Roaring start for Rory in Dubai
Rory McIlroy was emphatically living up to his billing as pre-tournament favourite as Tiger Woods battled to match his playing partner’s exploits in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
McIlroy carded six birdies and an eagle in his first 12 holes at Emirates Golf Club to storm into the lead, one shot ahead of France’s Julien Quesne and four clear of Woods.
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher, the third member of the marquee group, was also four under, but McIlroy was unquestionably the star of the show as he continued his excellent recent form.
McIlroy finished joint second in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, losing out by a single stroke to Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal after suffering a two-shot penalty in the third round.
That was one of the Northern Irishman’s five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts, a run which includes his dramatic victory over Masters champion Adam Scott in the Australian Open.
The 24-year-old can also boast four consecutive top-10 finishes in Dubai since claiming his maiden European Tour title in 2009, although he did not play last season as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment.
Those problems looked like becoming a distant memory as McIlroy carried on where he left off in Abu Dhabi, opening his round with pars at the 10th and 11th before rolling in a hat-trick of birdies from the 12th.
The world number six picked up further shots on the 16th and 18th to be out in 32, before a birdie from six feet on the second took him into a share of the lead with Quesne.
Quesne had fared even better than McIlroy on the back nine, covering it in 30 with five birdies and an eagle, but dropped his first shot of the day on the first.
McIlroy then holed from 10ft for an eagle on the par-five third to move into the outright lead on eight under par, with Quesne seven under after bouncing back with a birdie on the second.
Woods began his 2014 campaign in the Farmers Insurance Open last week, but carded a third round of 79 at Torrey Pines – a venue where he has won eight times – to miss the unusual 54-hole cut.
The world number one insisted his game was “just a fraction off” and demonstrated that with a number of wayward drives, but made birdies on the three par fives on the back nine and picked up another shot on the 15th to reach the turn in four under.