Dubai // Rory McIlroy, the 2009 champion, will take a two-shot lead into the second day of the Dubai Desert Classic after an impressive start to the tournament.
The Northern Irishman shot eight birdies, including five on the trot, for a seven-under round of 65. A bogey on the 16th (seventh hole on the course) was the only blemish for him on the day.
“It was a great way to start the tournament,” McIlroy said. “Felt in control of my ball most of the day. Got away with a couple of tee shots on the 17th and the second.
“Apart from that, I played really well, really smart golf and took on the pins if I needed to and left alone ones that I didn’t need to go at. It was just a very solid round of golf.”
Sergio Garcia will be starting the second day, two shots behind McIlroy after carding a bogey-free five under 67 in the first round. Thomas Aiken also sits joint second with the Spaniard.
“I’m not going to say it was great because I did hit a couple of drives that I didn’t enjoy,” Garcia said. “But overall, I think it was good. I think I probably played my best when the wind picked up.”
Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, Danny Willett, Steve Webster, Victor Dubuisson, Richard Sterne and Pablo Martin are all a stroke behind on four-under 68.
Lee Westwood, the world No 1, could have been in that group, but bogeyed the 18th to finish the day on three-under 69. Martin Kaymer, the Abu Dhabi champion and world No 2, carded the same score, while Tiger Woods finished a disappointing day with a flourish, hitting a birdie on the 18th for a one-under 71.
(Catch the action as it happened.)
5.10pm: The much hyped pairing of the world’s top three players – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods – has not turned out to plan.
Westwood and Kaymer, the world No 1 and No 2, have been competitive, virtually neck-to-neck on the card after 16 holes. Westwood is on a bogey-free four-under, while the German is two-under after a double-bogey on the ninth and a bogey on the 16th.
Woods, however, has cut a forlorn figure and he is five shots adrift of Westwood. Luck has also not been on the side of the American, with a couple of near misses.
4.45pm: Two of Dubai’s former champions, Colin Montgomerie and Mark O’Meara are having a pretty forgettable day on the Majlis course.
Montgomerie, champion here in 1996 and winner of a record eight Order of Merit on the European Tour, is four-over after 12 holes with five bogeys and a lone birdie.
O’Meara, the 2004 Dubai winners who now plays on the Champions Tour, has six bogeys and a birdie in 15 holes.
4.00pm: With two consecutive birdies at the start of his back nine, Tiger Woods must have given his fans hopes of a dramatic recovery. But that was not to be.
The American, with 14 majors against his name, double-bogeyed the par-4 12th hole to slip back to two-over.
Playing alongside him, Lee Westwood, the world No 1, and the Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer are two under after 12 holes, still a fair distance away from Rory McIlroy’s seven-under 65 earlier in the day.
Mark Brown, ranked world No 421, is doing well for himself at four-under after a bogey-free 16 holes.
3.45pm: Where the world's top three are struggling, a few of golf's unheralded are shining.
Anthony Wall, ranked a modest No 191 in the world, had an impressive card of three-under for the front-nine. He started the day with an eagle on the par-5 tenth and has added three more birdies since. He remains on three-under after 14 holes.
Victor Dubuisson, who turned pro last year, is not even ranked on the tour yet. The Frenchman is, however, mastering the Majalis course like a veteran. After 12 holes, he is four under with five birdies and a bogey.
Steve Webster, another journeyman and ranked World No 228, finished on a four-under 68 earlier in the day, three shots behind the current leader Rory McIlroy and one behind Sergio Garcia.
3.00pm: A double bogey on the ninth spoilt what could have been a steady front-nine for Martin Kaymer.
Three under after eight holes, the German dropped two shots on the par-four, 463-yard ninth to finish the front nine on one-under 35. As Kaymer floundered, Lee Westwood completed his front-nine with a birdie to come out at two-under.
Playing alongside, Tiger Woods continued to disappoint his horde of fans, starting his return journey from a scratchy two-over.
Given the performance of the world’s top three, Rory McIlroy’s seven-under 65 earlier in the day seems under no threat.
