Bob MacIntyre rises to Ryder Cup challenge in Dubai
Playing in the same group as Swede Robert Karlsson, the young Scot produced an impressive performance as he opened with a five-under-par 67 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club.
Helped by a birdie-birdie finish, MacIntyre sits three shots behind the leader, South African Richard Sterne, in joint-fifth in the second event of the new European Tour, with 2017 winner Sergio Garcia also making a strong start with a 66.
MacIntyre, who landed his breakthrough win on the circuit in the Cyprus Showdown in November, found himself paired with Harrington in the opening two rounds of last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as the Irishman runs the rule over potential rookies for his team at Whistling Straits in September.
Having already been impressed by the 24-year-old’s stats, Harrington delivered a glowing assessment of MacIntyre earlier in the week, saying that “he’d definitely be good enough to make the Ryder Cup team”.
Karlsson already had MacIntyre on his radar 12 months ago following the left-hander being crowned as 2019 Rookie of the Year, and an effort that contained six birdies would surely have confirmed why that was the case.
“I try not to think about it,” insisted MacIntyre afterwards of finding himself under the Ryder Cup microscope for the second week running. “Robert was really good today. I’d met him in the lift yesterday and he said, ‘oh aye, we are keeping an eye on you’.
“But, at the end of the day, they are just playing partners. They are selecting a team, which is fair enough. But, if I am going to be in that team, there are no picks happening. I’m just focusing on my golf, attacking pins and trying to hole some putts.”
MacIntyre, who finished joint-eighth on his debut in the ‘Major in the Middle East’ last year, started this edition with back-to-back birdies and was delighted with an effort that was produced in slightly tougher afternoon conditions.
“The new tee boxes this week are brutal, especially in this kind of wind,” he said. “The 16th hole (where he dropped his only shot of the day) was into the wind and, if you miss the fairway your drive, as I did, you can’t get the green, simple as that.
“But, overall, it was easier than I had expected the wind to be in the afternoon. It didn’t really get up until our 12th or 13th hole, which was quite nice.”
MacIntyre recovered from a poor start alongside Harrington to record a top-20 finish in Abu Dhabi, where he drove the ball with a new driver but felt his iron play was below standard at times. His overall game was up to scratch on this occasion.
“It took me about four or five days to decide it was going to go straight in the bag,” he said of the new TaylorMade SiM2 driver. “I tried it out the week before Abu Dhabi and thought it was perfect to go and play golf. I then had a little tweak done to it in Abu Dhabi and now it is perfect.”
Sterne, who finished second to Stephen Gallacher when the Scot landed the first of his record-breaking back-to-back wins in this event in 2013, carded nine birdies to lead by a shot from American Kurt Kitayama, with Garcia and another South African, Justin Harding, both on 66.
“Yeah, pretty happy,” said Sterne, a six-time European Tour winner, of his afternoon’s work. “When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going and I hit a lot of good golf shots, as well.
“It's always good to get off to a good start. It helps you for the rest of the week. I've come close here before. So it would be nice to have a chance going into the weekend. I haven't had many chances going into weeks for a long time, so it would be nice to get through tomorrow and place myself well and see how the weekend goes.”
The 39-year-old didn’t play on the European Tour last year between this event and the Joburg Open towards the end of November, though he showed signs of a return to form when finishing 25th in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
“II had a wrist operation in March last year, so I was out basically for the whole of last year,” he said. “Played the last few events, which I played pretty decently considering I had not played for so long.
“And then last week gave me a lot of confidence. I struggled the first few days, and played really nicely on Saturday. But finishing 25th there has given me confidence.
“I'm just trying to watch my back, so I haven't put much preparation into this week. Just got nine holes in Tuesday and I didn't even come to the course yesterday. So today I was pretty happy with the performance.”
Kitayama, who was pipped by MacIntyre in that Rookie of the Year title battle two seasons ago despite recording a brace of wins, lit up his card with an eagle-2 at the 17th.
After MacIntyre, Scott Jamieson was next best among the Scottish contingent with a two-under 70, with Richie Ramsay also ending the day in red figures on 71.
After being three-under at the turn, Connor Syme had to settle for a 72, matching David Law’s morning effort, with David Drysale opening with a 73.
Double champion Gallacher is facing a battle to make the cut after a 74, which left him alongside Grant Forrest.