Lee Westwood well placed after first round
Lee Westwood’s six-under-par 66 at the season-ending Dubai World Championship gave him a first-round advantage over money-list rival Rory McIlroy on Thursday.
Former European number one Westwood shared second place with Colombian Camilo Villegas and Briton Chris Wood, one stroke behind tournament leader Robert Allenby of Australia. McIlroy was three off the pace on 68.
There was plenty of cut and thrust as Westwood, second in the Race to Dubai, opened an early three-shot advantage over money-list leader McIlroy.
The 20-year-old from Northern Ireland caught up with his playing partner with three birdies in a row from the 13th before Englishman Westwood replied with a birdie hat-trick from the 15th.
After holing a 40-foot birdie putt on 17 and conjuring a par at the last by pitching under trees from wood chippings in a nearby garden, Westwood refused to get carried away with his early advantage.
“It’s all about jockeying for position over these first three rounds and then going for the kill on Sunday,” the 36-year-old told reporters.
“There’s a lot of water still to go under the bridge until Sunday and the idea is to win this tournament so that everything else falls into place.”
McIlroy, however, said he became caught up in the race to be European number one.
“I found my thoughts wandering and it will be a good thing us not playing together tomorrow,” said the youngster.
“Two shots is not much. If I was two behind on Saturday night it would be different.”
Leader Allenby is hoping to make his return to the European Tour a telling one.
In 1996 the Australian hit a famous shot in the tour’s then-season finale, the Volvo Masters.
Having broken his sternum in a car accident a month before the Spanish tournament he was obliged to hit a drive, one that was little more than 50 yards in length, to ensure he kept his third place on the order of merit.
Allenby said the accident ended his chances of being 1996 European number one and blighted his career.
“The injury did hold me back, physically for two years and then there were the mental scars,” said the 38-year-old. “I had to somehow try and find the game I had prior to the accident.
“I’d won three times that year and I was looking good to beat Monty (Colin Montgomerie) for the order of merit but I couldn’t play the last five tournaments.
“But things are coming good again, I feel like I’ve spiced up my game by coming back over to Europe,” added Allenby.
The other two players who can win the Race to Dubai, third-placed Martin Kaymer of Germany and fourth-placed Briton Ross Fisher, were well down the field.
Kaymer returned a 71 while Fisher began with a 73.