That’s more like it.
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods put on a show on Thursday morning at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, combining for 11 birdies and an eagle as McIlroy took the lead with a 9-under 63. Woods shot 4-under 68 in his first round since missing a secondary cut at Torrey Pines last Saturday.
McIlroy holds a two-shot lead over Edoardo Molinari after 18 holes.
Here are 5 Things to take away from the first round’s morning session in Dubai:
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1. ROARING START: Game on! It looks as though Rory McIlroy wasn’t giving lip service when he said that his life had normalized and that would lead to better play on the course.
McIlroy overcame a short birdie miss on his opening hole to blitz the Emirates GC on Thursday, grabbing a share of the lead on the par-5 18th, his ninth hole, with a birdie and never relinquishing it throughout the morning session in Dubai.
McIlroy was bogey-free, needing only 26 putts for his 9-under 63.
“Today was another step up from Abu Dhabi (where he tied for second) as I controlled my irons better,” McIlroy said. “You can see how well I am driving it that I am leaving myself a lot of wedges into the green, so that’s going to help.”
After a 5-under 32 on his first nine holes, a 5-footer for birdie on No. 2 and then a 10-footer for eagle on No. 3 put McIlroy in the driver’s seat, he added one more birdie on the par-3 seventh hole from off the green. It matched his lowest opening-round score in his Euro Tour career.
In his last three European Tour starts, McIlroy has finished no worse than T-6, picking up a T-5 at the DP World Tour Championship in November and a T-2 at the season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
McIlroy has five career European Tour victories, his last coming at the DP World Tour Championship in November 2012.
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2. SCRAMBLING MAN: The good news? Tiger Woods’ short game seems to be in order after it let him down at Torrey Pines.
The bad news? Woods finished his first round with nine consecutive pars after spotty play off the tee put him in scramble mode and allowed McIlroy to distance himself in this marquee pairing.
Woods’ 4-under 68 was considerably better than the 7-over 79 that he posted to exit via the 54-hole cut at the Farmers Insurance Open last Saturday, but Thursday could have been better for the World No. 1.
“Overall it was a pretty good score, but maybe I could have gotten two more out of it,” Woods said. “After going 0-for-12 on birdies on the par-fives last week, it was actually nice to make one at the first hole right out of the gate.”
Four front-nine birdies – including two on par 5s – allowed him to grab a share of the lead at one point. But a failed birdie opportunity at the par-5 third and five greens missed over his final nine holes stopped his first-nine momentum.
Woods had only 12 putts through 10 holes but needed 13 more over the next eight holes. He hit only 7 of 14 fairways on the day and 10 greens in regulation.
His driver was his biggest obstacle Thursday as he sent multiple tee shots into the left and right roughs, plus three into the desert.
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3. DON’T FORGET ME! Defending champion Stephen Gallacher was the “other” man in the pairing with Woods and McIlroy, but he proved his mettle with solid play all day long.
After a bogey at the par-3 11th erased a nice birdie to open his day, Gallacher would tally two birdies and an eagle to make the turn at 4 under. He added birdies on Nos. 5 and 8 coming in to get within three of McIlroy.
Gallacher, a native of Linlithgow, Scotland, has two career Euro Tour victories and is ranked No. 67 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He played in two majors in 2013, tying for 21st at the Open Championship and finishing T-61 at the PGA Championship.
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4. USA! USA! There were plenty of American flags on the leaderboard in Dubai, including the one next to Florida State All-American Brooks Koepka’s name.
Koepka sputtered a bit out of the gate, picking up an even-par 35 on the front nine, but turned it on with three birdies for a 3-under 69. Koepka won four times on the European Challenge Tour since 2012 and has a European Tour card this season. He has also received an exemption into his hometown Honda Classic in March.
Joining Koepka in red figures were John Daly, Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara at 2 under.
American Peter Uihlein, Koepka’s close friend and roommate, was 1 under on his first nine holes but posted three bogeys and a double bogey coming in to finish at 3-over 75. Uihlein won the Euro Tour’s Madeira Islands Open last season.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: France’s Julien Quesne was just one shot off the lead standing in the ninth fairway – his final hole of the day – but an errant shot that found the water led to a double bogey and he fell back to 6 under. Quesne went out with a 7-under 30 on the back nine. . . . Italy’s Matteo Manassero had five bogeys and one birdie in shooting 4-over 76. . . . After a year dealing with injuries and poor play, Edoardo Molinari had six birdies, an eagle and a bogey in his 7-under 65.