Rory McIlroy 'didn’t expect' flying start to Dubai Invitational

World No2 cards 9-under in opening round at Dubai Creek and Yacht Club

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Having won five professional titles between the other two regular events in the city, it was no surprise Rory McIlroy made a flying start to the newest Dubai event on Thursday.

Not for everyone else, at least. But the man himself acknowledged his opening round 9-under-par 62 in the first round of the Dubai Invitational exceeded his own expectations.

The world No 2 arrived in the emirate this week ahead of what he expected to be a “gentle” tune up ahead of the new DP World Tour season.

Instead, he burned up a course which has been a stranger to Tour golf for over two decades. The Dubai Creek and Yacht Club hosted the Dubai Desert Classic for two seasons, in 1999 and 2000, when it was briefly relocated from the Emirates Golf Club.

It looks a picture on its return to top billing, with a new event that takes the form of a pro-am event with 60 professionals and, for the first three rounds, the same number of amateurs.

It was decorated, too, by a classy round by the tournament’s most recognisable figure.

Playing in a four-ball that also had Abdullah Al Naboodah, the tournament host, McIlroy picked up two birdies in his opening six holes, after starting at the 10th.

He later fired five more in six holes from the 17th to the fourth, and finished with birdies at the seventh and ninth.

“I didn’t expect that,” said McIlroy, who will next week aim to defend a Desert Classic title he has already won three times before.

“It didn't feel quite as good as that the first couple of days when I was here and hitting balls and playing the course. But it was nice to get a card in the hand again and feel the competitive juices flowing.

“I surprised myself a little bit but hopefully there will be more of the same over the next few days.”

The Northern Irishman holds a two-shot lead after round one, ahead of Yannick Paul. The German’s 7-under opening round is one better than Thriston Lawrence, with Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjorn Olesen a shot further back.

“I think when the wind gets up, it can get a little bit tricky when the wind starts coming off the water,” McIlroy said of the playing conditions at The Creek.

“We played the first 12 or 13 holes basically without any wind and then there was a little wind. I think around the Creek you have to miss it in the right spots.

“There’s some water here and there. I think I did a good job today of managing my misses and missing on the right side, and when I did make a shot, I managed to take advantage of it.”

Fleetwood said the course provided a challenge, despite it being shorter than many of the courses the players are used to on tour.

“It doesn't play that long but it’s one of those that I just think you can get impatient on, or you can feel like you should be doing better than you are,” Fleetwood said.

“I think the scoring was pretty good today but even then, I think, what, 3-under was probably in the top 10 or something like that. I know Rory shot 9-under. Whatever, Rory.

“It’s a course that you can't force it too much just with the way it’s playing. Play well, play sensibly and see where you are at the end of the week.”

Updated: January 11, 2024, 4:32 PM