RORY McIlroy could not contain his excitement at getting back into competitive action after a six-week lay-off, although his competitors probably did not feel the same way as he claimed a share of the lead in the DP World Tour Championship.
The world No 1 carded six birdies and no bogeys in a flawless 66 to finish alongside Ireland’s Shane Lowry in the £5.1 million event in Dubai.
That took the 25-year-old to an amazing 80 under par for his 21 rounds to date in this event, after previous finishes of third, fifth, 11th, first and fifth on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
McIlroy had not played competitively since finishing joint second in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the first week of October – he does not count the 36-hole Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda – after withdrawing from scheduled appearances in the first two Final Series events in China to prepare for his upcoming court case with a former management company.
So it was perhaps no surprise that the four-time major winner had taken to Twitter earlier in the day to write: “Just under 3 hours until I hit my first competitive golf shot in 6 weeks. To say I’m excited is an understatement. #imready.”
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McIlroy, who wrapped up the Race to Dubai title for the second time in three years with a week to spare, certainly looked ready as he birdied four of his first five holes, the only aberration coming when he missed from six feet on the third.
A run of nine successive pars followed before birdies at the 15th and 16th ensured he delivered on his promise not to rest on his laurels at the end of a phenomenal season.
“It was a great way to start and probably should have been five birdies in five holes to be honest,” McIlroy said.
“You never expect to start like that, but I’ve been hitting the ball well for the last couple of weeks that I’ve been practising and it was just a matter of trying to take that good range play on to the course. I was able to do that today, which I’m really happy about.
“I’ve gone through periods in my career where I feel like I’ve needed a couple of events to get back into it, and there’s times where I’ve felt like the best thing for me is a couple of weeks off before going into a tournament.
“It really just depends how you’re feeling at the time. I felt really comfortable coming into this week after the long stretch off. I probably feel fresher than quite a lot of guys, so hopefully that can be to my advantage over the next few days.
“I’m on a really good path and I know what I need to do to make my golf game work and that’s what I’m working on at the minute.”
Lowry birdied four of the last six holes as he looked to make amends for his collapse in the final round in Turkey on Sunday, when he eagled the fourth to claim a share of the lead only to triple bogey the next hole and make a double bogey on the sixth.
“The whole day Sunday and the flight down here you’re thinking about it,” said Lowry, who needs to climb from 52nd in the world inside the top 50 to secure his place in the Masters next April.
“It’s one of those things but I gave myself a chance to win last week. If I can give myself a chance to win again this week, maybe I’ll do it.”
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen were a shot off the pace on five under – Olesen having reached seven under before a double bogey on the 16th – with defending champion Henrik Stenson another stroke back alongside Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
Ian Poulter headed straight to the putting green to sharpen that part of his game after struggling to an opening 75.
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