Rory McIlroy hotting up in Dubai
Rory McIlroy is one shot better off than Graeme McDowell after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, but the Portrush man is by far the happier with his efforts.
The Holywood native was furious with a bogey six at 18 – for a one under 71 – where, unusually, his driver let him down and he blocked his tee shot into a stream bisecting the fairway.
Alejando Canizares of Spain leads after a 66.
While McIlroy threatened to turn the clock back 12 months with three birdies in four fabulous opening holes, McIlroy's short game wasn't sharp enough to save him after he missed the fairway and then failed to make the green in regulation at five and eight, leading to bogey at both.
Numbingly, his final birdie of the day came at the par five seventh and missed chances at 14, 15 and 16 contrasted sharply with the five-birdie finishing streak which clinched victory here last year.
Until he recovers finesse around the greens, McIlroy's confidence appears unlikely to return to last year's level. However, one can never write off the 24-year-old on a course so perfectly suited to his power game.
McDowell emerged happiest despite posting the poorest score of the four apostles in this year's Race to Dubai.
Henrik Stenson appeared to throw down the gauntlet to his pursuers with a four-under par 68 which left him just two off the lead, one ahead of Ian Poulter and two clear of Justin Rose.
McDowell, third behind Stenson and Rose in the Race to Dubai standings, shot a level par 72 yet beamed with pride after dragging himself away from calamity's clutches with a heroic hat-trick of birdies down the stretch.
McDowell endured more than his fair share of grief on these perplexing putting surfaces and admitted he almost gave into thoughts of "here we go again a few times on the front nine" adding "but I knew I needed to be bigger and better than that".
After playing the opening three holes in two-over and struggling to hole putts on the front nine, McDowell had any encouragement gained from sinking a long one for birdie at 12 snuffed out by a "three-whack" at 13.
Recalling the shock of that moment, McDowell said: "That's when the alarm bells really started to ring.
"I could have shot myself out of it easily but I dug in, made three birdies in a row on 14, 15 and 16 and gave myself something to fight for.
"It would have been very disappointing if I hadn't made those three birdies coming in but there's no panic. There's a long way to go and I've won many tournaments from here."