Rory outshines Tiger in Dubai

Rory McIlroy had the perfect start at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, outscoring playing partner Tiger Woods with a superb 63.

Having struggled for form for most of his 2013 campaign, the man from Northern Ireland has in recent months found his rhythm again and it was no different in the United Arab Emirates.

Partnering world number one Tiger Woods, McIlroy carded a flawless nine-under-par 63 in the first round to take a two-shot lead over Italy’s Edoardo Molinari.

Woods performed much better than his 79 in the third round of last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, but his four-under-par 68 leaves him a full five shots behind McIlroy and with work to do.

No man has ever successfully defended at the Desert Classic, but last year’s champion Stephen Gallacher certainly seems to be in the mood to do just that. He carded a six-under-pur 66 to share third place alongside Damien McGrane, Matthew Baldwin, Richard Sterne and Julien Quesne.

The day belonged to McIlroy, however. Starting on the back nine, the two-time major winner made three birdies in a row from the 12th and then went birdie, par, birdie shortly before the turn.

He stayed hot on the front nine, adding another birdie on the second hole and following it up with a 10-foot putt for eagle on the third. Another birdie on the seventh helped him to stretch his lead.

“Today was another step up from Abu Dhabi 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.

“It was really nice. I played really well from tee to green, drove the ball well again; I think I only missed a couple of fairways and only missed one green where I had to really get it up and down.

“I took advantage of how I am driving the ball and just need to do more of the same the next three days.”

Asked how close he was to his best, McIlroy added: “It’s close, obviously. This year I’ve shot a couple of good rounds. This is a little lower than I went in Abu Dhabi and I feel very comfortable with my game.”

Woods was wayward off the tee, but scrambled superbly to pick up four birdies around the course and avoid any dropped shots.

“He’s a true pro, he knows there are no pictures on a scorecard,” McIlroy said.

“He was hitting it a lot better at the end of the round but to shoot the score he did on our front nine was a good effort.”

Woods added: “I played all right today. I probably could have got a couple more out of it. I didn’t hit a bad putt today which was nice, it was just that sometimes the grain grabbed it pretty hard at the end.”

Woods revealed that he and his coach Sean Foley have been working on making a shorter backswing to relieve pressure on his injury-plagued knees.

“I’ve always played my best from a shorter position,” he said.

“Looking back at my younger days on tour it as even shorter than it is now, the only difference is I can’t wheel on it like I used to.

“I used to snap the knee at the end to get the power, if I did that now I’d destroy the knee just like I did before. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve had so many operations on it.”

Further down the field, World No 3 Henrik Stenson opened with a topsy-turvy two-under 70.

The Swede made an impressive seven birdies, but also dropped five shots.