Opening 64 leaves McIlroy one shot off the lead in Dubai

by Joy Chakravarty
Rory McIlroy fired a 64 to lie one stroke off the lead after the opening round in Dubai

A stunning second shot from Rory McIlroy led to an eagle on the closing hole of the Earth course and took him to within one shot of leader Mike Lorenzo-Vera on the opening day of the $8 million DP World Tour Championship on Thursday.

World number two McIlroy, the highest ranked player in the field in the European Tour's season-ending championship, fired a three-wood second shot from 291 yards to four feet and made the eagle putt to move to eight-under par 64, after Frenchman Lorenzo-Vera had set the pace with a 63.

The Race to Dubai leader Bernd Wiesberger of Austria started his campaign with a two-under par 70 and was tied 14th.

His closest challenger, England's Tommy Fleetwood, shot a five-under 67 to move to tied fourth place alongside compatriot Tom Lewis. Jon Rahm, third in the standings, was one better and in solo third place after a 66.

McIlroy, currently ranked sixth in the Race to Dubai, has no chance of becoming the European number one for a fourth time but his confident start puts him in a great position to secure a fifth tournament win in 2019.

The 30-year-old Northern Irishman wielded a red-hot putter on the front nine as he moved to five-under par through the first seven holes.

That included pars on the first and fourth holes where his putts from beyond 30 feet actually lipped out.

He then stayed patient as he dropped one shot through his next seven holes before finishing birdie-birdie-par-eagle for his 64.

McIlroy was particularly pleased with that second shot to the 18th.

"Honestly, it's possibly the best shot I've hit all year," he said.

"I had 291 to the pin. Wind was off the left so it was a nice one for me to just aim straight at the pin and know if I hit my little draw, it should hold but if it gets going with the wind, the bunker on the right is better than the water on the left. I just flushed it.

"I sort of carry my 3-wood off the deck about 280 yards, so it was right on the limit but as soon as I hit it, I knew it was perfect.

"It was right out of the middle. Great to finish like that, and yeah, it was a great round of golf."

- 'Just relax' -

Still feeling the after-effects of a lung infection that he contracted last week in South Africa, it was a case of beware the sick golfer with the 34-year-old Lorenzo-Vera.

After a round that included an early eagle on the par-five second hole and four birdies over the closing four holes, Lorenzo-Vera said: "Honestly, I'm not the feeling well at all. I have no energy. I was down with a big lung infection in South Africa that needed strong treatment and I am really feeling bad on top of that.

"These are the kind of days where you just relax and try to put the ball somewhere and you strike it perfect, and you got the lines, and there you go."

In comparison to Lorenzo-Vera and McIlroy's rousing finish, Rahm parred his last three holes. However, coming off a six-week lay-off, the Spaniard showed no signs of rust in a bogey-free 66.

"I could tell how rested I was mentally because on some holes, I never lost patience. I never really got down on myself and stayed with that positive attitude," said the 2017 champion Rahm.

"It was hard to kind of stop golf for a while, and then after a certain time, it was hard to pick it up again. So, it was hard to get into that routine again. But once I came to the tournament, I kind of switched on.

"I think it's just getting the feel of putting and chipping, so I spent a lot of time doing that. The swing... I was feeling good. It's been good so far."

In the battle for the Rookie of the Year title, leading contenders Robert MacIntyre of Scotland and American Kurt Kitayama started with matching rounds of 71.

Rory McIlroy fired a 64 to lie one stroke off the lead after the opening round in Dubai