World Number One and Race to Dubai winner Rory McIlroy remains on course for a second ‘Dubai Double’ after an flawless six under par 66 sees his share the lead with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry after the opening day of the US$8 million DP World Tour Championship at the Earth course, Jumeirah Golf Estates. Despite a sizzling start of four birdies in the first five holes, McIlroy would pick up just two more shots to join Lowry at the top of the leaderboard, one stroke ahead of Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay who both shot five under 67.
“Having the break from competitive golf has certainly helped,” said McIlroy after yet another bogey-free round – the sixth time he has posted 66 over the Greg Norman-designed course. “You never expect to start like that but I’ve been hitting the ball well for the last couple of weeks in practice so it was just a matter of trying to take that good range play on to the course and I was able to do that today.”
McIlroy’s form over the 7,675-yard course is ominous – he is now 80 under par for 21 rounds – and few will be looking beyond the 25 year-old, who also wrapped up both the DP World Tour Championship and The Race to Dubai titles in 2012.
“I feel like this course really suits my style of play,” he added. “I can be aggressive with the driver and that can set me up to hit shorter irons into greens and obviously give myself a lot of birdie opportunities like today. I didn’t feel like I took as many of them as I could have but it still added up to six–under and I’m very happy with that.”
For Lowry, six birdies and a solitary bogey helped shake off the disappointment of missing out on the third European Tour title of his career in Turkey last week.
The 27 year-old from Clara in the Republic of Ireland, got off to a flying start with birdies on the opening two holes and although five more birdies followed, a dropped shot at the par four tenth saw Lowry finish the day tied at the top alongside his good friend McIlroy, who he will play with in round two.
“Any time you shoot 66 anywhere, it’s quite decent,” said Lowry, who admits to running on empty after a long and tiring season.
“I played nicely and aside from one bad hole I played beautiful golf. The first time I played here I finished seventh and any time I come to Dubai in January I practice up here so I know the course quite well. It’s been a long year but a good year – I’ve got three more days left this season and hopefully they will be three good ones.”
While Olesen and Ramsey are tied in third, one shot further behind are defending champion Henrik Stenson and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, who both came home in four under 68 on a day when just four shots covered the first 17 players in the 60-man field.
Despite having to play second fiddle to McIlroy, Stenson is happy to be within touching distance of the World Number One.
“I knew I had to play well and be focused to try and keep up with him,” said the Swede, who rattled in seven birdies but suffered three dropped shots. “I’m two behind but it’s possible to catch up. If you’re playing a bad round and shoot level par or something when he shoots six-under, then it’s going to be a long week to try and catch up so I’m pleased with the start and pleased I got him to within arm’s length.”
The DP World Tour Championship – the final event on The Race to Dubai – continues on Friday Nov 21 with play commencing at 7.30am before co-leaders McIlroy and Lowry take to the course at 12.30pm.