Welshman Bradley Dredge led after an eight-under-par opening round of 64 put him one ahead of Finland’s Mikko Korhonen on an unusually wind-free day at Doha Golf Club.
Graeme McDowell shared the clubhouse lead for much of the day after the four-time Ryder Cup star shot an early 66 that eventually left him tied for third with Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat and England’s Nathan Kimsey.
Among the star draws, World Number 10 Alex Noren, four-time Major winner Ernie Els, 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn and 2016 Ryder Cup rookie Andy Sullivan each shot 68 to lie in a share of 14th. Chris Wood, the 2013 champion, carded 69, a shot ahead of two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer, Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
Dredge, 43, won European Tour titles in 2003 and 2006, but a third title has proved elusive as he has racked up a total of 13 runner-up finishes.
However, after a tie for fourth at Doha Golf Club last year, Dredge continued to enjoy the Championship Course on Thursday, picking up birdies on one, five and eight before tearing up the back nine with birdies on 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16.
“I’m obviously delighted with the score. I’m a bit surprised as I thought I was going to hit the ball a bit better off the tee. I putted really well and 64 was a good number out there,” said Dredge, who is playing the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters for a 16th time, having played in the first edition in 1998.
“I’ve played the course enough over the years and I felt as though I really got my eye in, apart from my last two putts. Apart from that, I putted really good. Without the wind, it was the opportunity to go at more flags and get the ball a bit closer to the hole. It makes it a lot easier to get the score going and get the putts in.”
Korhonen, 36, is seeking his first European Tour title as he competes in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters for a third straight year.
“It feels good. I thought I would probably have a chance because it's definitely the most calm day I’ve seen here,” Korhonen said. “I hit it solid, made a couple of long putts and made all the short ones, so basically no mistakes, no bogeys. That was good.”
McDowell, playing in the event for the first time since 2012, was the centre of attention for much of the day after reaching seven-under through 11 holes before a late bogey dropped him back into a share of the morning lead.
The Florida-based Northern Irishman fired out of the blocks from 10 with three straight birdies and picked up further shots at 14, 16, 18 and two before conceding a bogey on six.
“I’m very happy with that. Incredibly benign conditions for Doha. Even when it doesn't blow here, it typically blows 15 and it was perfect conditions this morning,” said McDowell, who won the most recent of his 10 European Tour titles in 2014.
“It was great to get off to a fast start right out of the gates, birdieing the first three holes, and that kind of set the tone for the day. I really felt like I gave myself a lot of chances, even on the tougher front nine, my second nine.
“I felt like I left a couple out there and it’s always nice to shoot six-under par and feel like you left a few out there. Just the start I was looking for.”
Kiradech, 27, birdied his last two holes on eight and nine to join McDowell on six-under as the Thai follows up a tie for fourth in Abu Dhabi.
“My confidence is high after last week. I just need to keep doing well and keep things positive and just believe. I’m hitting the ball well. Solid golf. I just missed one green and it was a good way to finish, with two birdies,” said Kiradech, a three-time European Tour winner.
“My game’s very good. I hit a lot of solid shots, but today was completely no wind. I’ve played here for the past two years with a lot of wind and it’s so quiet today. Strange. My ball flight is quite high, so I had a lot of advantage in hitting a close to the flag.
Friday’s second-round action starts at 6.30am, with the last groups teeing off at 12.20pm.