McIlroy hot on Donald's heels
Golf:Luke Donald, a winner in Japan last Sunday, became the man to catch again today after a sparkling seven under par start to the World Tour Championship in Dubai. The first event to feature all 12 of Europe’s Ryder Cup heroes since their triumph in Chicago in September saw Donald post a 65 to lead by one from world number one Rory McIlroy, Marc Warren and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
McIlroy, uncatchable at the top of the European Tour’s money list, was only one under at the turn, then had five birdies in seven holes, but drove in the water on the par five last and had to settle for par.
“I think I drove the ball beautifully with the exception of 18,” he said.
Donald’s purple patch came from the fifth to the 14th, with all seven of his birdies carded in that stretch. “I felt like I couldn’t miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it’s fun when it seems that easy,” he said. He birdied the fifth, seventh and eighth to turn in 33, started for home with two more, made a 15-footer at the short 13th and only just missed an eagle attempt at the 626-yard 14th.
As it stands, there is the possibility of the world’s top two players having a shoot-out at the weekend. Donald, who is seeking to match McIlroy’s four wins this year, went ahead of Tiger Woods with his victory at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament last weekend.
“There’s always a buzz playing in the last group and if I play well again hopefully we’ll get a chance,” said McIlroy
Warren is making his first appearance at the event since it moved to the Middle East in 2009 and his day began with a “mad rush” to find his waterproofs after stepping outside his hotel and seeing heavy rain — 20mms of it in two hours — but it soon cleared up and he had perfect conditions for his round.
“There was no wind to speak of and the greens were pure. I felt as if I hit a lot of good golf,” the former World Cup winner said. His last victory was in 2007 and he blew a great chance at his home Scottish Open in July, dropping four shots in the last four holes to lose by one just like Adam Scott at The Open the following week.
“Winning is the most fun you can have at a golf tournament and it’s something I want to do again soon,” he added.
Pádraig Harrington is among a group of players on five under, alongside the likes of Lee Westwood and Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer.
The tournament is limited to the top 60 money winners on the circuit this year, but only 56 teed off. Thomas Bjorn and Retief Goosen were out injured, Ross Fisher is preparing for next week’s PGA Tour qualifying school in California and this morning Ireland’s Shane Lowry withdrew after going down with a virus that even put him on a drip in hospital for a while.
Sergio Garcia, returning after eye surgery to correct an astigmatism following the Ryder Cup, managed only a 73 and Ian Poulter was on the same one over mark after mixing four birdies with five bogeys in his first 12 holes.
Collated first round scores
(Gbr & Irl unless stated, Irishin bold, par 72)
66 Rory McIlroy,Marc Warren, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Spa)
67Richie Ramsay, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington,Fredrik Andersson Hed (Swe)
68Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Peter Lawrie,Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Scott Jamieson, Justin Rose, Stephen Gallacher, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Jamie Donaldson, Henrik Stenson (Swe)
69Peter Hanson (Swe), Anders Hansen (Den), Joost Luiten (Ned), Branden Grace (Rsa), Simon Dyson, Marcus Fraser (Aus), Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
70Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Alexander Noren (Swe), Romain Wattel (Fra), Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa), Pablo Larrazabal (Spa), Michael Hoey
71Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind), Chris Wood, Danny Willett, George Coetzee (Rsa), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), David Drysdale, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), Paul Lawrie
72Francesco Molinari (Ita), Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Robert Rock, Graeme McDowell,Jbe Kruger (Rsa), Ian Poulter, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
73Sergio Garcia (Spa), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Marcel Siem (Ger), David Lynn
74Alejandro Canizares (Spa), Richard Sterne (Rsa), Lee Slattery
WD: Shane Lowry