Hot McIlroy turns tables on Donald

Ulsterman goes from three behind world No 1 to six ahead to boost his money title prospects

Rory McIlroy is determined to make this interesting. The Race To Dubai is on the final lap and the boy with "more talent that Tiger" is gobbling up ground with every stride.

That's certainly how it seemed here in the first round of the Dubai World Championship yesterday when McIlroy made up a remarkable nine shots on his playing partner to post a 66. To win the Order of Merit title, the Ulsterman must win and Donald must finish outside the top nine. As they resumed this morning, with McIlroy on six-under and Donald on level par, that appeared an intriguing possibility.

It was as if McIlroy was sticking up for Donald, who came under Twitter attack from so many numbskulls yesterday who are pathetically outraged by his claim on Wednesday that in terms of the "T" word, McIlroy was better endowed than Woods. While Donald struggled on that back nine, pushing two drives into the cabbage on the 14th and 15th and being forced to take unplayables on successive holes, McIlroy did his finest impression of Woods in his pomp.

His irons remained as hot as they were in a front nine blighted by a double bogey on the par-five second, but suddenly his putter began to create a golfing inferno. "It was the perfect start for me and really sets me up for the next three days," said McIlroy, two off Peter Hanson's pace. "On the back nine it was pretty much flawless. It was like every putt I looked at went in. That's a nice feeling as it doesn't happen to me very often. "

McIlroy then proceeded to reel out the measurements of the holed birdie putts in that back nine of 30 and to a hacker they sounded like a lifetime of miracles – 10th hole: 12 feet; 13th: 25 feet; 14th: 12 feet; 16th: 40 feet; 17th: 18 feet; 18th: 20 feet... that's 127 feet of made putts, with five birdies in the last six holes.

Donald was left flailing. The 34-year-old admitted that it was difficult not to be sucked into a matchplay scenario with the 22-year-old and agreed it might be easier today as he is not paired with McIlroy. For his part, McIlroy learnt from his encounter here with Lee Westwood two years ago, when he was intimidated by his playing partner's brilliance.

"I've made a conscious decision to worry only about myself this week and not think about what anyone else is doing," said McIlroy. "I made that mistake a couple of years ago. I really need to be selfish, self-centred and care about myself. If I do that I may have a good chance. But it's only the first round."

McIlroy is wise to acknowledge these are early stages. Donald is capable of going low on this Earth course. Indeed, one almost expects him to in at least one round. He cruised to the turn in three-under yesterday before his aim went awry. That doesn't usually happen twice to the world No 1 on any four-day cycle. Saying that, it doesn't usually happen once. "I didn't expect Luke to play like that," said McIlroy.

With Donald's ability in mind, McIlroy is not piling the pressure on himself and to this end is using his recent bout of fatigue to assist. "It's sort of taken the pressure off," said McIlroy, who is on his 11th week away from home. "I'm not 100 per cent and if it doesn't happen it doesn't happen. But I can go out there and give it my best for 18 holes. I definitely don't feel invincible, but I feel every time I tee it up I have a good chance of shooting a good score. I haven't been out of the top four since the USPGA in August. It's good when you get on those runs."

Sergio Garcia would say Amen to that after a 67 kept his hopes alive of his own slice of history. The resurgent Spaniard could become only the fifth player in European Tour history to win three times in succession after his two wins in Spain in October. Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer are the golfers he is trying to emulate. Not the worst fourball to join.

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