DUBAI (Reuters) - South Africa's Richard Sterne fired a scintillating 10-under-par 62 in the Dubai Desert Classic first round on Thursday to overshadow a fine start to the season by world number eight Lee Westwood.
World number 165 Sterne's 10-birdie round in scoring-friendly conditions was nearly matched by Scot Stephen Gallacher (63) while Race to Dubai money list leader Scott Jamieson, Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Doak were two shots further back.
Former world number one Westwood (67) matched 56-year-old twice major winner and 2004 champion Mark O'Meara's round thanks to a brilliant eagle at the par-five 18th, his ninth hole.
Despite a solitary birdie on the closing nine the Englishman was left beaming after a good day's work.
"I felt very sharp - no rust there at all and I played better today than I finished off last year," Westwood told reporters.
"You never know what to expect after a few weeks off," added the 39-year-old, who moved his family to Florida last year in order to keep his game fresh in the off-season.
Sterne, who has resumed playing a full schedule after a back problem limited him to four events in 2010 and six in 2011, was a shot away from equalling the course record set by compatriot and four-times major winner Ernie Els in 1994.
"I knew Ernie had shot 61 quite a while ago and always thought it would be impossible to get close, but I got as close as you could," Sterne told reporters.
The five-times European Tour winner is hoping to notch up his first victory since 2008, when he recorded back-to-back wins in South Africa in December.
"Hopefully I can just keep going and give myself a chance on Sunday when it counts. I do want to win again and that's one of the goals for the year. It's been a while since I've won - it's just not that easy to do anymore," he said.
Also high on the leaderboard were former world number three Paul Casey, now ranked 124th, who three-putted his last hole but still came away with a 66 to equal his playing partner, Italian teenager Matteo Manassero.
Casey put his excellent start down to the state of the greens, which the players were warned about pre-tournament in a letter from the event director, though the Englishman said fears about the course's condition had not materialized.
"It's the best-conditioned golf course I've played this year by far. The guys are going to go bananas when you have a course as good as this," the former Ryder Cup player said.
(Writing by Tom Pilcher in London, Editing by Ed Osmond)