Fulke has designs on doing things 'right way'
Chuah Choo Chiang in Doha
'My game is on its way. Now I have to string four rounds together'
Sweden's Pierre Fulke produced some of his best golf for a long time to lead the first-round of the Qatar Masters as world number three Ernie Els of South Africa was put in the shade yesterday.
Fulke, who is putting all his effort into playing golf courses rather than designing them, carded a six-under-par 66 at the Doha Golf Club for a one-stroke advantage over Richard Green of Australia, Welshman Garry Houston and Henrik Stenson of Sweden. Els, winner of the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday, had a birdie drought in the desert, picking up only one stroke at the last to salvage a 73.
Korean American Anthony Kang emerged as the best-placed Asian Tour player with a 68 in the US$1.5 million event.
Asian number one Thongchai Jaidee, playing alongside Els, outscored his more illustrious partner with a 71, recovering from an outward 39 with four birdies coming home. Compatriot Thaworn Wiratchant was the best-placed Thai with a 69.
Since featuring in the 2002 Ryder Cup, Fulke's career has been on the slide, finishing 88th on the European Tour money rankings in 2003 and 134th last season. He admitted that a passion for course designing had affected his game.
'I was more passionate about course designing and my golf suffered. I haven't done it the right way but this year I'm going to separate the two. My game is on its way, I started well in New Zealand and Dubai last week. Now I have to string four rounds together,' said Fulke, who did not post a single top-10 in Europe last season.
He turned in 32, with five birdies against a bogey before shooting further birdies on the first and seventh holes. While the afternoon scores were soaring in the wind, Fulke thought the course wasn't playing difficult. 'I didn't think the course was that tough today. There seems to be less grain on the greens this year and it makes the putting easier,' said the 34-year-old Swede, who has three career victories on the European Tour.
Kang, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, felt like he was sleep-walking his way round the immaculate Doha layout. He been on antibiotics after coming down with tonsillitis earlier in the week but still managed to shoot six birdies against two dropped shots.
'It was kind of a blur for me. I'm not familiar with this course being here for the first time. I've felt dizzy being on antibiotics but decided against one this morning as I thought it would affect me. I'm like about 80 per cent right now,' said Kang.
Thaworn was delighted to shoot three-under and may have to change his flight home to Bangkok. The Thai, who has an unorthodox golf swing, does not like the Doha course which has been toughened with thick rough and some lengthened holes.
'This is a very good score for me. I don't like the set-up here. My driving has been erratic this season, going left and right. I even booked my seat for Bangkok tomorrow [in anticipation of missing the cut] but maybe I will have to cancel that.
'If you miss the fairway here, you'll drop a shot. I missed it on two and nine and dropped shots there. I played here last year for the first time but struggled to miss the cut. It was very windy back then. I was a bit lucky this morning as it wasn't too windy when we played.'
LEADING FIRST-ROUND SCORES
66 - Pierre Fulke (Sweden)
67 - Richard Green (Australia), Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Garry Houston (Wales).
68 - Niclas Fasth (Sweden), Anthony Kang (US), David Park (Wales), Stephen Scahill (New Zealand), Niclas Fasth (Sweden).
69 - Darren Fichardt (South Africa), Thaworn Wiratchant (Thailand), Robert Karlsson (Sweden), Fredrik Andersson Hed (Sweden), Robert Karlsson (Sweden), Maarten Lafeber (Netherlands), Nobuhito Sato (Japan), Adam Groom (Australia), Andrew Pitts (US), Soren Kjeldsen (Denmark), Ricardo Gonzalez (Argentina), Marcus Fraser (Australia).