DP World Tour Championship: Rory McIlroy four back as Nicolai Hojgaard shares lead in Dubai
Nicolai Hojgaard produced a sensational birdie run to grab a share of the early lead at the DP World Tour Championship, as Rory McIlroy failed to build on a strong start in Dubai.
Hojgaard made five birdies in a six-hole stretch during an opening-round 67 at Jumeirah Golf Estates, seeing the Ryder Cup rookie sit top of the leaderboard alongside French duo Julien Guerrier and Matthieu Pavon.
Adrian Meronk - who missed out to Hojgaard for a Ryder Cup captain's pick in September - is a shot back in tied-fourth with Antoine Rozner and Jens Dantorp, while Team Europe trio Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood and Robert MacIntyre are all within two of the lead after strong starts.
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Race to Dubai champion McIlroy birdied three of his opening seven holes in his first start since Europe's Ryder Cup success before eventually signing for a one-under 71, with Rahm a further stroke back as he chases a record fourth victory at the event…
Who impressed on day one?
Guerrier set the initial clubhouse target after posting five birdies in a bogey-free start, while Pavon also got to five under after almost making a hole-in-one at the par-three 17th and draining a 40-foot birdie at the par-five last.
Hojgaard was level-par at the turn but holed a putt from off the green at the par-four 10th for the first of back-to-back birdies, before adding three more from the 13th to also get to five under and make it a three-way tie at the top.
Meronk cancelled out a bogey at the first with back-to-back birdies at the next and followed a dropped shot at the fourth by holing a stunning long-range eagle from the fifth fairway, with two more birdies lifting him within one of the lead as he chases a fourth win of the campaign.
MacIntyre was also one back until a final-hole bogey and FedExCup champion Hovland also briefly reached four under, before responding to successive dropped shots from the 16th by birdieing the last to move in the group two off the pace.
Fleetwood mixed seven birdies with four bogeys in his opening-round 69 and Kim made a blemish-free start, with Hatton a further shot back and McIlroy four behind after beginning his first appearance since the Ryder Cup with a one-under 71.
McIlroy failed to take advantage of the par-five second but birdied the next and followed a 15-foot birdie at the fifth by adding another at the seventh to get within two of the lead, only to join playing partner Rahm in bogeying the par-four next.
The four-time major champion started his back nine with a birdie but made successive bogeys from the 12th, having seen his tee shot at the par-three 13th finish in a spectator's lap.
McIlroy gave back a birdie at the 15th by bogeying the next then produced a sensational sand save to scramble a par at the last, before taking advantage of two huge breaks at the par-five last to avoid dropping a shot and finish in red figures.
"Got off to a nice start, and then hit a couple of loose shots on the back nine and felt like I was scrambling pretty much the whole way there," McIlroy admitted. "I can certainly do better, I know that, but it was nice to get one round out of the way and hopefully something to build on."
Rahm bogeyed his final two holes to post a level-par 72, joining Ryder Cup team-mate Shane Lowry five strokes back, while two-time DP World Tour Championship winner Matt Fitzpatrick salvaged a two-over 74 after playing the first five holes in five over.
The threat of thunderstorms means the second round will be played under a two-tee start, with coverage beginning at 11am local time (7am GMT).
Watch the DP World Tour Championship throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues Friday from 7am on Sky Sports Golf. Stream the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour and more with NOW.