World number one Rory McIlroy’s peerless power and precision has put him in pole position at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The Northern Irishman produced a superb bogey-free eight-under-par 64 to take a one-shot lead over Scotland’s Marc Warren at 14-under.
McIlroy underlined his class by closing with three successive birdies but even so, he would have come off the course with the feeling he could have gone even lower on a track where he recorded his maiden professional victory in 2009.
That shows how far the 24-year-old’s expectations have risen in the six years since he lifted the title at the Emirates Golf Club, during which time he has won four majors with two of those coming in the last six months.
“It was good. I hit a couple of loose shots early on but found my rhythm and after that I played pretty well and converted most of my chances,” he told European Tour Radio.
“You can’t ask for much more: bogey-free, eight birdies. I’ve set myself up nicely for a good run at it in the next couple of days.
“I saw a stat yesterday that since the first round of The Open, I’ve played 45 rounds and a third of them were 66 or better, which just shows you the level that I am at.
“I’ve put the work in and I’ve worked hard; I continue to work hard and this is the result, which is nice.
“I am very comfortable and a lot of the parts of my game are in good shape but the conditions out there are absolutely perfect so I would expect the scoring to stay low for the weekend and I am going to have to carry on playing like this.
“It is the best place to be, one shot ahead, but you just got to go out and be aggressive and try to make as many birdies as you can.
“I’m going to need something similar over the weekend to stay in the same position, as there are so many people close to the lead, it is so bunched up, you can’t play defensively on this course.”
McIlroy’s power advantage was evident early on as he almost eagled the 351-yard second after driving the green but had to settle for one of three birdies in his first five holes.
That put him four off the lead but back-to-back birdies at the 10th and par-three 11th, where he hit a brilliant approach to three feet, got him moving again and he would have advanced quicker had a four-foot birdie attempt not lipped out at the next and he not mis-read from inside 10 feet at the 13th and 14th.
But he continued to push hard and at both 16 and 17 he hit driver then wedge to eight and six feet respectively before holing an 18-footer at the 564-yard last having flown the water-guarded green with his approach.
McIlroy overtook early leader Marc Warren
McIlroy’s performance took the shine off Warren’s round of 65, which was possibly not as clean but included nine birdies – including five in six holes from the 13th, having started on the back nine.
The in-form Scot, runner up in Qatar last week, is now 30 under for his last five rounds and he told Sky Sports News: “It was very good from the fairways but scrappier than I would have wanted off the tees.
“(In) Abu Dhabi I drove the ball really well, I improved my iron play last week and I am giving myself lots of chances.”
England’s Seve Benson and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell lead the chasing pack with 12 players within four shots of the lead.
Among them are Englishman Lee Westwood, who was bogey-free in carding 68, and Dane Morten Orum Madsen who had seven birdies and an eagle on the way to a best-of-the-week 63.