RORY McILROY scored full marks on two counts in carding a four under par 68 on a sand-whipped opening day defence of his Omega Dubai Desert Classic title and then his knowledge of Corey Pavin’s USA Ryder Cup vice-captains.
McIlroy was exemplary in fighting his way through the desert storm, picking up five birdies to end the round enjoying a six-way share of the lead on the Emirates course.
On the course, players, caddies,officials and spectators were lost out as the sand storm engulfed the ever-changing Dubai multi skyscraper skyline. Those wearing contact lenses suffered most while none escaped breathing in the finer particles.
McIlroy was seen rubbing his eyes on occasions, but it was clear vision out front for the 20-year-old who ended the round tied with Sweden’s Alex Noren, South African Charl Schwartzel, India’s Jeev Milka Singh, Italy’s Edoardo Molinari and Welshman Stephen Dodd.
McIlroy’s round began poorly, bogeying the second after he put his drive onto the adjoining Wadi course. But the world no 9 then pulled off what he described as a ‘lucky’ birdie at the next, the par five third hole. “I hit my drive into the left rough and then hacked out a 5-wood up into the right rough and hit a wedge to about 35-feet. If the ball didn’t hit the hole, it was going to be another wedge,” said McIlroy.
“I was lucky to hit even the side of the hole, as it was going to go way past. It just hit the hole, jumped about a foot in the air and went in. I was pretty fortunate and from there on, I just played pretty solid golf.”
After six straight pars from his fourth to ninth holes, McIlroy then birdied his 10th, 12th and closing two holes where he holed respective putts of 30 feet and 10 feet.
“It’s very important to start of my defence with a good score,” he said.
McIlroy was also quizzed after his round what he knew of Pavin’s four Ryder Cup vice-captains – Paul Goydos, Tom Lehman, Jeff Sluman and Davis Love 111.
“Well Sergio Garcia beat Paul Goydos in the Players Championship in 2008,” said McIlroy proudly.
“Tom Lehman won the Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 1996 while Jeff Sluman won a few times on the PGA Tour along with a PGA Championship. And Davis Love 111 won the PGA Championship at Winged Foot just as the rainbow came out over the course.”
And when McIlroy was asked if he knew the connection between all four he indicated: “They’re the vice-captains of the US Ryder Cup team this year.
“But what Corey Pavin has done is similar to what (Paul) Azinger did as he had three vice-captains.
“So, looking at his leadership team, it looks a solid make-up but then Monty (Colin Montgomerie) has such a presence about himself that I don’t think he will need that many vice-captains.
“He is a very motivational sort of guy in his own right anyway so he’s not going to need that many.”
McIlroy is currently ranked second overall on the European Ryder Cup points table and with the certainty, even should he not automatically qualify, of being awarded one of Montgomerie’s three picks.
However Montgomerie indicated after his round that he would not follow rival USA Captain Corey Pavin and bring forward the naming of his European vice-captains.
“There will be nothing announced on Europe’s part until at least after the British Open this year, so that’s the third week in July at least before any announcement is made on our part,’’ said Montgomerie after carding a one-under-par 71.
“So that is the third week in July, at least, before any announcement is made on our part, because I want to give everybody an opportunity of qualifying for the team.”
Darren Clarke ended his round on a sour note when he missed a three-foot birdie putt that would have handed him a score one fewer than his eventual 71.
“I played nicely today and had the ball under control nearly all day, and I was very patient,” he said.
“I hit a great drive down the last and flagged my second shot and got the putt wrong. Still no excuse to miss from three-feet, but overall a good score and I’m pretty pleased.”
Graeme McDowell signed for a 72, while Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane had 73s, while Michael Hoey and Shane Lowry claimed 75s.
Peter Lawrie’s poor Dubai form continued after carding a five over par 77 that included six bogeys and with his only birdie at the last. Lawrie has missed the cut in his last three Dubai starts with yesterday’s round his equal highest in 21 rounds of the Emirates course.
“We’ve had a lot of tough Thursday’s of late but today was not a good Thursday, unfortunately,’’ said Lawrie.
“I am only pleased that I am not wearing contact lenses as there is just so much grit and sand in the air.”
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