DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy is playing the Dubai Invitational as a favor to a friend and to get in some early-year practice in pleasant weather conditions.
The way he has started, McIlroy might end up taking home the trophy.
The No. 2-ranked Northern Irishman marked his first competitive round of 2024 by making nine birdies in a bogey-free, 9-under 62 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the European tour event on Thursday.
“Surprised myself a little bit,” McIlroy said, “but hopefully more of the same over the next few days.”
Yannik Paul (64) was alone in second place at Dubai Creek Resort, with Thriston Lawrence (65) a further stroke back and Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjorn Olesen tied for fourth place after 66s.
McIlroy sees the Dubai Invitational — a tournament in a relaxed setting, with no cut and a 60-man field — as a gentle way to ease into 2024. He certainly looked at home back in Dubai, where he once lived and a place he often visits early in the year to fine-tune his game.
In the team part of the event, he partnered Abdullah Al Naboodah, a non-executive director at the European tour who helped set up the Dubai Invitational and is someone McIlroy counts as a good friend.
Starting at No. 10, McIlroy made six birdies in eight holes around the turn during a spell where he made six straight 3s.
He took the lead outright on 8 under with a birdie from 5 feet at No. 7, then made another at his last hole after a great approach from the rough to the right of the fairway to inside 8 feet.
“I didn’t expect that,” McIlroy said after tying the lowest first round of his career on the European tour. “It didn’t feel quite as good as that the first couple of days when I was here and hitting balls and playing the course.
“But it was nice to get a card in the hand again and sort of feel the competitive juices flowing.”
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