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.
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.
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.
Rory McIlroy: “I’ve been coming back here now or 12 years and it flies by. 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 eagle on two) “Honestly all I was trying to do was get it in the front bunker. I didn’t think I had enough club to get it over but I absolutely flushed it. Right edge of the green I was aiming at, and tried to hit a hard draw in there to at least try to get it to the lip of the bunker.
“I had an uphill bunker shot and as soon as I hit it I felt like actually might have a chance to cover it. So it was nice to hole the putt and obviously a great way to start.”
Joachim B Hansen: “Gave myself a lot of chances. Hit it quite close a lot of times. Missed a few good opportunities. Yeah, kept the ball in play and hit some pretty good approach shots.
“I’m trying to keep the momentum going and trying to play the same way I played last week. So it’s still working.
Tapio Pulkkanen: “I started well. My ball-striking was really solid for the front nine, and the back nine it was a bit rusty in the beginning. But made some good pars and nice eagle on the last, so happy with the finish.
“That was a little bonus on the last. Great bunker shot and solid roll in, and it was nice.
“I’ve played the course many times. I’ve practised here many times. And of course the pins are quite tough on the course, and the conditions, but I’m happy to play well.”
Christiaan Bezuidenhout: “All around, I played solid golf today. Drove it well. Gave myself lots of chances. Greens are so good out here. Give yourself chances, definitely going to make a few putts. I gave myself chances by driving it well, liked, and just all around solid day today.
“You just feel more relaxed than any other event during the season. There’s no cut and you can just play freely. Just give it your best shot. Feels like a holiday vibe, as well. Staying in the Atlantis, which is a great hotel resort. Go to the pool in the afternoon. Just relax after a long year.Yeah, just all around, nice vibe, which is kind of cool.”
Collin Morikawa: “It was pretty solid throughout. 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.”
Round One Scores
65 R MCILROY (NIR),
67 T PULKKANEN (FIN), J HANSEN (DEN), C BEZUIDENHOUT (RSA),
68 A BJ?RK (SWE), S HORSFIELD (ENG), M KAYMER (GER), S GARCIA (ESP), M ARMITAGE (ENG), A MERONK (POL), J VEERMAN (USA), R MACINTYRE (SCO), N H?JGAARD (DEN), C MORIKAWA (USA),
69 J CATLIN (USA), S CROCKER (USA), T DETRY (BEL), D BURMESTER (RSA), S LOWRY (IRL),
70 J LAGERGREN (SWE), M KIEFFER (GER), J WINTHER (DEN), G FORREST (SCO), R H?JGAARD (DEN), J DONALDSON (WAL), R CABRERA BELLO (ESP), T FLEETWOOD (ENG), W ZALATORIS (USA), P CASEY (ENG), M FITZPATRICK (ENG), T HATTON (ENG),
71 J MORRISON (ENG), F LAPORTA (ITA), J HARDING (RSA), J SCRIVENER (AUS),
72 P REED (USA), L HERBERT (AUS), A ANCER (MEX), M LEE (AUS),
73 I POULTER (ENG), T PIETERS (BEL), G HIGGO (RSA), G MIGLIOZZI (ITA), R BLAND (ENG),
74 M KAWAMURA (JPN), V PEREZ (FRA), A ROZNER (FRA), L CANTER (ENG), B HORSCHEL (USA),
75 A ARNAUS (ESP), C HILL (SCO), D WILLETT (ENG),
76 B WIESBERGER (AUT),