McIlroy was level par after nine holes when he asked Fitzgerald for help in reading the greens over the closing nine holes on the Emirates Club course.
McIlroy went on to birdie six of his inward nine to record a six-under-par 66 — three strokes behind leader Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and Germany’s Marcel Siem are next best at seven under par.
After dropping a shot at the eighth, McIlroy snared his first birdie by holing a 10-footer on the ninth hole.
Fitzgerald then stepped forward to help McIlroy hole a four-footer at the 10th before McIlroy made it three birdies in succession after landing an eight iron to 20 feet at the par-three 11th and holing the putt.
His parents, Rosie and Gerry, and tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, were applauding when he holed an eight-footer at the 13th for birdie and then landed a nine iron second shot to 12 feet at the 14th, also sinking the birdie. McIlroy then drilled a seven iron to 12 inches at the par-three 12th hole for another. A Mercedes S sedan was earlier won here by Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, who aced the hole.
McIlroy then ended his round by two-putting from 10 feet to continue a trend over the past five Dubai Desert Classic’s in shooting low on the first day.
“I am finding the greens very difficult to read this year, just because there’s so much more grain on them than usual,” said McIlroy.
“So that’s why I got JP to read them with me from the start of the back nine, and that definitely helped.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie produced his second lowest round in 27 trips round the course, a five-under-par 67, that included an outward nine in five under but an inward half in level par.
Lawrie kick-started his round by landing a wedge to four foot for birdie followed by a seven iron to two feet at the next.
“I got off to a great start, I played really lovely after that although, to be honest, I didn’t hole too many putts,” he said. “But I have been working on a few little things in my swing and they seemed to be working.”
Shane Lowry looks to have bounced back after missing the cut in the first two legs of Europe’s ‘Desert Swing’ and recorded his lowest score of the new season with a four-under-par 68.
Gareth Maybin signed for a 71 but Michael Hoey struggled with a 73 and Damien McGrane is staring at his third missed cut of the new year following his 75.
* There was the bizarre sight of a hot-air balloon stopping play yesterday. It took off from in front of the clubhouse forcing those on the ninth and 18th greens — including Colin Montgomerie — to stare up in disbelief.