McIlroy takes route 66 to lie one shot behind
So much for a meaningless event. The theory that Rory McIlroy’s claiming of the European Tour’s money list before he arrived at the Dubai World Championship would render this tournament irrelevant was unpicked by the man himself. The world number one carded a first round 66 to lie one shot adrift of the leader, Luke Donald.
McIlroy’s only awkward spells arrived as his day was drawing to a close. He hit his tee shot on the 18th into water, scrambling par from there, before an even more embarrassing few moments as McIlroy’s girlfriend, the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, took the microphone at his post-round press conference.
Wozniacki’s mischief – and red face – making went thus: “If you win this week, am I going to get a really nice Christmas present? And what am I going to get?” A brief exchange followed. “I have been looking,” McIlroy said.
“I don’t think it would take winning this week to buy you a nice present. I think you’ll get a nice present anyway.”
To his credit, McIlroy had shown on the Earth Course that there is nothing lacking from his professional approach. He played the back nine in a mere 31 strokes.
The Northern Irishman’s claim that he wanted to depart this Emirate state with two trophies, rather than solely the one marking his Race to Dubai win, obviously didn’t represent empty words.
“I have come here two out of three times with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, so there was still a lot to play for,” he explained.
“But this year, having it wrapped up means I can go out and play without thinking about it. I still have a lot of motivation, I want to try and win this tournament, I want to finish a great season in great style.”
McIlroy was outscored, though, by the man he succeeded as the leading money winner in both Europe and the United States. Donald won last week in Japan, returning him to number two in the world. Key to that form, as ever, is Donald’s putting; he came to Dubai having holed 484 from his last 485 putts from 3ft or less.
“I feel like I’m at the peak of my career and I’m excited to be playing golf,” Donald said. “You always feel different the week after winning, you have that little extra pep in your step and there is extra confidence flowing through you. Winning by five, as I did last week, gave me a huge boost.”