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Six top crowded first round leaderboard

World number nine Rory McIlroy began the defence of his Dubai Classic title on Thursday by moving into a six-way tie for the lead on four-under-par 68.

The 20-year-old hit five birdies and one bogey to join fellow Briton Stephen Dodd, Swede Alex Noren, South African Charl Schwartzel, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and Italy’s Edoardo Molinari at the top of a congested first-round leaderboard.

Blustery winds made scoring difficult in the desert, with parts of the Emirates Golf Club obscured and Dubai’s skyscraper landscape lost in the sand clouds. McIlroy started with a second-hole bogey after sending his second shot on to the adjoining 18-hole course. But the Northern Irishman recovered immediately with a “lucky birdie” at the par-five next.

“I hit my drive into the left rough and then hacked out a five-wood into the right rough and hit a wedge to about 35-feet and then if the ball didn’t hit the hole it was going to be another wedge (next),” he told reporters.

“I was lucky to hit even the side of the hole as it was going to go way past … it jumped about a foot in the air and went in. I was pretty fortunate and from there on I just played pretty solid golf.”

After six straight pars from the fourth, McIlroy birdied the 10th, 12th, 17th and 18th.

“It’s very important to start off my defence with a good score,” said the youngster. “At the start of the day I would have taken anything under 70, looking at the scores and the conditions.”

Noren produced one of his best scoring displays since winning the European Masters in Switzerland in September.

“I’m in the Ryder Cup at the moment and if I do make the team that will be amazing,” said Noren, who occupies sixth place on the European points list.

Money-list leader Schwartzel, winner of two tournaments in his native South Africa last month, produced a flawless round.

“Today was the toughest I’ve seen the Emirates course since I’ve been coming here in 2003,” he said.

The 38-year-old Singh had a purple patch of form in mid-round, reeling off four birdies in a row from the ninth.

Molinari, who together with brother Francesco won the World Cup for Italy last year, carded five birdies and one dropped shot in his round while Welshman Dodd blotted his copybook with bogeys at the 14th and 16th.

Last year’s European number one Lee Westwood began his campaign with a 72 and a 14th-hole double bogey, after finding water, meant five-times British Open champion Tom Watson marked his Middle East debut with an opening 73.

Fellow American Mark O’Meara struggled to a 77.



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