Date: January 31, 2014
Author: James Willoughby, Omnisport

McIlroy storms into Dubai lead

Former world number one Rory McIlroy shot a stunning nine-under 63 to take a two-shot lead at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

McIlroy has slipped to sixth in the world rankings after a disappointing 2013, in which his only success came at December's Australian Open.

But the signs for an improved 2014 are good for the 24-year-old, who tied for second at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship earlier this month.

He produced a blemish-free round at the Emirates Golf Club on the opening day of the European Tour event, carding seven birdies and an eagle on the par-five third.

That gave him the tournament lead, with Italian Edoardo Molinari two shots back at seven under.

"It was really nice," said McIlroy, who won the tournament in 2009.

"I played really well from tee to green, drove the ball great again; I think I only missed a couple of fairways and only missed one green where I really had to 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…I feel very comfortable with my game."

Molinari's only bogey came on the 18th, but it only slightly took the gloss off his performance, which included an eagle at the second and six birdies.

A group of five players are tied for third at six under, three shots off the lead, including defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland.

Gallacher hit an eagle on the 18th to finish with a round of 66 and he was joined by South African Richard Sterne, Irishman Damien McGrane, England's Matthew Baldwin and Julien Quesne of France on the score.

A shot further back are Englishman Robert Rock and Norwegian Soren Hansen at five under, while world number one Tiger Woods heads a list of seven players tied for 10th at four under.

Attempting to bounce back from his horror show at last week's Farmers Insurance Open, Woods hit four birdies in an unblemished round.

The American is a two-time champion of the event, having won in 2006 and 2008.