Rory McIlroy kicked off a month which could see him reach the world No 1 ranking by charging into contention on the first day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello was already nine under par when McIlroy teed off, but after a slow start – one over after eight – the US Open champion grabbed seven birdies on the course where he won his first professional title, three years ago.
Cabrera-Bello leads by two from Scotland's Scott Jamieson and German Marcel Siem after a dazzling 63, but it was not just the Northern Irishman who made a big move. The world No 4, Martin Kaymer, matched McIlroy's 66. The two major winners are in a tie for fourth with 2001 champion Thomas Bjorn, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, South African Richard Sterne and French pair Gregory Bourdy and Romain Wattel. Lee Westwood is joint 20th after a 69, but Robert Rock, back in action two weeks after he beat Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi, will need to improve on his 73.
McIlroy said: "Seeing nine under on the leaderboard is tough. You just have to stay patient, bide your time and create opportunities, but not force it. I've matured as a golfer and I knew the back nine is definitely more scoreable."
Meanwhile, Woods made a steady start on his first appearance in America this year at the AT&T National Pro-am at Pebble Beach. He was three under with three holes to play at Spyglass Hill, the most difficult of the three course being used. New Zealander Danny Lee and South Korean Charlie Wi set the early pace.Reuse content