure,” he said after the bogey-free start. “I felt like I hit a lot of good shots. Conditions obviously were good, but they were tricky. The greens are a little patchy when it comes down to firmness. Some spots are really firm and some spots you can definitely spin it. So it’s just a matter of getting the right hops there.

“But other than that, I felt like it was a good, solid day.”

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OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic ‘Daily News’ round 1 edition