Rory McIlroy hit a sizzling nine-under 63 to lead the first round of the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic by two strokes on Thursday, bolstering his hopes of claiming a first European tour win since 2012.
Playing the back nine holes first, the Northern Irishman was unperturbed by a 0405 GMT tee-off time, reaching the turn at five-under after sinking a quintet of birdies from the 12th to the 18th.
He rattled in an eagle at the par-five third hole with a 25-foot putt and picked up two further shots in a blemish-free round on the Majlis course.
Playing partner Tiger Woods kept pace initially to be four-under after nine holes, but then sunk nine successive pars to finish on 68, five behind his rival.
Italy's Edoardo Molinari carded 65 to be two shots off the pace, with defending champion Stephen Gallacher among five players to shoot 66.
"Sometimes you have an early start, it maybe takes you a few holes to get going," McIlroy told reporters, when asked about his scintillating beginning.
"But whenever you have people on the tee box and cameras clicking, it sort of makes you more alert at that time of the morning when sometimes you're half asleep."
It could have been even better for the 24-year-old, who missed a six-foot putt on the opening hole and lipped out another birdie attempt on the fifth hole. Had those gone he could have equalled the course record of 61.
"I drove it well and I can really take advantage of hitting it long and straight here," McIlroy added. "I got a lot of wedges into greens. If I can keep doing that, hopefully scores like this will become more regular."
McIlroy has fond memories of Dubai, claiming his first European tour victory at this event in 2009 and also winning 2012's DP World Tour Championship to become only the second golfer to top the money list in both Europe and United States in the same season.
These achievements helped McIlroy become world number one, but he endured a tough 2013, rarely troubling the leaderboard as he sunk to sixth in the rankings.
The twice Major winner has begun to find his form again, winning the Australian Open in December and finishing joint-second at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship earlier this month, with four top-10 finishes in his past five events on the European Tour.
"Getting back to world No. 1, it's a by-product of playing well, giving yourself chances to win tournaments. If I finish second in every tournament from now to the end of the year, I would be world No. 1, I won't be happy: I wouldn't have won," added McIlroy.
"These scores may look somewhat routine out there but there's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to actually be able to go out and shoot scores like this."
World number one Woods said he was relieved to sink a birdie on his opening hole in Dubai, his first competitive golf since last week's dire 79 at California's Torrey Pines, the second-worst round of his professional career.
The 38-year-old found the sand with alarming regularity but was still able to pick up further shots at 13, 15 and 18.
He found it harder going as overcast skies gave way to piercing desert sunshine, missing a 10-foot birdie chance at the second in a barren last nine holes.
"The greens are perfect, absolutely perfect," Woods told reporters. "They have softened them up so they are a little more receptive but they are still just as fast. I'm sure the guys in the afternoon probably won't go as low. They were drying out as we were playing."
Rory McIlroy confirmed he is back on top form with a stunning 63 as the first round of the $2.5 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic got underway on Thursday with a barrage of birdies.
Firing seven birdies and an eagle, the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland continued his storming start to the season which saw him take second place at Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, his first tournament since winning the Australian Open in early December.
It was a flawless display of golf that left playing partner Tiger Woods in the shade, although the world number one was happy to settle for a four-under 68 in what is also his second tournament of the year.
His opener last week at Torrey Pines, San Diego ended in him firing a 79 on Saturday to miss the secondary cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The third member of the group, defending champion Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, was also high up the early leaderboard with a 66.
With playing conditions ideal at the par-72 Majlis Course, hosting the 25th anniversary of a tournament which blazed new paths for the European Tour and brought the Gulf region onto the golfing map, scoring was understandably low.
Playing down the easier back nine to start with, McIlroy, on the rebound after a frustrating 2013, had five birdies in seven holes from the 12th to briefly take the lead at the turn.
Minutes later Frenchman Julien Quesne pitched a sand wedge into the 17th green from 105 yards and it spun back into the hole for eagle which eased him out to six under.
But a birdie at the second and a 10-foot putt for eagle at the third saw McIlroy back on the pace. He then sunk a 15-footer at the par-three seventh to get to nine under and only Quesne was within three strokes of his pace-setting at that stage.
The Ulsterman parred his way in from there, coming up just short with a 15-footer for birdie at the last.
Woods, meanwhile, started well with four birdies down the back nine and while he struggled for accuracy off the tee on the way in, his short game was good enough to avoid any bogeys.
In-form South African Richard Sterne also came in early with a 66, while joining Woods on 68 were Scotland's Paul Lawrie and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark.
Among the starters in the afternooon were South African veteran and record three-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic Ernie Els playing alongside world number three Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.
McIlroy finishes by equalling his best ever round of 63 to finish as the outright leader on nine-under.
Woods cards a 68 failing to get a birdie on the front nine and trails McIlroy by give shots.
Gallacher is joint third with Richard Sterne of South Africa on six under, trailing playing partner McIlroy by three shots.
Defending champion Gallacher is outscoring Woods sinking a five-footer to join Sterne on six-under, three behind his other playing partner McIlroy.
McIlroy gets into a hole by landing in the sand bunker on the left in the 17th but makes a wonderful recovery shot to save par to retain his one-shot lead.
Quesna draws level with McIlroy with a birdie at the fifth by the Ulsterman fires back with one of his own in the seventh to go nine-under while his playing partner Woods trails five behind.
Early leader Quiros finishes his round with a three-under 69.
McIlroy has ripped a drive down the sixth and is on the fringe eight foot from the hole but misses yet another birdie chance.
Montgomerie continues to leave his mark making a birdie at the fourth to go 3-under.
McIlroy remains at eight-under after coming agonisingly close with a birdie putt on the fifth.
McIlroy leads by one at eight-under as the 'Big Three' par the fourth with Woods coming closest with a birdie attempt.
McIlroy sinks a ten-foot eagle on the par-five third to take the outright lead at eight-under.
Gallacher and Woods manage to par it and are now four behind their playing partner.
Quesne bogeys the first hole after the turn around to drop back as joint leader with McIlroy at six-under.
McIlroy is just one behind the leader Quesne after sinking his first birdie on the back nine.
Woods lips the cup with a birdie putt on the second after driving out of the left rough.
Quesne stretches his lead to seven turning around with a card of 30 which contained five birdies and an eagle.
Former champion Montgomerie holes another lengthy putt at the 17th and is two under for the day.
Woods manages to save par on the par-four first hole after being stuck among the trees and pitching into a bunker.
Gallacher misses a long birdie putt and McIlroy lips out.
Frenchman Quesne wrests back the lead with an eagle on the par-4 17th where $2.5 million is on offer for an ace during the final two rounds, to go six-under.
McIlroy held the outright lead for just 30 seconds as Quesne pitches a gap wedge into the 17th green and it rolls back into the hole for eagle.
McIlroy sinks his fifth birdie to go solo at top at five-under with a tap-in birdie and take the clubhouse lead.
Gallacher hits the first eagle of the 25th Omega Dubai Desert Classic after a stupendous second to five feet to go four-under.
Wood sinks his fourth birdie on the 18th to turn around with a four-under 33.
Sterne misses a birdie putt on the 18th to turn around on four-under with 33 strokes.
Woods saves par on the 17th while McIlroy goes close with a long birdie attempt getting the pace right but hitting just wide.
Four players are in the lead at four-under with Sterne sinking his fourth birdie at the 17th with Woods one behind.
Quiros two-putted par-five 18th for another birdie to turn around at the Emirates Golf Club with a card of 35 strokes.
McIlroy also goes four-under with his fourth birdie on the 16th holing it from right to left from about 25 feet to join Fleetwood and Quesne at the top.
Tommy Fleetwood and Julien Quesne swap birdies to go four-der after five holes.
Woods sinks a brilliant 20-foot birdie on the 15th to join McIlroy who is among five players on three-under at the top
Gallacher gets his second birdie while McIlroy pars it.
Early leader Quiros has dropped off the pace after bogeying the 15th and 17th despite getting off to a flying start with three birdies in his first four holes.
McIlroy joins Sterne at the top with his third consecutive birdie while Woods manages to save par on the 14th with a bunker shot.
Woods and McIlroy go two-under with a contrasting birdie putts while Gallacher also sinks a birdie on the par-5 15th.
