DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Rory McIlroy is playing his best golf again, even if it’s too late for another Race to Dubai title.
Fresh after his 20th career win on the PGA TOUR, the former World Champion No. 1 and THE PLAYERS opened the birdie eagle on Thursday and shot 7-under 65 after the first round of the DP World Tour Championship, the season, by one Two-stroke tour – final event on the DP World Tour.
McIlroy was not one of six players who came to Jumeirah Golf Estates and still had a chance to finish the season as Europe’s No. 1. Collin Morikawa, the leader of the Race to Dubai, looks after his start with a 68.
McIlroy has his sights set on bigger prizes, like a first major since 2014.
“Competing in a major this year is not good enough for me – I’ve done a lot better before and know that I can do it again, especially with my game,” said the four-time major winner. “Basically, I feel like I’ve got my golf game back.”
Since the Ryder Cup in September, eighth-placed McIlroy has been trying to rediscover the creativity in his game that set him apart at the start of his career. He proved it when he won the CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK in Las Vegas at his last tournament last month.
There was further evidence on Thursday at the Earth Course, such as his hard draw with a fairway wood from 267 yards on the second par-5 hole that set up an eagle putt from 13 feet.
And finally, where he flops a pitch from the front of the green to within 4 feet and rolls the putt for a sixth birdie of his round.
“I’ve always been a very visual gamer, I’ve always seen shots,” said McIlroy, who won the 2012, ’14 and ’15 Race to Dubai titles. “People will probably see me hitting again, maybe not quite as often as Bubba Watson, but that’s always how I’ve played golf and seen the game. I just had to see it that way again. “
Morikawa wants to become the first player from the USA to become the European No. 1 and started the tournament with a narrow lead over another American, Billy Horschel, in the Race to Dubai standings.
They played together in the last group on Thursday. While Horschel only made his first birdie on the 17th hole – he celebrated it rather sarcastically to laugh from the gallery – in a 2-over 74, Morikawa won four strokes in his first seven holes on the back of his famous iron game.
Morikawa, the reigning champion of the Open Championship, played the last 11 holes in straight par, 9th and 17th after the bogeys, and was in a 10-way tie for fifth place.
The only players above him were McIlroy and three tied for second place after 67 rounds – Tapio Pulkkanen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Joachim B. Hansen, last week’s Dubai Championship winner.
After front runner Jon Rahm – third in the Race to Dubai standings – withdrew from the tournament at the end of the season due to the demands of a long season, Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee, Matt Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey are the only other players in it are a chance to beat Morikawa and Horschel to the title.
Hatton, Casey, and Fitzpatrick shot 70 while Lee shot 72.
They all have to win and remove Morikawa from the leaderboard.