McIlroy opens Dubai Desert Classic effort with brilliant 63
Even playing partner Tiger Woods bows down before Ulster man’s display
Rory McIlroy on the eighth tee during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
The return of Rory McIlroy is already old news. What prizes will flow his way in 2014 on account of a surge back to form is the more interesting topic.
McIlroy is odds-on to claim the Dubai Desert Classic for a second time. If that sounds somewhat ludicrous with 54 holes still to play, it illustrates McIlroy’s brilliance during a round of 63 yesterday.
Tiger Woods, the world number one who played alongside McIlroy, was outplayed, outscored and overshadowed. History, and not just form, favours McIlroy; his first tournament win as a professional was the Desert Classic in 2009.
“I wanted to shoot 62,” McIlroy said. “I shot 62 last week in a casual round at the Els Club, so I wanted to shoot two 62s in one week. This is definitely up there in terms of the courses I am comfortable on. St Andrews is another one, I just feel at home and feel I can shoot good scores.
“I drove it well, which I have been doing. I can really take advantage of hitting it long and straight here. It leaves me a lot of wedges into greens. So that’s the key to my game. If I can keep doing that, hopefully scores like this will become more regular.”
Firm praise arrived from Woods. “He’s playing better, he’s playing a lot better. He has that combination between the ball and the driver. He was struggling with that a lot last year.
“You can have a driver/ball combo that goes forever but you can’t shape it. Out here in tournament golf, you have got to be able to manoeuvre and he just wasn’t able to manoeuvre the ball. I see him hitting it both ways now.”
Once again, McIlroy is the name on everyone’s lips. Stephen Gallacher, who partnered McIlroy and Woods, described the tournament leader’s golf as “sublime”. Fred Couples, the 1992 US Masters winner, offered an even stronger assessment. “When a guy that talented gets his game back, he will dominate,” Couples said.
McIlroy’s round contained seven birdies and an eagle. It provided his lowest 18-hole score in more than 70 events.
“Basically I had the ball under control for the most part,” he said, before offering the assertion that his wedge play is not as good as it should be.
It was a good day too for Damian McGrane, the Co Meath golfer hitting five birdies and an eagle (at the 10th) in a round of 66. Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey both went round in two-under 70, one better than Gareth Maybin, while Simon Thornton’s 75 and Peter Lawrie’s 76 left them with a lot of ground to make up.
Woods’s 68 was quite something to behold. The 14-times major winner was wildly erratic off the tee, thereby endorsing the theory that only Woods can return under-par scores from such situations. Incredibly, there was no bogey on his card.
Unlike last weekend at Torrey Pines, Woods had putted wonderfully well but a post-round trip straight to the driving range illustrated his concerns lay elsewhere. He did not hit a fairway comfortably until his penultimate hole and even that was followed by a poor approach shot.
‘A good day’
“I’m going to work on a couple of things here and there but I felt like it was a good day,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good putts, which was nice. Overall it was a pretty good score.”
Woods defended his backswing, amid criticism from analysts that it has become too short. “I’ve always played my best from a shorter position,” said the 38-year-old.
“Looking back at my younger days on tour it was even shorter than it is now, the only difference is I can’t wheel on it like I used to.
“I used to snap the knee at the end to get the power; if I did that now I’d destroy the knee just like I did before. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve had so many operations.”
McGrane, Edoardo Molinari, Gallacher, Matthew Baldwin, Richard Sterne and Julien Quesne are among those giving chase. –