Doha: John Daly overcame windy and dusty conditions to shoot a 5-under 67 on Thursday and take the clubhouse lead at the Qatar Masters, one shot ahead of K.J. Choi and two better than 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie.
The two-time major winner had five birdies in a bogey-free round despite wind gusts that reached about 35 kph (22 mph) and whipped up the desert sand that surrounds the course. Daly, who quit the Australian Open in November after hitting seven balls in the water, has not won in eight years.
"It was brutal. I'm pretty shocked myself shooting 5-under," said Daly.
"It was great start," he said. "It was one of best rounds I ever played. I mean that. That is just how hard the golf course is playing."
Daly, who won the 1995 British Open in windy and rainy conditions, said he often thrives in tough conditions like those endured Thursday, adding that he was helped by consistent driving and the way he "managing the course."
"I had a lot of chances to at least hit the greens and I can't say its from practicing a lot because I took a lot of time off which I pretty much needed," said Daly, who is opening his season in Doha. "I love the way I putted. I've always been kind of decent in the wind. I'm a streaky putter so you can sometimes hit some bad putts and get away with it."
Choi (68) also had a bogey-free round that included three birdies on his front nine. Nicolas Colsaerts, Paul Lawrie, Peter Hanson and Richard Finch are a further shot back. Finch was tied for the lead but bogeyed his last two holes.
Fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer (71) is four shots behind.
Choi said the key to his game was the way he and caddy Steve Underwood were able to predict the wind gusts. The 14th-ranked Choi won once on the PGA Tour last year and his last victory came at the CJ Invitational in October, an Asian Tour even he hosts in South Korea.
"To play bogey-free golf is fantastic," said Choi, who tied for 48th at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. "We were comfortable reading the wind together. We had great teamwork today and that set the pace and helped me gain confidence."