by Bernie McGuire, Jumeirah Estates, Dubai
Rory McIlroy was in an up-beat mood joking his manager was piloting one of the Red Arrow flypast jets after a ‘rusty’ opening round 71 at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
The reigning World No. 1 and also DP World Tour No. 1 grabbed five birdies in the sauna-like conditions, including an all-important birdie at the last, to be sharing 22nd place on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates.
The England duo of US Open champ, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, lead the elite 50-player field with seven-under 65s. Fitzpatrick was literally on fire, birdieing his opening five holes and laughing with his caddy, Billy Foster at the seemingly ease the putts were dropping early on. However, the birdies dried-up and they played the closing 11 holes in just two-under.
In contrast, Hatton was at his moody best, leaving the course in having bogeyed the last after four birdies in succession from the 13th.
In the bigger European No. 1 picture, Fitzpatrick is being projected to move atop the rankings with McIlroy back to second but with still three rounds to play, McIlroy’s sure to shake off any rust and make his presence felt.
“It certainly was not what I was hoping for,” he said. “I was 3-under through eight holes, thinking a solid start with some chances coming up and just started to drive the ball a little crooked on the back nine. So yeah, made that bogey on 12 and didn’t birdie 14 or 15, and then an unforced error with the three-putt on 16.
“It was nice to birdie the last and to shoot under par.
“Obviously I’ve had three weeks off since the CJ Cup, so I’ll try to knock the rust off a little bit there. There was enough good stuff in there. I made five birdies and hit some decent shots. Yeah, I just need to be a little tidier tomorrow.”
And his upbeat demeanour was no more evident, and after the spectacular sight in him teeing-off when an Emirates A380 airliner accompanied by seven jets from the famed Red Arrows staged a pre-arranged spectacular 12.45pm local time flypast over the Dubai course.
“Sean, my manager was flying one of the jets,” joked McIlroy.
Shane Lowry was very much in McIlroy’s corner, also not having played for three weeks since also contesting the CJ Cup, and finishing just outside the top-20.
Like McIlroy, Lowry also birdied the final hole of the Earth Course but in a one-over par 73.
The reigning BMW PGA champ birdied the second but was well left at the par-3 fourth where he took a double-bogey and slumped to three-over through 12 holes after a good many missed fairways.
He then regrouped with birdies at 15, where he holed a 10-footer and then embraced playing partner Viktor Hovland when the duo each birdied the last, with the Norwegian also struggling under the weight of a 74.
“I was struggling early on and I put that down to having a few weeks off but then it was nice to birdie the last as that helps,” said Lowry.
“It’s tough out there if you don’t find fairways as the rough is up and the greens are pretty hard, so hopefully that’s my poor round for the week.”
At the start of the week, Lowry was among six players who were mathematically in with the shot of becoming European No. 1 but it requires him to win and McIlroy to finish no higher than seventh, Kiwi Ryan Fox no higher than fifth and Fitzpatrick second or worst.
After the first day’s play in the US$10m event Lowry is being projected to drop one place to ninth and thus out the No. 1 equation.