(Reuters) - Justin Rose struck an early blow in the Race to Dubai by trouncing his playing partner Tommy Fleetwood as the two went head to head in the season-defining DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Thursday.
Briton Rose, the world number six, shot a near flawless 66 to finish one shot behind first-round leader Patrick Reed of the United States and seven ahead of Fleetwood, who started with a 256,000-point lead in the European Tour money list.
Rose, who ended the round joint second with Australia’s Scott Hend, knows he will win the $1.25 million race if he stays in second place and above compatriot Fleetwood.
Sergio Garcia is the only contender but his round of 70 left him four shots adrift of Rose. The Spaniard needs victory to stand any chance or winning the race.
Rose went into the round supremely confident after victories in his last two tournaments at the WGC HSBC Champions in China and the Turkish Airlines Open.
He received an immediate boost at the opening hole when a nervous Fleetwood dropped two shots. Rose’s round gathered pace and his back-nine 31 included three birdies and a chip-in from the bunker for an eagle at the 14th.
Rose, whose only other European order of merit victory came in 2007, finished with a birdie at the last.
“I have to put the scenarios out of my mind an just win the tournament,” Rose said. “I‘m really happy because I wanted to come out with good intent. I don’t think I missed a green, apart from the 17th when I was just off the edge.”
Fleetwood, who has led the rankings for most the year, admitted he had been nervous and said his first hole “when I was playing for the biggest achievement in my career was a comedy of errors”.
But Fleetwood maintained he was still in with a chance of retrieving the situation if he gets off to a good start on Friday.
“My round looks a lot worse because I was playing with Rosey who never missed a putt,” he said.
“Suddenly it is out of my hands but I am going to have to shoot something really low tomorrow but 54 holes is a lot of holes.”
Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond