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Rory delight as hot streak capped by shot of season

Great start: Rory McIlroy on way to a 64 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai yesterday
Great start: Rory McIlroy on way to a 64 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai yesterday

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy's new trophy cabinet could soon need expanding after arguably his best shot of a stellar season capped a superb opening round in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

A towering three-wood approach from 286 yards to the 18th hole at Jumeirah Golf Estates finished just five feet from the pin to set up a closing eagle and give McIlroy an eight-under-par 64, his lowest score in an event he won in 2012 and 2015.

That left the World No.2 just a shot off the lead held by France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who shrugged off a lingering illness to cover the back nine in just 30 strokes, with six birdies in the last eight holes.

Spain's Jon Rahm, the 2017 champion, is three shots off the pace after a 66, with Tommy Fleetwood and fellow Englishman Tom Lewis another stroke back.

Rahm and Fleetwood are among the five players who can end the week as European number one, but Austria's Bernd Wiesberger maintained his place at the top of the projected Race to Dubai standings thanks to a battling 70.

McIlroy is without regular caddie Harry Diamond this week but feels so at home at the venue for the season-ending event that he feels he could play it "blindfolded", and such confidence was reflected in a flying start.

The 30-year-old Ulsterman lipped out three times on the front nine but still recorded five birdies and recovered from his only bogey of the day on the 12th to birdie the 15th and 16th, before conjuring up a picture-perfect finish.

"Honestly, it's possibly the best shot I've hit all year," McIlroy said.

"The wind was off the left so it was a nice one for me to just aim straight at the pin and know that if I hit my little draw it should hold and I just flushed it.

"I carry my three-wood off the deck about 280 (yards) so it was right on the limit, but as soon as I hit it I knew it was perfect. It was right out of the middle. Great to finish like that, and yeah, it was a great round of golf."

McIlroy has won four times this season and returned home from his latest success at the HSBC Champions in China to a surprise from his wife Erica in their new home in Florida.

"We had just moved into our new house a couple of months ago but we still had not moved everything in and the trophy cabinet hadn't been built," McIlroy explained.

"I got back from China, walked into our sort of game room and up on the wall were all the trophies and stuff. It's a nice reminder sometimes. All that stuff had been in storage for a year and a half, so the first time I had seen the Claret Jug and US Open trophy and all that sort of stuff.

"It's cool but it's also a great motivator to think, you know, I'm still pretty early in my career and I've done quite a lot but I still want to do so much more."

Meanwhile, leader Lorenzo-Vera admitted he's not feeling in the best shape this week but still somehow managed to defy that to shoot the low score of the day.

The Frenchman rattled in six birdies in his last eight holes and leads by one over McIlroy at nine-under-par through the first 18 holes.

"Honestly I'm not feeling well at all," he said. "I have no energy. I had a big lung infection in South Africa and a big treatment and really feel bad on top of that.

"I felt that if I really relaxed a lot, just swing it like 70% or maybe less, the ball was still flying pretty well. Try to be pretty clever and not too aggressive and then the putter got hot. So that worked."

Fleetwood had made the ideal start by holing his approach to the first for an eagle two and there was a three-shot swing on the hole as playing partner Wiesberger three-putted for bogey.

Birdies on the second, seventh, eighth and 10th took Fleetwood to six under par, but he could only play the remaining eight holes in one over and was fortunate to see his drive on the 18th bounce off the rocks on the edge of a water hazard and back into the fairway.

Offaly's Shane Lowry, who is still in with a mathematical chance of winning the Race to Dubai, shot a one-over-par first round to fall off the pace.

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