Rory McIlroy declared he felt right at home in the desert after shooting a seven-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead on the opening day of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday,
McIlroy’s round was just one stroke more than the 64 he recorded in the first round when he went on to to win the 2009 tournament.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South African Thomas Aiken were tied for second place ahead of a group of six on 68. Briton Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the world No. 1 and No. 2, shot 69s, while Tiger Woods needed an eagle on the closing hole to finish with a 71.
“I continue to draw upon memories from winning here two years ago,” McIlroy told reporters. “Like hitting a six-iron into the ninth hole the first round in 2009 and a five-iron into the 10th hole in the third round, so I remember a lot of shots and I drew on playing those shots today. But ever since I turned pro, I’ve always felt as though I play well in this region, and definitely in Dubai.”
“Dubai is the one professional tournament I’ve played more times than any other. It’s a special feeling playing here. It feels like a home from home and that’s where I come after the New Year to start my season and hopefully I can do that for many more years to come,” he added.
The 20-year-old Briton recorded eight birdies, while Garcia produced his equal best score in nine rounds of competition this season.
“It was good, but I’m not going to say it was great because I did hit a couple of drives that I didn’t enjoy,” Garcia told reporters. “But overall, I think it was good. I played my best when the wind picked up later in the morning and that’s when I hit some really good shots. I am slowly getting there, but my game still needs improving and there will be some not so nice rounds to come, so this is the beginning.”
Westwood forfeited the chance to end at four-under-par when he bogeyed the last to tie with Ryder Cup teammate Kaymer.
“My game is still not that sharp, but it’s getting better,” Westwood said. “This is the first week I’ve concentrated on my long game so I am pleased with that aspect of my game. It’s just that I let my concentration slip at the end, so that was just one of those things.”
Kaymer can overtake Westwood in the rankings this week with victory in Dubai if the Briton finishes outside the top five.
Dubai-based Briton David Howell recorded his second European Tour hole-in-one when he hit a 175-yard six iron that landed in the cup at the par three, eighth hole that the 1999 Dubai Desert champion was playing as his 16th.
Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez double bogeyed two of his closing three holes to finish on 72.
Briton Kenneth Ferrie, who had slumped to 11-over par, retired with an injured ankle after nine holes while his compatriot Nick Dougherty did not start because of a wrist injury.
Meanwhile, a United Arab Emirates business magazine says Woods received US$55.4 million from a Dubai developer to promote a local golf resort which has yet to be built.
Arabian Business reported on Thursday that it had seen documents confirming Woods received the payments to promote the US$1 billion course, which was to be the centerpiece of a complex of 100 villas, 75 mansions and 22 palaces.
Woods on Wednesday refused to comment on the contract he signed with the course developer — part of a conglomerate controlled by Dubai’s debt-squeezed ruler, but he said he hoped to meet with developers to discuss reviving the project while he is in Dubai to play the Dubai Desert Classic, which ends on Sunday.