Rory McIlroy shot his lowest European Tour score in more than three years with a 9-under 63 on Thursday to take a three-shot clubhouse lead in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy grabbed an eagle and seven birdies in ideal scoring conditions on the Majlis Course, easily upstaging playing partner Tiger Woods, who was five shots back after a 68.
It was McIlroy's best European Tour round since a 63 on the opening day of the UBS Hong Kong Open in November 2010. It also displayed McIlroy's renewed confidence in his game after struggling for much of 2013. He ended last year by winning the Australian Open and then finished joint runner-up in his first event of 2014 in nearby Abu Dhabi.
"Today was another step up from Abu Dhabi as I controlled my irons better," McIlroy said. "You can see how well I am driving it that I am leaving myself a lot of wedges into the green, so that's going to help."
McIlroy won his maiden European Tour title in Dubai in 2009.
Woods made four birdies on his front nine but finished with nine straight pars. Still, it was a much better showing than his 79 last week at the Farmers Insurance Open, which matched his worst score on American soil and made him miss the 54-hole cut.
He birdied three of the four par-fives, including the 10th hole after starting on the back nine.
"Overall it was a pretty good score but maybe I could have gotten two more out of it," Woods said. "After going 0-for-12 on birdies on the par-fives last week, it was actually nice to make one at the first hole right out of the gate."
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, who played alongside McIlroy and Woods, was tied for second with three other players.