McIlroy whips up desert storm
Dubai - Rory McIlroy made a storming start to the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, bagging eight birdies en route to a seven under 65 and a two stroke first round lead in the European Tour event.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, came off a distinct third best to Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer as the world's top three golfers shared each other's company, carding a 71, two strokes more than his two rivals.
Sergio Garcia continued his revival with a 67 to share second place with Thomas Aiken of South Africa followed by six players tied for third on four under.
The 21-year-old McIlroy has made an impressive start to the season with top 10 finishes in his last four events, but he is desperate to secure another win to go with his breakthrough triumph here two years ago.
In perfect playing conditions at the Emirates Golf Club's Majlis Course, McIlroy, starting at the 10th, went out in four under 33 with birdies at 13, 15, 17 and 18.
When he picked up three more shots at the first, second and third he had managed seven birdies in nine holes and led the tournament by three shots.
McIlroy missed a four-footer for another birdie at the sixth and then three-putted on the par-three seventh for the only blemish on his card.
The Irishman hit an exquisite approach to five feet at the eighth and made the putt to get back to seven under and then completed a fine day's work with a regulation par at the ninth.
"It was a great way to start the tournament," said McIlroy, who refers to Dubai, the tournament he has played most in as a professional, his "home away from home".
"Got away with a couple of tee shots but apart from that I played well - really smart golf."
Irregular off the tee and lacking conviction on the greens, Woods at least had the satisfaction of a morale-boosting finish.
He smacked a magnificent second to three feet over the lake at the par-five 18th and sunk the putt for an eagle.
With Westwood bogeying the last, the American thus gained three shots on the world number one as the top three players in the world rankings played together in a competition for the first time since the 2008 US Open.
Woods opened poorly, hitting through the first green and failing to get down in two from there.
Further bogeys at four and the par-three seven, where his tee shot ended up in the lake, sandwiched around a birdie at the sixth took him to the turn in two over 37.
It was all so unlike the Woods of old and underlined the problems he is having in mastering another swing transplant he undertook in a bid to revive his glory days.
Those came to an abrupt halt in November 2009 when the sex scandal that doomed his marriage and wrecked his public image first erupted.
The 35-year-old American birdied the 10th and 11th holes, but no sooner had he got back to par than a double bogey at the next hole after another wayward drive had him cursing and shaking his head in frustration.
Woods has made it clear that while winning for the first time since November, 2009 would be more than welcome, his priority is to iron out the inconsistencies in his game in time for the Masters in early April.
On that occasion he will aim at adding to his haul of 14 major titles, leaving him three short of the all-time leader Jack Nicklaus.
A fourth birdie followed at 13 getting him back to one over, and he parred his way in before his closing eagle put a better face on it.
That left him six shots behind McIlroy and still some way short of the form he will need if he is to make any real impact at Augusta in two month's time.
The Desert Classic rounds off a month-long detour to the Gulf region by the European Tour taking in tournaments in Abu Dhabi, won by Martin Kaymer, Bahrain, won by Paul Casey, and Qatar, won by Thomas Bjorn.
First round scores:
Emirates Golf Club (Majlis Course, Par-72)
65 - Rory McIlroy (NIR)
67 - Sergio Garcia (ESP, Thomas Aiken (RSA)
68- Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (FRA), Steve Webster (ENG), Victor Dubuisson (FRA), Richard Sterne (RSA), Pablo Martin (ESP), Danny Willett (ENG)
69 - Todd Hamilton (USA), Brett Rumford (AUS), Anthony Wall (ENG), Mark Brown (AUS), Fredrik Andersson Hed (SWE), Peter Hanson (SWE), Lee Westwood (ENG), Martin Kaymer (GER), Anders Hansen (DEN)
70 - Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Stephen Gallacher (SCO), Johan Edfors (SWE), Rikard Karlberg (SWE), Darren Clarke (NIR), Bradley Dredge (WAL), Jeev Milka Singh (IND), Michael Hoey (NIR)
71 - Shiv Kapur (IND), Rafa Echenique (ARG), Chris Wood (ENG), Maarten Lafeber (NED), Floris de Vries (NED), David Howell (ENG), Ricardo Gonzalez (ARG), Joe Kruger (RSA), Michael Jonzon (SWE), Niclas Fasth (SWE), Richie Ramsey (SCO), Noh Seung-yul (KOR), Tiger Woods (USA), Jamie Donaldson (WAL), Ben Curtis (USA), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (ESP), Marcel Siem (ESP), Gregory Bordy (FRA)