DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Jon Rahm felt the benefits of his six-week break from golf after making the best start of the five players still in the running for the Race to Dubai title at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on Thursday.
The No. 5-ranked Spaniard shot a bogey-free, 6-under 66 to move into third place, three strokes off the first-round lead held by Mike Lorenzo-Vera at the Earth Course on Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Rahm last played competitively in early October at the Open de Espana – an event he won by five shots – and said he barely touched a club for five weeks during the longest break of his career.
''I could tell how rested I was mentally because on some holes I never lost patience, I never really got down on myself and stayed with that positive attitude,'' said Rahm, who is known for his fiery temperament on the course. ''I'm hoping I can keep playing solid and keep it for the next three days.
''It was hard to get into that routine again but once I came to the tournament, you kind of switch, you get to the tournament, you get to grinding.''
Rory McIlroy made eagle on No. 18 after hitting what he described as ''possibly the best shot I've hit all year'' – a 3-wood from 286 yards to within about 5 feet – to be alone in second place, a stroke behind Lorenzo-Vera.
McIlroy, however, is in the rare position of not being in contention to finish the season as European No. 1. Rahm, who needs a win this week to stand a chance of taking the Race to Dubai title for the first time, is best-placed while Tommy Fleetwood was happy with his start, too.
Fleetwood, winner of the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week, began his round by holing out from 153 yards for eagle on No. 1 and shot 67 for a tie for fourth place.
''You can only put yourself out of it on day one,'' said Fleetwood, who is second in the standings and is looking to capture the Race to Dubai title for the second time in three years. ''There's a lot more to do. There's 54 holes now. There are great players up there and all I can do is do my stuff. I've got three days of work left really until the end of the year. Just make the most of them.''
Of the other Race to Dubai contenders, Bernd Wiesberger shot 70 and was tied for 14th place, Matt Fitzpatrick shot 71, and Shane Lowry shot 73.
Wiesberger leads the race and will lift the trophy if he wins in Dubai or finishes alone in second place.
''I'm just thinking 72-hole tournament this week. I'm not trying to look at what is happening,'' said Wiesberger, who has won three tournaments this year in a strong return from seven months out with a wrist injury. ''I can't control what Tommy, Matt, Shane and Jon are doing.''
Fleetwood knows a win, coupled with Wiesberger finishing lower than outright second, will be enough to be Europe's No. 1 again. The same scenario faces third-place Rahm, who won the World Tour Championship in 2017 and placed fourth last year.