Woods has not been getting his tee shots right but his short game has been brilliant clipping one from an awkard stance from the edge of a sand bunker 10 feet short of the flag before duly holing it for four.
Gallacher and McIlroy both two putted from around 30 feet from the hole having found the green in just a couple of shots each.
South African Richard Sterne storms into the lead with three consecutive birdies from the 11th after Spain's Quiros three putted the 15th hole for bogey, failing to save his par from 15 feet.
McIlroy sinks his first birdie on the par-4 12th to join 13 players on one-under.
Tiger in a spot of bother after his tee shot landed among the trees but makes a good recovery before chipping brilliantly onto the green to save par.
Quiros is on a roll sinking his third birdie in his first four holes to go three-under at the top narrowly missing from 20 feet down the slope at the 13th for an eagle.
Woods remains on one-under after a good par shot while Gallacher makes a terrible putt from two feet after hitting out well from a bunker for a bogey on the 11th.
McIlroy lips the cup with a birdie attempt on the par-3 11th.
Woods holds his nerve to sink a birdie despite a poor tee shot.
Gallacher opens with a birdie while McIlroy goes close to par the 10th.
Uncertain start from Woods landing his tee shot in the sand among the palm trees but hits his way out.
Good start by Quiros as he gets his second birdie in his first three holes as Couples, Uihlein and Grace also get birdies in their opening holes.
The 'Big Three' defending champion Stephen Gallacher, Rory McIlroy and world number one Tiger Woods are off.
Former champion Fred Couples sinks a birdie on the 11th to join Quiros at the top.
Alvaros Quiros of Spain opens the 25th anniversary of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with a birdie on the par-five 10th hole at the Majlis Course of Emirates Golf Club on Thursday morning.
Tiger Woods is impressed by the phenomenal growth that Dubai has witnessed since 2001 when the world number one first played in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“It’s fantastic to see the growth from when I first started,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday ahead of the $2.5 million European Tour event which gets under way at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
“Talk about the 8th tee (on Majlis course). It used to be a pretty simple tee shot. You had the building that looked like it had two kind of dumplings on top, and all you had do is hit it based on wind, go at the right one or go at the left one - and now you have a huge skyline there.
“It was that and the Hard Rock Cafe, and those were the only three buildings that existed out here. Today, you see three separate skylines which is just phenomenal - and that too in such a short period of time,” said Woods, a winner of the event in 2006 and 2008.
“Basically it felt like when we first got here, we were in the infancy stages of the development of New York City, just seeing it turning from something flat to what it is now,” said Woods.
Whether it’s Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the world number one likes playing both the events. “I've enjoyed it. I've played well at both events on top of that,” he said.
About memories of Dubai that stood out for him, he said: “I made a putt on the 18th one time (in 2008). That was nice. Also, I remember, I shot three straight 64s, but only one of them was counted because one was in the pro am. That was the year (2001) when I lost to Thomas (Bjorn).”
Woods’ playing partner for the opening two rounds, Rory McIlroy also said the Omega Dubai Desert Classic is one tournament he has always liked to play.
“The Dubai Desert Classic has always been a tournament that I've liked to come and play,” said the two-time Major winner. “I played twice as an amateur here in '06 and '07, so the tournament (organisers golf in Dubai) were very good to me giving me those invites, and it was fitting in a way that I won my first tournament here as a pro in '09.
“Obviously whenever you come back to a place where you've got a win like that, you're going to have special memories and fond memories.
“It's great to be back, and the course is in great shape, as it always is. It's shaping up to be a great week, 25th anniversary, getting all the past champions, bar Seve, obviously, yesterday. A good way to kick off the week, and obviously a strong field, as well.”
About the $2.5 million hole-in-one prize on the par-4, 17th at the weekend, McIlroy said he will go for it. “No matter which way the wind blows, it shouldn’t be a problem to get there. There’s not many chances you have to win $2.5 million in one shot, so I will give it a go.”
Meanwhile, defending champion Stephen Gallacher is looking forward to being paired with Woods and McIlroy.
“I'm really looking forward to it - I think it's going to be nice. It's going to be a good time, and hopefully it brings the best out of me.”
‘golf in Dubai' is backed by Omega as the title sponsor and Dubal as the sponsor.