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Rory McIlroy makes perfect start at Dubai World Championship

McIlroy makes perfect start as world No 1 Donald pays the price in Dubai

Anyone watching Rory McIlroy’s breathtaking exhibition over the back nine at the Dubai World Championship on Thursday could easily have drawn the conclusion that he is the most talented golfer around.

Poor Luke Donald. One day after paying the Northern Irishman that ultimate compliment, he must have beenhoping not to witness quite such an exquisite illustration of what he was talking about.

In the hunt: Rory McIlroy is two shots off the lead at the Earth Course in Dubai

In the hunt: Rory McIlroy is two shots off the lead at the Earth Course in Dubai

Dubai World Championship

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As for all neutrals and fans of McIlroy, this was the opening day they craved, one that promises to turn the Race to Dubai into a sprint to the 18th green on Sunday.

Yet who could have predicted this at the halfway stage yesterday Donald, rock-solid as he has been all season, had gone to the turn in 33 strokes, while McIlroy had paid for a couple of mental mistakes and taken three shots more.

Remember, McIlroy has to win this event and hope the Englishman finishes worse than ninth to snatch the Order of Merit from him at the last gasp. Never mind the Earth Course. After all the anticipation leading up to the first tee shots, it was looking like the venue ought to be renamed the Down to Earth course.

Until tomorrow: McIlroy shakes hands with Luke Donald after round one in Dubai

Until tomorrow: McIlroy shakes hands with Luke Donald after round one in Dubai

Fortunately, McIlroy doesn’t do boring, does he Over nine scintillating holes, the mistakes disappearedand so did no fewer than six birdie putts. If you added up the length of those strokes he holed, they came to — if you can believe this — 137 feet. And that’s supposed to be the weakest part of his game.

Donald admitted afterwards he had allowed himself to get caught up into thinking that it was a head-to-head against McIlroy, and duly paid the price. Two successive drives on the 14th and 15th holes were so wild he had to declare both unplayable. When did that last happen — when he was about nine ‘I couldn’t tell you, I try to block out things like that,’ he said, with a rueful grin.

All told, he needed no fewer than nine shots more over that back nine than his only rival for the Race to Dubai and ended up with a 72 to McIlroy’s 66. McIlroy lies third behind the Scot Paul Lawrie, who shot 65, while the Swede Peter Hanson leads following a wonderful 64.

Level par: Donald was a bit wayward off the tee during his round of 72

Level par: Donald was a bit wayward off the tee during his round of 72

Donald is in the middle of the chasing pack, and it might suit him that he will not be playing with McIlroy again today.

‘It was definitely a mixture of two halves for me, with some very loose shots on the back nine,’ said Donald. ‘The good thing is I’ve got plentyof time to repair the damage. It’s important I get back to taking careof my own business over the next three days.’

As for the buoyant McIlroy, he was only too happy to revel in his psychological advantage at this early stage. He couldn’t hide the glint in his eye as he reflected: ‘This was the perfect start for me. To shoot a great score like that really sets me up nicely for the next three days.

‘There were a couple of silly mistakes on the front nine but the back nine was pretty much flawless.’

Nicely done: Sweden

Nicely done: Sweden”s Peter Hanson is out in front on his own after a 64

McIlroy is currently enjoying the most consistent form of his professional career. Since recovering from injuring his hand at the US PGA Championship in August he hasn’t finished outside the top four in any event and has won twice. ‘I do feel every time I tee it up right nowI’ve got a good chance of shooting a good score,’ he said.

‘Everything seems sort of stress-free right now.’

What made McIlroy’s score all the more remarkable is that he lost a ballon the second hole and ran up an ugly seven — but how he made amends.
McIlroy’s girlfriend, world No 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, is due in town today for the potentially thrilling denouement.

As she might put it, following a wonderful opening day: advantage, McIlroy.