Rory McIlroy could not contain his excitement at getting back into competitive action after a six-week lay-off, although his competitors probably did not feel the same way as he claimed a share of the lead in the DP World Tour Championship.
The world No 1 carded six birdies and no bogeys in a flawless 66 to finish alongside Ireland’s Shane Lowry in the £5.1m event in Dubai.
That took the 25-year-old to an amazing 80 under par for his 21 rounds to date in this event, after previous finishes of third, fifth, 11th, first and fifth on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
McIlroy had not played competitively since finishing joint second in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the first week of October – he does not count the 36-hole Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda – after withdrawing from scheduled appearances in the first two Final Series events in China to prepare for his upcoming court case with a former management company.
So it was perhaps no surprise that the four-time major winner had taken to Twitter earlier in the day to write: “Just under 3 hours until I hit my first competitive golf shot in 6 weeks. To say I’m excited is an understatement. #imready.”
McIlroy, who wrapped up the Race to Dubai title for the second time in three years with a week to spare, certainly looked ready as he birdied four of his first five holes, the only aberration coming when he missed from six feet on the third.
A run of nine successive pars followed before birdies at the 15th and 16th ensured he delivered on his promise not to rest on his laurels at the end of a phenomenal season.
“It was a great way to start and probably should have been five birdies in five holes, to be honest,” said McIlroy. “You never expect to start like that, but I’ve been hitting the ball well for the last couple of weeks that I’ve been practising and it was just a matter of trying to take that good range play on to the course. I was able to do that, which I’m really happy about.
Yorkshire duo Danny Willett and Simon Dyson had mixed fortunes. Sheffield’s Willett included five birdies and two bogeys in a three-under 69 for a share of seventh place, while Malton’s Dyson finished in a tie for 40th. His 73 included five bogeys and four birdies.