Rory McIlroy finishes poorly on opening day of Hero Dubai Desert Classic defence

Rory McIlroy was left to rue a poor finish to his opening round in the defence of his Hero Dubai Desert Classic title.

Seeking a record fourth victory in the event at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy made an excellent start with four birdies in the first nine holes and bounced back from a bogey on the first – his 10th hole – with a birdie on the second.

However, the world number two then three-putted the sixth, duffed a chip on the seventh to drop another shot and also bogeyed the eighth to card a disappointing one-under-par 71.

That left the four-time major winner four shots off the lead shared by 2018 winner Li Haotong, England’s Andy Sullivan, American Cameron Young and Denmark’s Rasmus Hojgaard.

Li missed the cut or withdrew from his last 16 events in 2023 but finished 14th in last week’s Dubai Invitational and carried on where he left off with seven birdies and two bogeys in his 67.

“I think I played just as solid as last week,” the three-time DP World Tour winner said.

“I’ve been working on a lot of stuff during the wintertime and (am starting to) see some results like this. I can’t believe it’s six years since my win here.

“It’s a lot of great memories and hopefully I can continue to do some magic here.”

Li Haotong
Li Haotong holds a share of the lead in the first round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

“First event of the year for me so you’re always a bit anxious,” Sullivan said.

“You never know quite how you’ve done in practice. Could be playing brilliantly, and then you never know until you put it into tournament rounds.

“I felt like I grew into the round well. I didn’t feel like I started great, but then sort of got around the turn and felt like I was swinging it a lot better and felt like I could go at a few more flags and the putter got hot. Massively satisfied.”

Young looked unlikely to enjoy a share of the lead when he bogeyed the ninth to reach the turn in one over par, but the world number 25 birdied the 10th, 13th, 16th and 17th before holing from 50 feet for an eagle on the last.

“I played really well,” Young said. “The front-nine scoring was a little bit hard to come by.

“I played better than that so I was really happy with the back nine, happy just that I stayed patient throughout the front nine and kind of let it come to me late. To make those birdies and eagle on the last was tremendous.”

England’s Richard Mansell was part of a seven-strong group on four under par, with former world number one Adam Scott and Dubai Invitational winner Tommy Fleetwood another stroke back.

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