Rory McIlroy made a flying start to the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, opening with a seven under par round of 65 to lead by two shots in the final Rolex Series event of 2021.
The four-time Major Champion followed a birdie on the first with an eagle on the second and he was six under through his first eight holes on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, before dropping his only bogey of the day on the ninth. He regained that shot on the next hole before ending a run of seven consecutive pars with a birdie on the last after a delightful pitch to four feet from the front edge of the green.
McIlroy is hoping to become the first three-time winner of the DP World Tour Championship having previously won the title in 2012 and 2015. He is also targeting a second victory in consecutive appearances at the end of 2021, having won The CJ Cup @ Summit on the PGA TOUR last month.
“I’ve been coming back here now or 12 years and it flies by,” said McIlroy. “I think a lot of experience around this place, a lot of great memories and memories of great shots and great putts.
“It’s comfortable for me. I think if you can carry the ball over 300 on this course. It gets a lot easier, just getting over some of those fairway bunkers and the landing areas become that bit wider. Someone like Dean or myself today, that’s an advantage for us and I’ve been able to use that to my advantage over last few years here.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 18, 2021
He is two strokes clear of Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen, South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen, the winner of last week’s Aviv Dubai Championship on the neighbouring Fire Course.
Race to Dubai leader Collin Morikawa posted six birdies and two bogeys in a four under par round of 68 to sit in ten-way share of fifth place, three shots back. The Open Champion remains firmly on course to become the first American winner of the Race to Dubai, with his nearest rival Billy Horschel opening with two over par round of 74 in a share of 45th position.
“It was pretty solid throughout,” said Morikawa. “Obviously the two bogeys were a little unforced, but I made a few birdies out there and kept the momentum going and it was a good way to start the first rounds out here.
“I felt really good coming into the week with my irons. They showed up today on a few shots and I hit a couple good 7-irons today and just need to keep doing that. That’s my game. And when putts start to drop, we’re close to (top of) the leaderboard.”
English trio Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey and defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick, all of whom can deny Morikawa the chance to end the season as European Tour Number One with a victory, each carded opening rounds of 70 and are five shots back in a share of 20th. Australian Min Woo Lee, the other player who could win the Race to Dubai with a win, signed for a level par 72.