• Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy magic in Dubai leaves Woods trailing

January 30, 2014
McIlroy was excited at the prospect of facing Tiger

Rory McIlroy made it look easy in the desert, putting on a driving clinic that would surely be the envy of Tiger Woods, the world No. 1, who got a close-up view of some impressive tee shots at Emirates Golf Club.

Playing together for the first two rounds of the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy showed the form that took him to No. 1 in the world more than a year ago, besting Woods by five strokes with a nine-under-par 63 in the opening round to take the early lead over Edoardo Molinari.

Woods managed a 68, but it was largely due to his scrambling ability. After missing the 54-hole secondary cut last week at Torrey Pines, where he shot a third-round 79, Woods was fortunate to find some magic with his short game on Thursday because it saved him.

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Erratic off the tee and playing often from the rough or the desert, Woods at least finally birdied a par-5 - he went 0-for-12 at Torrey Pines - and managed to play those four scoring holes in three-under par. Starting on the 10th hole, Woods actually made the turn in four under to trail McIlroy by one, but the Northern Irishman pulled away with a birdie at the second and an eagle putt from inside 10 feet at the third.

When McIlroy rolled in a birdie putt from off the green at the seventh, he was a couple of birdies away from matching the course record of 61.

"I played really well from tee to green, drove the ball well again. I think I only missed a couple of fairways and only missed one green where I had to really get it up and down," McIlroy said.

"I took advantage of how I am driving the ball and just need to do more of the same the next three days."

Woods, meanwhile should feel fortunate to be within striking distance. After driving the ball beautifully during Wednesday's pro-am, he struggled to get the ball in the fairway, especially with the driver.

But Woods nonetheless managed to make birdies at the three par-5 holes on the back nine, including the 18th where he knocked a long iron on to the green. He also scrambled for three pars but was unable to get anything going on the front side.

McIlroy, who won his first professional tournament in 2009 at this week's venue - Emirates Golf Club, has never finished out of the top 10 in the Dubai Desert Classic. Woods has won the tournament twice. Defending champion Stephen Gallacher, who played with McIlroy and Woods, shot 66.

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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