Lee Westwood took the early honours today in the battle to win the inaugural Race to Dubai, with his six-under round of 66 giving him a two shot lead over Rory McIlroy after the first day's play at the Dubai World Championship, being held at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The pair - in the top two places of the season-long Race to Dubai standings as play started today - enjoyed some outstanding golf, especially on the back nine of the Earth course, where they picked up nine birdies between them.
McIlroy agreed there was plenty of intensity on the opening day, saying:
"I said to a couple of the guys out there that today almost felt like a last group final round. Because you're out in the middle of the day, and basically the top two in The Race to Dubai, you're sort of watching what each other are doing. It's hard to get away from that.
"I think the intensity levels this week have been raised a little bit, just because there's so much to play for, especially to be the first person to become the champion of The Race to Dubai. I think it will be a great honour to put my name on that trophy.
“But as I said previously, I'm still trying to concentrate fully on the Dubai World Championship and not let my thoughts wander to what might happen."
The other main contenders for the overall Race to Dubai title, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher, had less successful days, shooting one under and one over respectively.
The clubhouse leader for the Dubai World Championship tournament after day one was Australian Robert Allenby, who shot a seven-under 65.
Today marked the first day of competitive play on the Earth course, designed by Greg Norman, and it provided a good day's entertainment for the thousands of spectators who took advantage of free entry to the course.
Chris Wood and Camilo Villegas joined Westwood at six under, with Wen-Chong Liang, Thomas Aiken, Adam Scott and Padraig Harrington all with McIlroy at four under, providing a tight leader board heading in to day two.
Saeed Harib, managing director of Nakheel Leisure, the company developing Jumeirah Golf Estates, said:
"It's been a great day's play, with some outstanding golf. The Dubai World Championship is wide open, with many different players in the running, while the biggest battle for the Race to Dubai looks like it will be between Rory and Lee.
"Greg Norman can rightly be proud of the course he has designed. The season's finale looks like it is going to deliver all it promised."
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