Lee Westwood produced the perfect response to his World Cup disappointment as defending champion Rory McIlroy carded his worst round in the DP World Tour Championship.
McIlroy has won the European Tour’s season-finale twice and never finished worse than 11th in seven appearances at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with a 72 in 2010 his worst score in 28 rounds.
However, the world No 2 could only manage an opening 75 to lie joint 55th in the 60-man field, nine shots behind Ryder Cup team-mate Westwood.
It took McIlroy 14 holes to register his first birdie and although he swiftly added another on the next, the four-time major winner double-bogeyed the 16th after needing two attemptsto play from the edge of a water hazard.
In contrast, Westwood carded seven birdies and just one bogey to match his opening 66 in the inaugural event in 2009, which he went on to win by six shots to become European No 1 for the second time.
“That’s certainly in the top two or three performances in my career,” said Westwood. “Maybe even the best performance of my career, knowing that I needed to win to beat Rory in the ‘Race to Dubai’, and did that by six and pretty much dominated the field over the weekend.
“Today was as good as I’ve played for quite some time. I’ve found a couple of keys in different parts of my game and I’ve been working on them hard and it all came together today.”
Westwood had been due to make his World Cup debut in Melbourne next week, but with Danny Willett pulling out to protect a back injury, Ryder Cup team-mate Chris Wood took his place as the next highest English player in the world rankings at the end of July and opted for Andy Sullivan as his partner.
Westwood’s frustration was probably heightened by seeing Wood and Sullivan shoot 75 and 76, respectively.
Nicolas Colsaerts and France’s Julien Quesne shared second place on five under, with Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari and Joost Luiten a shot further back.
Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson, who has a lead of 299,675 points over Willett, managed an opening 72, with Willett and Alex Noren both one shot better off.