Perez Leads in Dubai; Van Rooyen Tied for 2nd
December 11, 2020
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Victor Perez said that he had nothing to lose this week at the DP World Championship, and Erik Van Rooyen said he had no expectations. But things worked out pretty well for both of them Thursday in the first round.
Perez, a 28-year-old Frenchman, made four birdies on the back nine on the way to a 5-under-par 67 at Jumeirah Golf Estates, which gave hm a one-shot lead.
Van Rooyen is a 30-year-old South African who played for the University of Minnesota and won the 2012 Minnesota State Amateur. He had played only five tournament rounds in two months before he came to Dubai, but he showed very few signs of rust Thursday as he made five birdies and a bogey while shooting 68. He's tied with former DP World Championship winner Matthew Fitzpatrick and Robert MacIntire.
Another former winner of this tournament, Tommy Fleetwood, is two behind at 69, and tied for fifth with two-time major winner Martin Kaymer, Tyrell Hatton, and Sami Valimaki.
The DP World Championship is the European Tour's equivalent of the PGA Tour's Tour Championship, a tournament to cap off the season and offer the participants a major payday. If you win this event and also finish first in the Race to Dubai Standings (the equivalent of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Standings), your reward is $5 million.
Perez was No. 6 in the Race to Dubai standings coming into the week. He got off to a nice start with a par on the first hole and a birdie at the 583-yard, par-5 second. A three-putt bogey at the long par-3 fourth (245 yards) set him back briefly, but he birdied the other par-5 on the front nine, the 572-yard seventh. He started the back nine with consecutive birdies at the 10th (437 yards, par 4) and 11th (401, par 4), took advantage of another par-5, the 626-yard 14th, and added one more birdie at the 195-yard, par-3 17th.
Van Rooyen never defended his State Am title in 2013. Instead, he turned professional right after his senior season ended that spring, and for the next couple of years, he played mainly on the Sunshine (South African) Tour. He did return to Minnesota in 2016 and claimed his first victory as a pro in the Tapemark Pro-Am at Southeview Country Club, where he played the first nine holes of the tournament in 3 over, and the next 45 holes in 15 under.
In 2017, he was a regular on the European Challenge Tour. He won once, finished in the top five on that money list, graduated to the European Tour, and in his first full season out there (2017-18), he made just over 1 million euros. During the 2018-19 season, he made just over 2 million, and although he wasn't an official member of the PGA Tour in 2018 or 2019, he made more than nearly $1.6 million over here. As of the 2020-21 season, Van Rooyen is an official PGA Tour member.
He hasn't really been able to take advantage of that status in the last couple of months, however, the result of a back injury. After taking the last three weeks of October off, he played in the Vivint Houston Open the week before the Masters and tied for 20th. At the Masters, his first round was halted by darkness after 13 holes. He was 1 under at the time. When he returned the next morning, he was clearly in pain, massaging his back frequently, and he made two doubles and a bogey on the last five holes. That resulted in a 76, and he withdrew.
There were three European Tour events in South Africa during the last three weeks. Obviously, Van Rooyen would have liked to play in them, but he didn't, which is an indication of how much his back was still bothering him. During the two months that he's been mostly absent from competition, he slipped from No. 9 in the Race to Dubai Standings to No. 14.
On Thursday, he said he was "pain-free, which is nice," but he added that he hasn't practiced much lately. Like Perez, he birdied the par-5 second but three-putted the fourth for a bogey. He bounced back with birdies at the par-3 sixth (186 yards) and the par-5 seventh. He, too, birdied the 11th and the 204-yard, par-3 13th, then made five consecutive pars after that.
The slight favorite to win the Race to Dubai and be crowned No. 1 in Europe for the 2019-20 season is former Masters champ Patrick Reed. He was No. 1 in the standings coming into the week, and was only three strokes out of the lead after a first-round 70. That put him in a nine-way tie for ninth. If he were to win the Race to Dubai, he would be the first American to claim the title.
DP World Championship, Dubai
At Jumeirah Golf Estates
Par 72, 7,675 yards
1. Victor Perez 67
T2. Erik Van Rooyen 68
T2. Matthew Fitzpatrick 68
T2. Robert MacIntyre 68
T5. Tommy Fleetwood 69
T5. Martin Kaymer 69
T5. Tyrell Hatton 69
T5. Sami Valimaki 69
T9. Patrick Reed 70
T9. Henrik Stenson 70
T9. Lee Westwood 70
T9. Jazz Janewattananond 70
T9. Gavin Green 70
T9. Sean Crocker 70
T9. Jamie Donaldson 70
T9. Garrick Higgo 70