2.27pm: Martin Kaymer seems to be pulling away in the blockbuster pairing of the world’s top three player.
The German, who won the Abu Dhabi title to clinch the world No 2 ranking, is two-under after seven holes following birdies on third and seventh. Lee Westwood, the world No 1, is a shot behind with a lone birdie on the third while Tiger Woods is having a harrowing time.
The two-time Dubai champion and winner of 14 majors, who dropped shots on the first and fourth, has shot another bogey on the seventh after a birdie on the sixth.
2.12pm: Henrik Stenson, the 2007 Dubai Desert Classic champion and 2009 Players Championship winner, had a rough day on a course he spent years practising on.
The Swede, who lives in Dubai and practises at the Emirates Golf Club, had a disappointing first round card of five over 77 after a ragged back-nine. He was one-under after nine, but had four bogeys and two double-bogeys on the next nine to finish the day 12 shots behind the current leader Rory McIlroy.
There were only three other completed rounds worse than Stenson’s: Chris Cannon (6-over), Markus Brier (7-over) and Alexander Noren (8-over).
1.41 pm: Tiger Woods is struggling at the Emirates Golf Club, on a course where has been the champion twice in five visits and has never finished outside the top five.
The world No 3, who has won 14 majors, started his round with a bogey and dropped another shot on the fourth, to trail the blockbuster trio of the world’s top-ranked players.
Lee Westwood, the top ranked player in the world, and No 2 Martin Kaymer are one-under after four holes and a tough challenge lies ahead for the duo if they harbour any hopes of improving on Rory McIlroy’s seven-under 65 earlier in the day.
1.12pm: David Howell joined a select group of professionals with a hole-in-one at the Dubai Desert Classic, accomplishing the feat on the par 3, 188-yard seventh.
The Englishman became the 19th pro to achieve the feat in the tournament, and 17th to do it at the Emirates Golf Club; the other two were achieved at the Dubai Creek and Yacht Club, when the tournament was held there in 1999 and 2000.
This was also the sixth hole-in-one on the seventh, where Rory McIlroy had a bogey earlier in the day. It blemished his seven-under card of 65, during which he had eight birdies.
12.42 pm: Mission accomplished after a blistering seven-under 65 for the day, Rory McIlroy can now sit in front of the TV set and watch the world’s top three – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods – battle it out.
McIlroy, the 2009 champion in Dubai, was having an impeccable round, with five birdies on the trot, but dropped a shot on the 16th. Still, his card for the day will put the top three to the test.
Kaymer and Westwood both started their round with a par, but Woods, who finished 44th in his last tournament, had a bogey.
12.36 pm: As anticipated, the stands were packed long before the Big Three arrived at the tee. Thousands more had lined up the entire 458-yard length of the hole one, on either side.
Kaymer, the Abu Dhabi champion and world No2, arrived first at the hole to a loud cheer. Westwood and sombre looking Woods came in together for match number 28 to a bit of a muted welcome.
The cheers, however, were ear-splittingly loud as Woods was introduced by the announcer. The American blasted off the blocks and there was hustle in the crowd as they moved swiftly for the next vantage point.
11.56 am: As Rory McIlroy blazes through the course, a few of the underdogs are enjoying their time under the sun as well.
Todd Hamilton, ranked 525 in the world, closed the day on a three-under 69, while Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (No 372) has finished better on a four-under 68. Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez, world No 233, is also on four-under after 11 holes, while Pablo Larrazabal (No 287) finished the day at two-under 70.
The 16-year-old Khaled Attieh, the Dubai-based Saudi Arabia amateur who won the Dubai Desert Classic qualifiers, is also having a decent day and is currently on par after 11 holes.
11.30 am: Kenneth Ferrie has decided to pack his bags after a nightmarish front nine of 11 over 46 that included a triple-bogey and three consecutive double bogeys.
The official reason for his retirement is a bad ankle and he can probably settle down now, with an ice pack probably, to watch the world’s top three battle it out, if he is still in the mood for some golf.
Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, is climbing up the leaderboard and closing the gap on Rory McIlroy. The Spaniard is currently second on five-under after 12 holes, two shots behind the 2009 champion who has played two more holes.
11.07 am: Shiv Kapur has slipped down the leaderboard after a double-bogey on the par-3 13th. The Indian was doing well, two shots behind leader McIlroy at four-under, till the mishap.
Danny Willet, who shot an eagle on a par-five to finish the front nine on a two-under 35, has now slipped in behind McIlroy at four-under after 13 holes.
Younes el Hassani, who shot the first eagle of the day on the fourth, is three-over after 14 holes following two double-bogeys.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has shot his fifth consecutive birdie, and the seventh of the day, to increase his lead on top of the leaderboard at seven-under 43 after 13 holes.
10.55 am: Rory McIlroy, the 2009, champion has got off to a blazing start at the Emirates Golf Club, where he got his first European Tour win. He is in the midst of a birdie blitz with four on the trot.
The Northern Irishman is leading the pack with a six-under after 11 holes after a modest start of three pars.
This is McIlroy’s sixth appearance at the Dubai Desert Classic and the 21-year-old said: “It’s hard to believe this is my sixth Dubai Desert Classic. It’s always nice to get back to a golf course that I’ve had success on before and coming in here and playing pretty well.”
Miguel Angel Jimenez, the defending champion, is on a three-under after 11 holes, while Thomas Bjorn, the winner in Qatar on Sunday, is going at par.
10.20 am: It is still early days, but there is good news for the Indian fans. Shiv Kapur has made an impressive start to the Dubai Desert Classic with three birdies on the front nine for a three-under 34.
The 2002 Asian Games gold medal winner will be hoping he can continue in the same vein after finishing a disappointing 77th in Qatar and further back in Abu Dhabi at 90.
Rory McIlroy, the 2009 champion, is currently leading the pack after hitting four birdies in his front nine of 33. Todd Hamilton and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet have also carded a four-under for the front nine.
9.20 am: Martin Kaymer’s first memory of golf is the 1997 Masters. He was 13-year-old then and he remember Tiger Woods winnings the tournament by 12 shots.
“It was pretty much one of the first tournaments I watched [on TV] and I have been playing golf since 15,” said the German. “That was pretty much the first tournament that I watched on TV and to see the best player in the game winning a tournament like this was quite an inspiration.”
Kaymer has been wanting to play alongside Woods since, “because he is the player that ever lived”, and his wish will come true later in the day, when he tees-off in the pack that also includes world No1 Lee Westwood.
8.30 am: Since the Dubai Desert Classic started in 1989, not single defending champion has managed to retain his crown the following year. Miguel Angel Jimenez will certainly be mindful of that and hoping to become the first to break that jinx.
It will not be easy for the Spaniard, who is currently ranked No 23 in the world. The top three - Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods - are all in fray and they will certainly be the favourites.
Jimenez, who defeated Westwood in a play-off for the title last year, will be fancying his chances though. He has been a regular at the Emirates Golf Club over the last 22 years - not as regular as Barry Lane, though; the Englishman has not missed a single tournament in Dubai.
For the record, Jimenez started his tournament with a par 5, the same as 2009 champion Rory McIlroy and Qatar Masters winner Thomas Bjorn.
For the first time since 1994, the world's top three will be playing in a European Tour and the Dubai Desert Classic organisers are certainly proud of that achievement.
The last time that happened, Greg Norman was top of the world rankings, Sir Nick Faldo was No2, followed by Bernhard Langer. This time around, Lee Westwood is leading the pack, with Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods close behind. The trio have been paired together and will tee-off at 12.20pm.
"The last time I played in a pairing like this was the US Open in 2008, the top three guys, and we had a lot of fun," Woods said. "It was fun competing and playing in a group and I think it will be the same (today)".
That, however, seems unlikely as the world will be watching Woods closely after his disappointing finish at Torrey Pines last month, where he was joint 44th following a 74 and 75 in the final two rounds.