DUBAI, (Reuters) – A swashbuckling finish yielding five birdies in six holes catapulted Rory McIlroy up the Dubai World Championship leaderboard yesterday as he seized the early initiative in his European money-list battle with Luke Donald.
The U.S. Open champion returned a six-under-par 66 while U.S. PGA Tour money-winner Donald, bidding to become the first player to land the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic, struggled to a 72. Swede Peter Hansen led the field after a record-equalling 64.
McIlroy, who needs to win this week to have a chance of catching Donald, made a bad start, losing his ball at the second hole after slicing his long approach shot into bushes and racking up a double-bogey seven.
The 22-year-old Northern Irishman dropped another shot at the eighth but roared home in 30 strokes with birdies at the 10th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th.
“I just stayed patient,” McIlroy told reporters. “I knew there was going to be some point where I would be able to make a bit of a charge.
“When you get on a roll like that it’s nice. You don’t have to think about it too much, you just try to hit the fairway, hole the putt and go on to the next hole.”
McIlroy, who kept alive the money-list battle by winning the Hong Kong Open on Sunday, has finished in the top five in his last five events on the European Tour.
“This is the longest period in my career I’ve played this level of golf,” said the world number two. “It’s been a good run.”
Donald said on Wednesday that he rated McIlroy as a more talented golfer than Tiger Woods but the Northern Irishman was keen to play down the Englishman’s assessment.
TYPES OF TALENT
“It’s one thing to have talent but it’s another to actually have the capability of turning that talent into something productive,” he said.
“I think what Luke was trying to say was maybe golf comes as easy to me as it does to Tiger. I’ll never know but look, Tiger’s won 90-odd tournaments worldwide and 14 majors and that’s definitely more of a talent than my five wins.
“There are different types of talent. You could say some of Luke’s short-game shots out there today were unbelievable,” said McIlroy.
“Luke’s definitely got more talent than me around the greens. I don’t feel invincible.”
Donald toiled in the face of McIlroy’s assault, bogeying three holes in a row from the 14th.
The 34-year-old Englishman has a lead of $1.06 million over second-placed McIlroy at the top of the money-list and needs to finish in the top eight here to end the season as number one even if his rivals wins the tournament.
“I played solidly with four birdies on the front nine and then hit a few shots that cost me, poor drives on 14 and 15, and it was a bit of a loose back nine unfortunately,” said world number one Donald.
“This course can do that to you. There are a lot of hazards in the middle of the fairways, bunkers that you have to aim to one side or the other.
“Rory had a great back nine,” added Donald. “He was holing putts from everywhere (but) I cannot really concentrate on what he is doing, I’ve got to take care of my own business.”