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DP World Tour Championship: Rory McIlroy makes his pitch to be a number one hit

By William Callahan

Published 20/11/2015

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates after he holes out from the bunker on 18 green during the first round of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 19, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 19: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates after he holes out from the bunker on 18 green during the first round of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 19, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
In the hole: Rory McIlroy holes out from the bunker at the 18th at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai

Once bitten, twice shy is the mantra for Rory McIlroy's next three rounds in the DP World Tour Championship as he chases a third Race To Dubai Order of Merit title.

The bite? It came back in 2009 when the 20-year-old McIlroy came to the UAE knowing the coveted accolade of Europe's number one was his - if he could finish ahead of Lee Westwood.

The two were stable-mates in the ISM Sports Management group, headed by Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, but when it came to the ultimate prize in Europe, Westwood was in no mood for friendly banter.

His body language oozed conviction and assertiveness throughout the tournament and his golf matched his mood.

McIlroy treated it as match-play and got bullied in the sense of being dominated by Westwood. It was a lesson well learned.

Yesterday, in round one, the world number three was paired with his closest challenger for the R2D title, England's Danny Willett. The situation was as close to matchplay as it gets.

McIlroy, though, was not buying into that concept.

"I'm fortunate that I've been in this position a few times before," he said.

"I think the first time I came in here was going against Lee Westwood in 2009. I treated it a bit like match-play, which probably wasn't a good idea, and he played fantastically and won the tournament. But obviously this time is a little different, even though it's so close.

"All I can do is focus on myself and try and win the golf tournament, and if I do that, then obviously everything else will fall into place," said the Ulsterman.

There was little to separate them. Both shot 68, four-under-par, to lie just two shots adrift of pacesetters Martin Kaymer, Andy Sullivan, Marcus Fraser and Ian Poulter, each of whom carded a six-under-par 66.

McIlroy shaded the putting with 26 compared to Willett's 30, although that statistic was enhanced by his taking just one putt in total on the 17th and 18th holes.

On the par-3 17th, he had the nous to pitch over a slope when his ball was on the green, but more than 50 feet away from the hole.

Although he won't be a favourite of the greenkeeper for the divot he took on the putting surface in making his shot, McIlroy got the job done as he holed from 12 feet for par.

Then he avoided a potential bogey or double-bogey after twice visiting bunkers on the 620-yard, par-5 18th, when he holed out from a greenside bunker for a birdie four.

"Yeah, it definitely feels much better birdieing the last hole, just to birdie that, and you shoot four-under-par and get myself just a little bit closer to the leaders, yeah, it feels good going into the next three days," he said.

"Ball-striking tee-to-green for the most part has been very good all throughout the year, and it's been the putter that held me back.

"But I felt like I putted well today, so that bodes well for the next three days," he said.

Willett spoke after the round of hoping to play alongside McIlroy at the weekend but for round two they were separated, with McIlroy alongside Emiliano Grillo, and Willett with Branden Grace.

Shane Lowry's three-over-par 75 undermined his double ambition to win the tournament and then hope that results broke his way to allow him snatch the title from McIlroy.

There are two contests going on this week, with the overall R2D title at stake, and also a prestigious tournament which gutsy competitors such as Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter badly want to win.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell came to the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC in Georgia with confidence high following his victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Mexico, last Sunday.

The tournament is being played over the Seaside (Par-70) course, and the Plantation (Par-72) course, and the Ulsterman filed an opening three-under, par-67 on the Seaside layout.

The early pace was set at seven-under-par by Kevin Kisner, who shot 65 on the Plantation course, so three -under-par was a decent start to the tournament for McDowell, who is seeking back-to-back wins for the second time.

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