Donald shot 7-under 65 to lead after the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the season-ender on the European Tour. McIlroy carded 66 to finish one back. Combined, the top-two-ranked players in the world recorded 13 birdies and no bogeys.
With McIlroy having already secured the Race to Dubai title, some, including McIlroy and Donald, feared the finale would lack drama. If Thursday was any indication, the season will still end with a bang.
Donald made all of his birdies in a 10-hole stretch, between Nos. 5 and 14. McIlroy had only one birdie over his first nine holes, but caught fire after the turn and notched five more.
'I had a stretch in the middle of the round where I felt like I couldn't miss,' Donald said. 'It's fun to play golf when it feels that easy.'
McIlroy was in danger of dropping at shot at the par-5 18th. He drove his tee shot into the water and laid up with his third shot. He stuck a wedge to 4 feet, however, and saved par.
'It was very important,' McIlroy said of the par save. 'Nice to finish the day with no bogeys.
'I drove the ball beautifully today, with the exception of 18. If I can continue to drive it like that for the next three days, I'm going to have a good chance (to win).'
Marc Warren and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano share second place, at 6 under. Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood lead a group at 67. All 12 of the victorious European Ryder Cup team are in the field this week. Sergio Garcia was the only one among them to shoot over par, 1-over 73.
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