Rory McIlroy seized the early momentum in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, leaving the Big Three – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods — trailing in his wake at the sun-drenched Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
The world number seven from Northern Ireland fired a solid seven-under-par 65, carding eight birdies, including four in a row around the turn, to take a two-shot lead over Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Thomas Aiken of South Africa. Snapping on their heels a further shot back were a group of six, led by England’s Steve Webster.
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi and Keith Waters, Director of International Policy for The European Tour, with Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods at the first tee
World number one Westwood and number two Kaymer, playing along with Woods, the world number three, stayed in the striking distance of the leaders on three under 69. Woods needed to eagle the 18th to move into the red figure (one under) after struggling to string together his round despite a blazing birdie-birdie start.
"It was one of those days when I had to fight hard. Overall, it was a scratchy round," said Woods, who is chasing his third title in Dubai to match the feat of Ernie Els, the only other multiple winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
"Unfortunately, I got to two?over-par on two different occasions. I was two?over early, but I got it back with birdies on 10 and 11. I threw it right away again with a double on 12 before getting back to one under par for the day. I think I struggled with my trajectory control," said Woods who used back-to-back three wood to reach the green in two on the closing 18th and gently holed in for an eagle.
"When you get wind like this, you have to hit the ball on the perfect trajectory, something which I didn’t," said the 14-time major winner, who at present, is working on his fourth swing change of his career with Sean Foley of Canada.
"But then I'm only six back, and tomorrow we have fresh greens and probably a bit less wind than what we had this afternoon, so hopefully I can do the same thing tomorrow morning," he said.
Unlike Woods, Westwood played solidly without making too many mistakes. He could have done even better, but played one over for the last two holes. "One under would have been nice," said the world number one.
It was McIlroy, who stole the thunder. "Today was good," the 21-year-old McIlroy said. "I really had a lot of iron shots and got away with a couple of drives that I was quite fortunate to make birdies from. I had a putt for a 64 on the last that didn't quite go in. but I'll take 65 in these conditions any day," said McIlroy, who won his first European Tour title in Dubai in 2009.