Dubai: Rory McIlroy hit a sizzling nine-under 63 to take the lead after the first round of the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic by two strokes on Thursday, bolstering his hopes of claiming a first European tour win since 2012.
Playing the back nine holes first, the Northern Irishman was unperturbed by an early tee-off time, reaching the turn at five-under after sinking a quintet of birdies from the 12th to the 18th. He rattled in an eagle at the par-five third hole with a 25-foot putt and picked up two further shots in a blemish-free round on the Majlis course.
Playing partner Tiger Woods kept pace initially to be four-under after nine holes, but then sunk nine successive pars to finish on 68, five behind his rival.
Italy’s Edoardo Molinari carded 65 to be two shots off the pace, with defending champion Stephen Gallacher among five players to shoot 66.
It could have been even better for the 24-year-old Rory, who missed a six-foot putt on the opening hole and lipped out another birdie attempt on the fifth hole. Had those gone he could have equalled the course record of 61.
“I drove it well and I can really take advantage of hitting it long and straight here,” McIlroy added. “I got a lot of wedges into greens. If I can keep doing that, hopefully scores like this will become more regular.”
World No. 1 Woods said he was relieved to sink a birdie on his opening hole in Dubai, his first competitive golf since last week’s dire 79 at California’s Torrey Pines, the second-worst round of his professional career. The 38-year-old found the sand with alarming regularity but was still able to pick up further shots at 13, 15 and 18.
India’s Shiv Kapur brought home a card of an even par 72 while his compatriots Jeev Milkha Singh (75) and Gaganjeet Bhullar (77) had a forgettable day.
Kapur was tied 69th, while Jeev and Bhullar were in danger of missing the cut at 111th and 125th.