DEFENDING CHAMPION Luke Donald led the season-ending 2012 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai after a first round seven under par 65.
Motoring up behind him was Race to Dubai winner Rory McIlroy who had a slow start but got into gear on the back nine with five birdies in seven holes.
McIlroy scrambled a par on the last after driving into the water to finish on 66 tied for second with Scotland’s Marc Warren and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño.
“I think I drove the ball beautifully with the exception of 18,” the world No.1 said.
Donald had a purple patch between the fifth and 14th holes, where he collected all seven of his birdies.
“I felt like I couldn’t miss. I hit some really good irons shots too and it’s fun when it seems that easy,” said Donald, who moved back up to second in the world rankings ahead of Tiger Woods after winning last week in Japan.
“You always feel different the week after winning,” the Englishman said. “You just feel like you have that little extra pep in your step and there’s a bit more confidence flowing through you for sure. Especially winning by five as I did last week gave me a huge boost.”
Fernandez-Castaño had all six of his birdies on the way in, and the BMW Italian Open winner was delighted that he was able to stay patient after nine consecutive pars on the front nine.
“The back nine had nothing to do with the front nine,” he said. “I played very well on front nine, believe it or not. I didn’t hole any putts, but I stayed patient, and all of the putts seemed to drop on the back nine. It was worth the wait, that’s for sure.”
Warren is making his first appearance at the event since it moved to the Middle East in 2009.
“There was no wind to speak of and the greens were pure. I felt as if I hit a lot of good golf,” the former World Cup winner said.
The tournament is limited to the top 60 money winners on The European Tour this year, but only 56 teed off. Thomas Björn and Retief Goosen were out injured, Ross Fisher pulled out earlier in the week, and Ireland’s Shane Lowry was also a late withdrawal due to a virus.
On the third rung of the leaderboard with 67s were 2009 winner Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Richie Ramsay, Louis Oosthuizen and Fredrik Andersson Hed.
Marcus Fraser, Australian’s lone representative in the championship, was still well in contention after a 3-under 69.2012 DP World Tour Championship Leaderboard