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McIlroy 'ahead of schedule' after opening 65 in Dubai

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He's only five competitive rounds into his latest comeback effort, but Rory McIlroy is pleased with how his game looks in the early stages of 2018.

Coming off a T-3 finish in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy opened the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with a bogey-free 65. The score left him in a tie for fifth, three shots behind former Ryder Cup teammate Jamie Donaldson.

"I don't think you could have gotten better conditions out there. Greens in the morning are perfect, and there wasn't much wind for the first 12-13 holes," McIlroy told reporters. "I feel like I left a few out there. But at the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that."

Full-field scores from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy continues to rebound from a stop-and-start 2017 campaign that saw him spend nearly the entire year trying to rehab a rib injury and ultimately finish the year winless and outside the OWGR top 10. Having rested for nearly three months, he returned last week poised and confident while challenging for the title before Tommy Fleetwood's electric close.

McIlroy built on that momentum Thursday, with all seven birdies coming over his first 13 holes. Despite closing with a stretch of pars, he's now firmly in the mix at the tournament where he won for the first time as a pro back in 2009, and again in 2015.

The Ulsterman explained that he was "very frustrated" with his inability to play his best golf last year, but in just his second week back he feels that this comeback attempt is "completely different."

"I didn't expect to play as well as I did last week, and it's been nice to continue that into this week," McIlroy said. "So I'm ahead of schedule right now, but I don't mind that. That's nice. Just have to reassess everything and go from there."