McIlroy surprises himself with a flawless 62 to lead $2.5m Dubai Invitational

Northern Irishman says he did a good job of managing my misses to make a stunning start to race to Dubai title defence

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Rory McIlroy in action at Dubai Creek during his opening round of 62. - Supplied photo
Rory McIlroy in action at Dubai Creek during his opening round of 62. - Supplied photo

Published: Thu 11 Jan 2024, 6:51 PM

Rory McIlroy made a stunning start to the defence of his Race to Dubai title as a bogey-free 62 handed him a two-shot lead after day one of the inaugural $2.5 million Dubai Invitational.

The Northern Irishman was teeing it up for the first time since being presented with his fifth Harry Vardon Trophy at the DP World Tour Championship in November at Jumeirah Golf Estates and he has returned to the UAE looking for a sixth career win in Dubai, the place where he claimed his first nearly 15 years ago.

His nine birdies saw him lead the way from Germany's Yannik Paul, with South African Thriston Lawrence at six under.

Germany's Yannik Paul. - AP
Germany's Yannik Paul. - AP

Multiple DP World Tour winners and Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjørn Olesen, who are Dubai residents, are four shots off the lead.

McIlroy said coming into this week that a fifth Major title was his main goal in 2024 but a sixth Race to Dubai triumph is also at the forefront of his mind as he chases down Scot Colin Montgomerie's record of eight.

“I didn't expect that,” he said after the round. “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.

“It was nice to get a card in the hand again and sort of feel the competitive juices flowing.

“This is a nice week to do some extra practice and put some work in so that I feel a bit more ready, not just for next week... but also going into the bulk of the season,” McIlroy added.

"I surprised myself a little bit but hopefully more of the same over the next few days.

"I think around the Creek you have to miss it in the right spots. There's some water here and there. I think I did a good job today of managing my misses and missing on the right side and when I did make a hit shot, I managed to take advantage of it,” said the World’s No 2 ranked player.

Paul set the early pace with an approach to inside five feet at the 11th and again after laying up on the 13th.

He dropped a shot at the next after leaving his ball in the bunker but holed from 19 feet at the 16th and left himself less than ten feet at the 17th and 18th to make it a hat-trick and turn in 32.

McIlroy also started on the tenth and he put on an approach masterclass, putting his second shots inside ten feet on the 11th, 15th, 17th and 18th to also turn in 32 and share the lead, the highlight being a smart shot from an awkward stance and lie on the 15th.

He led alone after holing a lengthy putt on the first but Paul hit back from 17 feet on the second and reclaimed top spot as he took advantage of the short par-four third.

McIlroy also made the most of the third and got up and down on the par-five fourth, before Paul holed from the fringe at the sixth to join him at seven under.

Paul then parred his final three holes but McIlroy was not finished, leaving himself just five feet on the seventh and eight feet on the ninth to lead by two.

Englishman Fleetwood was bogey-free in his 66, while Olesen added an eagle and a bogey to four birdies in his round.

Fellow Dane Nicolai Højgaard, American Sean Crocker, South African Zander Lombard and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui were at four under.

In the Pro-Am team event, McIlroy and Tournament Host Abdulla Al Naboodah led the way at 13 under, three shots clear of Paul and JJ Dudum.

The tee times for round two see the pros play with different amateurs with the first tee time at 8.30 am with a two-tee start and the final tee time of the day at 11.09 am.

First Round Leaders

(7,059 Yards, Par 71)

R. McIlroy (NI) 62.

Y. Paul (Ger) 64.

T. Lawrence (RSA) 65.

T. Fleetwood (Eng) 66.

T. Oleson (Den) 66.

S. Crocker (US) 67.

Z. Lombard (RSA) 67.

A. Otaegui (Spain) 67.

N. Hojgaard (Den) 67

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