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McIlroy hot on Donald’s heels at World Tour Championship in Dubai

World No 1 demonstrates intent to land the tournament and finish year on a high

An errant tee shot at the last by Rory McIlroy denied Dubai the desired one-two in the final group today.

An errant tee shot at the last by Rory McIlroy denied Dubai the desired one-two in the final group today. With Luke Donald in the clubhouse on seven under, the world No 1 required a birdie on the par-five 18th to join the No 2 at the top of the DP World Tour Championship leader board. Alas, he found the creak that threads menacingly across the fairway for the very purpose of catching the avaricious.

Nevertheless, McIlroy’s turbo burst over the back nine demonstrated his intent to land the tournament as well as the Race to Dubai money list already secured. Wide open fairways and velvet greens softened by freak rain turn even golf courses as long as this into coconut shies. And so it was that Donald was able to take it apart with his precision hitting into the pins.

Donald did all the damage between the fifth and 14th holes. McIlroy went to the turn only one under par but a five-birdie streak in seven holes, including a hat-trick from the 14th, brought him through the field into a share of second place.

“I really wanted to make birdie at the last to play with him [Luke] in the final group. I wasn’t able to do that but if I play the way I did today I might have a chance to play with him on Saturday. I want to try to win this tournament and finish what has been a great season in style.”

McIlroy was watched all the way round by his partner of 18 months, Caroline Wozniacki. At one point she doubled as a marshal, holding aloft the “quiet” sign while the official negotiated a rope. Her contribution was hardly required on an opening day of relatively empty galleries. So modest was the turnout they were able to converse unfettered across the fairway as McIlroy walked down the 10th.

“We all know how well Rory has been playing,” said Donald. “He’s been the most consistent player this year and plays well in all the big events. I’d love the challenge. There’s a long way to go but it would be fun for the fans and for TV if, come Sunday, Rory and I are going head-to-head.”

They will have to suppress heavyweight interest elsewhere on the leader board. In the queue at five under are Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood. A shot further back sit Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel. That’s four major champions plus the world No 4 and No 7.

Three years ago Westwood did the tournament and money-list double targeted by McIlroy this week. Next season marks Westwood’s 20th on tour. He turns 40 in April. He would take just one of McIlroy’s majors, and if he plays like he did yesterday only an idiot would discount it. For him all roads lead to Augusta in April and the first major of the season. To that end he formally ended his relationship with caddie Billy Foster, who is still recovering from a knee injury.

“Time is ticking away. I don’t really have the luxury of waiting around for a caddie. Billy couldn’t really give me a time when he would be back and I needed a base from the start of next year. Billy was bound to be disappointed. We’re good mates, been in each other’s pockets for four, five years and had a lot of good times. It was a tricky call and not one I wanted to make.”

More than 20mm of rain, or almost an inch in old money, hammered down in the early hours taking the edge off greens that had been quickening over the preceding days. With carpets this receptive the Earth Course has few defences. Scotland’s Marc Warren, going out in the fourth group, was the first to take advantage posting a six-under 66 to lead in the clubhouse.

Only eight of the 56 players posted scores over par. Coming in on the mark was pre-tournament favourite Ian Poulter, who matched the six birdies of McIlroy with as many bogeys, including one at the last. If nothing else it yielded a lovely tweet: “Played like the devil today 6,6,6 birdies, pars & bogeys. Hopefully play like the 12 days of Christmas [tomorrow] & have a sack full of goodies.”

Wozniacki spells it out: Rory gets subtle hint for Yuletide

In Rory McIlroy's post-round press conference, in among the questions from hacks, there was one from a Miss Caroline Wozniacki: "You obviously have unbelievable support this week, so if you win, am I going to get a really nice Christmas present, and what am I going to get?" Blimey, does a woman have to beg for an engagement ring nowadays?