Rory McIlroy is one step closer to defending his Race to Dubai title.
McIlroy closed his opening round at the DP World Tour Championship in style, holing a greenside bunker shot on No. 18. The unexpected birdie lifted McIlroy to a 4-under 68, a total that left him two shots behind co-leaders Marcus Fraser, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Andy Sullivan.
McIlroy birdied two of his first six holes, then rebounded from a lone bogey on No. 10 with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. The Ulsterman then strung together a series of pars, highlighted by a chip with his wedge from on the green at the par-3 17th, before holing out on the home hole.
"That was a nice way to finish," McIlroy said. "I felt like it was a little struggle at times out there, but to produce something like that, and obviously the way I finished, makes it feel a lot better. I'm very close."
McIlroy played the opening round alongside Danny Willett, his closest competitor in the season-long race. Willett matched McIlroy with a 68 Thursday, meaning that McIlroy remains in front in the latest Race to Dubai projected standings. Despite playing in half as many events as Willett, McIlroy entered this week with a slim lead of 1,613 points over the Englishman.
But this is far from a two-man race, as seven players started the tournament with chance to win the Race to Dubai. Included in that group is Branden Grace, who matched McIlroy and Willett with an opening 68, while players like Louis Oosthuizen (73) and Shane Lowry (75) saw their title hopes dim after the first round.