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Rory McIlroy in the hunt as Francesco Molinari seizes control of Race to Dubai battle

By Adam McKendry

A solid first day at the DP World Tour Championship has Rory McIlroy three shots off the early lead at the European Tour's season-ending tournament in Dubai.

The Ulsterman shot a three-under 69 around the Jumeirah Golf Estates to sit three off the early lead held by England's Jordan Smith and Spain's Adrian Otaegui.

That being said, it was a round that could have been a lot better given McIlroy was two-under at the turn, however eight straight pars on the back nine stalled his momentum, and a birdie at the par-five 18th was his only notable score on the back nine.

The former World No.1 picked up two quick birdies at the 2nd and 3rd, but immediately gave both of those shots back to the course at the 4th and 5th courtesy of bogeys, only to then regain them at the 6th and 8th.

That helter skelter run of seven holes with only one par finally ground to a halt with a par at the ninth, which was then followed by eight more in succession as McIlroy steadied himself on the second half of his round.

He will be disappointed, perhaps, not to at least pick up one more shot on the back nine, but his straightforward birdie at the reachable par-five closing hole will have him in good spirits heading into tomorrow's second round.

Meanwhile, Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari strengthened his grip on the title with an opening round of 68, the Open champion aided by a flawless front nine which included birdies on the first, fifth and seventh.

Playing partner, and closest challenger in the Order of Merit, Tommy Fleetwood is right behind him at three-under par, while defending champion Jon Rahm is looking in ominous form after a five-under 67.

Rahm had moved into a share of the lead with birdies on the 14th and 15th, but then three-putted the 16th and dropped another shot on the next when his tee shot ran over the green and into the water.

Molinari was also five-under after his sixth birdie of the day on the 14th, which briefly gave him a share of the lead, but it was quickly followed by a three-putt bogey on the next, and a bogey at the last had him carding his 68.

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