Rory McIlroy makes strong start in Dubai Desert Classic

A bogey on the final hole is a rare blemish for world number one as he ends day two behind Bernd Wiesberger

For Rory McIlroy, the challenge now is to improve on what was one of precious few tournament disappointments in 2014. In the case of Andy Sullivan, more of the spectacular same would do very nicely indeed.

When McIlroy carded an opening round of 63, 12 months ago at the Emirates Club, the expectancy was of a Dubai Desert Classic procession for the Northern Irishman. Instead, he scored no better than 69 thereafter, finishing in a tie for ninth.

Sullivan was barely known at all in golfing circles at that point, having finished 98th in the 2013 European Tour order of merit. Skip forward to now and the man from Nuneaton has made headlines for winning a trip to space - courtesy of a hole in one at the Dutch Open - and a recent playoff victory in South Africa. There promises to be more to come.

It is to the European Tour's credit that they offered Sullivan a chance to partner McIlroy and Martin Kaymer. He duly outscored the two of them with a 65 to McIlroy's 66. Kaymer is a shot further back.

“I was very impressed,” said McIlroy of Sullivan. “His golf game is really solid. He worked the ball both ways, played the shots, and is a lovely putter of the ball. “He did impress me because I didn’t know much about him beforehand. I had seen a little bit, I saw his hole-in-one to go to space in Holland and obviously I saw a bit of the play-off a few weeks ago. But yes, he has a really solid game.”

For obvious reasons, the respect was mutual. “It was the best day of my life out there, playing with these guys,” a beaming Sullivan admitted. “It was an absolute pleasure and, to be fair, it took some pressure off but I didn’t really look at the leaderboard today. I was just watching these guys play golf. It was just absolutely fantastic, one of the best days of my life and to play the way I did, as well, was brilliant.

“I’m obviously confident on the back of the win and performances I’ve been putting in. But to mix it up with them today was good and I think it was good that we all sort of played really well, it brought out the best in each of us.

“I can’t really put into words at the moment how happy I am and just to play with them guys, it’s a dream come true. You watch them on the telly, winning majors, playing in Ryder Cups and then you’re playing with them. And then to play the way I did, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

Lee Westwood spoke at the start of this week about being as excited about a golfing season as had been the case for some time. Westwood also provided a boost to his native Tour by confirming he will add events in Ireland and Switzerland later in the year.

Things have duly started well for the Englishman. Westwood signed for a Thursday 65, as did the Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, leaving them one shot adrift of Austria's Bernd Wiesberger who fired a 64. If conditions remain as they are, McIlroy predicted the winning score could reach the mid 20s under par.

“I am pretty relaxed, really,” said Westwood. “I’m in a good frame of mind, very happy and pleased with where my game is at and the direction it’s going in.

“I’m delighted with the way I played today and my form on the greens. I feel really solid, like I’m starting the ball online and rolling the ball at the hole in a good place, so it is all very good.”

Westwood laughed off reports of his rescue of an apparently drowning British businessman in Barbados earlier this month. “It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the papers would have you believe,” he insisted. “I wasn’t swimming through shark-infested waters or killer jellyfish or anything like that, climbing over razor-sharp coral. I was laying on the sun bed nursing a hangover and I heard a gentleman sort of yelp out for help. Athletically, obviously, I got up off the sun bed and pounced down the beach towards the sea and lifted him up over my head and carried him out of the water.”

Still, hardly an everyday experience.

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