Rory McIlroy, Tom McKibbin and Shane Lowry are all well placed after a blustery day one at the DP World Tour Championship at the Earth Course at Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates.
McIlroy rode his luck not once, but twice on the closing hole eventually escaping with a par-five after twice flirting with the hazard but coming up dry on both occasions to end the day in red figures.
After a six-week layoff following his Ryder Cup heroics, and with a new driver in the bag, there were plenty of highlights in his eventual one-under 71, and with three birdies in his opening seven holes, the freshly crowned Race to Dubai champion looked as though he was taking up right where he left off in Rome.
Mistakes began to creep in and the first bogey of the day came on eight, but he got that shot back thanks to a pin-point wedge on 10, but back-to-back poor iron shots on the par-4 12th and par-3 13th led to two more bogeys, and after trading another birdie and bogey on 15 and 16, he reached the last with a strong headwind blowing.
He pushed his tee shot right, sending it heading towards the hazard only to watch the ball careen off the rocks and into the wood chips right of the stream. Facing a tricky second, he pulled the layup and it was headed towards the middle of the central-running stream, only for the ball to bounce from the stream and onto the bridge, rolling off to the side where he was able to put his third onto the green and two-putt from distance to keep himself in contention in a tie for 15th and just four back alongside fellow Holywood man Tom McKibbin.
“A little rusty,” was how McIlroy characterised his play. “Got off to a nice start, and then hit a couple of loose shots on the back nine and felt like I was scrambling pretty much the whole way there.
“So yeah, I mean, overall, still only four back. It was a tricky day. I think the wind was up in the morning. It settled down a little bit for our front nine and got up again for our back nine. I can certainly do better, I know that but it was nice to get one round out of the way and hopefully something to build on.”
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) November 16, 2023
A victory would see McKibbin climb high enough in the Race to Dubai rankings to secure one of 10 PGA Tour cards, and the Tour rookie is well placed after carding four birdies and three bogeys in his opening effort.
Disappointingly, McKibbin could only play the par-5s in level-par and if he’s to have any chance of victory, he’ll need to take advantage of the traditional scoring holes at the Earth Course.
Shane Lowry is one shot further back after a level-par 72 that included two birdies, two bogeys and 14 pars. 16 holes separated the birdies which came on the opening and closing holes, and though Lowry’s game lacked a little sharpness, he’s tied for 24th and just five back.
The first-round pace has been set by the trio of Nicolai Hojgaard and French duo Julien Guerrier and Matthieu Pavon at -5. After a bogey on the fourth, Hojgaard’s card was blemish free, reeling off five birdies in a six-hole back nine stretch to join Guerrier and Pavon in the clubhouse.
Jens Dantorp, Antoine Rozner and Adrian Meronk are a shot further back at -4, while Viktor Hovland, Bob MacIntyre, Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Kim are all tied for seventh at -3.
Three-time tournament winner Jon Rahm’s incredible record of 16 consecutive rounds in the 60s at the Earth Course came to an end when he bogeyed the last to shoot a level-par 72.