Noren leads as Els, McIlroy lurk
Alex Noren of Sweden plays a shot on the ninth hole during first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament on Thursday.
Dubai - Swede is one-stroke clear as Ernie continues his love affair with Dubai Desert Classic
The famed Majlis Course doesn't quite fit Alex Noren's eye but he still found his way through it.
It is still early days in the tournament but the Swede fired the opening shot with a bogey-free round to take sole ownership of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 33-year-old shot a brilliant six-under 66 at the Emirates Golf Club on Thursday, on a day where the golfing fraternity grieved the passing away of top Scottish caddie Dave Renwick. As the golfers, the caddies and the officials wore black ribbons as a mark of respect for Renwick, who lost his battle to cancer, Noren reeled off six birdies to be one shot clear of four others - Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Peter Hanson and Brett Rumford.
Noren, paired with Bello and Tyrrell Hatton and teeing off from the 10th, began with the birdie on the 10th and finished his front nine with another birdie on the 17th.
On his return journey, Noren, who finished second here last year, birdied the first before notching back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth before wrapping up his round with a birdie on the seventh.
And while Bello, Fisher Hanson and Rumford carded a handsome five-under, Ernie Els continued his love affair with the Classic. The only three-time champion of the Desert Classic, Els overcame a rib injury to card an impressive four-under to be tied alongside the man who is trying to equal his number of wins here - Rory McIlroy.
The duo found themselves in the company on six others on tied sixth, two shots off the pace.
Els, who won this tournament in 1994, 2002 and 2005, had five birdies and a bogey in his round. Teeing off from the first, the South African legend parred the first five holes before birding the sixth and eighth. He took the turn and parred the next three before birding the 13th. Els then fired consecutive birdies on the 15th and 16th. A bogey on the final hole, the 18th, where he had to contend with the water hazard, was the only blip.
Meanwhile, Northern Ulsterman Rory McIlroy couldn't have envisaged a bad start to his title defence but the World No.2 did salvage it finely with an identical four-under.
The 26-year-old had six birdies in his round but it was the two bogeys, especially the first, which had the golfing world's attention.
McIlroy bogeyed his first hole of the day, the par-five 10th. But he didn't let it bother him and he bounced back in stellar fashion by reeling of twin birdies on the 13th and 14th. McIlroy then finished off his front nine with a birdie on the 18th.
He began his return journey with a bogey on the par-four second, but cancelled that out with a birdie on the next hole. And then, back-to-back birdies on the fifth and sixth gave him a decent round to build on.