McDowell just one behind McIlroy on 2015 debut
Rory McIlroy opened with a 66 in Dubai. Picture © Getty Images

Rory McIlroy opened with a 66 in Dubai. Picture © Getty Images

Graeme McDowell made a hugely positive start to the 2015 season when he opened with an immaculate 67 in the Dubai Desert Classic that left him just one stroke adrift of world No 1 Rory McIlroy.

As McIlroy bogeyed his final hole, posting a six under 66 to end the day two strokes behind Austria's Bernd Wiesberger (64), McDowell got up and down from around 100 yards at the 18th to finish with a birdie four and share 13th spot.

It was an impressive start to the week for world No 19 McDowell, who birdied the par-three sixth going on and then picked up shots at the 10th and 11th before finishing with two more birdies.

He scrambled for par five times out of five and while he will find it tough to keep pace with players who have been in action for a few weeks, he will be happy with his start.

McIlroy was seven under playing the ninth, his final hole, but missed the fairway and overshot the green to drop his only shot of the day. Considering he was wayward off the tee, his 66 was ominous but as the world No 1 said afterwards, he expects to shoot scores like that these days.

"It’s a decent score," McIlroy said. "I started pretty similar to how I started in Abu Dhabi. I didn't hit a fairway until the 17th, which was my eighth hole, but I scored well for those holes that I didn't hit it so well on, then hit some nice shots and made some nice birdies on the way in.

“I can't complain with 66 to start. You're not going to get the course any easier out there today and it was a decent way to start.

“I feel I'm playing well enough to keep it there, even from the start of the tournament. You just try and get up the leaderboard as soon as you possibly can. It's another good start here. I feel like I've started off this tournament pretty well the last few years, and it's another good one and hopefully something to build on.

"Compared to when I first won here in 2009 my golf game is much better and the sort of score I shot this morning just comes a lot easier to me these days. 

"Managing my game and knowing how to shoot a score is kind of second nature now whereas back then 66 would have been a really good score for me. These days it's sort of what I expect of myself."

Scoring was red hot in the desert with 80 players in the 132 strong field breaking par. 

Wiesberger fired an eight under 64 to lead by one from England’s Andy Sullivan, who won his first European Tour title three weeks ago in South Africa, American Peter Uihlein and Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts.

Wiesberger, twice a European Tour Champion in 2012, started steadily with five successive pars before gains on the sixth and ninth took him to the turn in two under. He then birdied the par five tenth before a stunning run of five birdies on the trot left him one clear

Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, going for a hat-trick of win in the event, surprised himself with a 66  that left him tied for sixth.

Damien McGrane was the only other Irishman inside the cut after a 71 with Michael Hoey did well to shoot a level 72 having slipped to three over after six.

Peter Lawrie, who secured an invitation thanks to the intervention of Rory McIlroy, and Darren Clarke both shot one over 73s.


64 B Wiesberger (Aut),

65 L Westwood (Eng), N Colsaerts (Bel), A Sullivan (Eng), P Uihlein (USA),

66 M Kieffer (Ger), H Otto (RSA), R McIlroy (Nir), S Gallacher (Sco), A Hansen (Den), S Benson (Eng), M Warren (Sco),

67 M Ilonen (Fin), G McDowell (Nir), J Campillo (Esp), Y Yang (Kor), E Grillo (Arg), D Willett (Eng), M Kaymer (Ger),

68 T Lewis (Eng), R Rock (Eng), A Noren (Swe), T Aiken (RSA), J Luiten (Ned), D Lipsky (USA), A Johnston (Eng), R Paratore (Ita), G Havret (Fra), J Roos (RSA),

69 P Lawrie (Sco), P Larrazábal (Esp), G Stal (Fra), A Wall (Eng), S Khan (Eng), D Brooks (Eng), D Van Der Walt (RSA), G Bourdy (Fra), W Ormsby (Aus), G Mulroy (RSA), K Broberg (Swe), T Pieters (Bel), P Waring (Eng),

70 B An (Kor), J Singh (Ind), A Marjane (Mar), E Espana (Fra), H Stenson (Swe), R Green (Aus), R Cabrera-Bello (Esp), F Aguilar (Chi), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), J Garcia Pinto (Esp), E Molinari (Ita),

71 L Bjerregaard (Den), D McGrane (Irl), T Hatton (Eng), N Fasth (Swe), J Van Zyl (RSA), R Jacquelin (Fra), D Foos (Ger), R Karlsson (Swe), Z Scotland (Eng), S Dyson (Eng), C Lee (Sco), R Ramsay (Sco), O Wilson (Eng), D Howell (Eng), S Kapur (Ind), R Bland (Eng), S Hend (Aus), M Lampert (Ger), R Fisher (Eng), T Jaidee (Tha), B Dredge (Wal), F Zanotti (Par), M Madsen (Den), M Crespi (Ita), J Carlsson (Swe), M Baldwin (Eng), M Carlsson (Swe)

72 C Doak (Sco), J Morrison (Eng), M Nixon (Eng), D Horsey (Eng), J Lando Casanova (Fra), S Webster (Eng), M Hoey (Nir), D Drysdale (Sco), A Cañizares (Esp), A Levy (Fra), J Olazábal (Esp), T Olesen (Den), T Fleetwood (Eng), E Els (RSA), T Bjørn (Den), R McGowan (Eng),

73 B Rumford (Aus), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), J Kruger (RSA), D Clarke (Nir), A Quiros (Esp), M Tullo (Chi), M Foster (Eng), O Fisher (Eng), P Lawrie (Irl), B Grace (RSA), O Farr (Wal),

74 D Fichardt (RSA), S Hutsby (Eng), S Jamieson (Sco), R Finch (Eng), B Hebert (Fra), J Palmer (Eng), M Lundberg (Swe), P Meesawat (Tha), E Pepperell (Eng),

75 S Garcia (Esp), R Wattel (Fra), S Kjeldsen (Den), M Siem (Ger), J Quesne (Fra), G Storm (Eng), J White (Eng), M Harradine (am) (Sui),

76 J Barnes (Eng), G Coetzee (RSA),

77 J Jeong (Kor), L Joy (Eng), 

78 J Allan (am) (Eng), 

79 M Manassero (Ita), 

82 F Serghini (Mar), 

83 J Ballesteros (Esp).