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JB Hansen leads Dubai Championship’s defending champion Antoine Rozner by two

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Antoine Rozner got off to a strong start to his title defense at the Dubai Championship, shooting 7-under 65 Thursday to trail first-round leader JB Hansen by two strokes.

The French golfer claimed his first European Tour title in this tournament last year, finishing on 25 under par, and a similar winning total might be necessary after a low-scoring first round when 85 players in the 114-man field broke par.

Hansen shot a bogey-free 63 featuring five birdies in six holes from No. 4 and a birdie-birdie finish.

Full-field scores from the AVIV Dubai Championship

Rozner was tied for second place with Dean Burmester of South Africa and the English pair of Andy Sullivan and Paul Waring.

“I just think every shot suits my eye here, but you’ve still got to play well and my last few rounds — including last year — and my practice round this week, I’ve been playing really solid out here,” said Rozner, who won the Qatar Masters this year.

“I know I’ve played well here in the past so that gives me a bit of confidence, but at the end you just start over.”

Tommy Fleetwood, the 2017 Race to Dubai champion, was three shots off the lead after a 66 to start the next-to-last event of the 2021 season on the European Tour.

Fleetwood is bidding to become the fourth member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, after Matt Fitzpatrick, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, to win a tournament since the record defeat at Whistling Straits.

Scottish player Stephen Gallacher marked his 600th European Tour appearance with a round of 70.