Shane Lowry is tied 13th after a 70 with Pádraig Harrington 33rd after a 72. But it was a surprise to see Rory McIlroy tied 55th in the 60-strong field as Lee Westwood fired a six under par opening round of 66 to lead the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Westwood carded seven birdies and one bogey on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with France’s Julien Quesne and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts in a share second place after rounds of 67.
Lowry mixed four birdies with two bogeys in his 70 as Harrington made two birdies and two bogeys earlier in the day.
Bidding for a win that would give him the world No 1 ranking again, defending champion McIlroy made four bogeys in his first 10 holes, then mixed three birdies with a double bogey six in the last five for a 75
Former World Number One Westwood was the tournament’s inaugural winner in 2009, the year he also won the Race to Dubai, and the player leading the challenge to do that particular double this year, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, made a solid, if unspectacular start with a level par round of 72, which included a solitary birdie on the seventh hole.
The Open Champion is six shots behind leader Westwood, but more significantly only one stroke behind his closest two rivals for the European Tour Number One crown, with England’s Danny Willett and Sweden’s Alex Noren, ranked second and third respectively on the Race to Dubai, both signing for rounds of 71.
"This is as good as I've played for quite some time. I've found a couple of keys in different parts of my game and I've been working hard on them. It all came together today and 66 is a good round of golf. Didn't seem that easy out there. Some days you feel like there's a lot of birdies out there but today I think was a pretty stiff test and I think you can't have any flaws in your game if you want to shoot a good score today. Any time you play a golf course that you've got good memories on and you've played well on in the past, you remember certain shots you've hit and it helps with certain flags they put out.
“My win here in 2009 is in the top two or three performances in my career. It may even be the best performance of my career – knowing that I needed to win to beat Rory in The Race to Dubai, and doing that by six shots and pretty much dominating the field over the weekend means it's right up there.”
“It wasn't my best day. I played very average. I had a lot of in-between numbers out there, and I'd say the good putts I hit didn't go in and the bad ones certainly didn't. Not much happening out there, one bogey, one birdie. I think it's been a while since I played a round with only one birdie. Just got to rest up and try and make a few more tomorrow. I'm just trying to play a good tournament, and obviously I'm ahead so the other guys have got to play better than I do. But still, I want to finish high up there, because that's going to make it harder for them. So no-one made a big move today, but it's still a long ways to go. It's a race and not a sprint. I’ve got plenty of time to make up some ground and I'm going to try harder tomorrow.”
We played really well but missed a lot of good chances. Very frustrating for the last five or six holes. We could have pushed ourselves up there and shot something in the 60s, but some good signs, positive signs. It’s always nice to get off to a flyer but if you keep kind of improving and shooting better each day to creep up the leaderboard you're never going to be too far off on Sunday. It didn’t feel like match play between me and Henrik today. Yes, I have to beat Henrik this week, but I have to beat everybody else. If me and him were miles in front of everyone, then it might feel like that, but we're not.”
Round one scores
66 L Westwood (Eng);
67 J Quesne(Fra); N Colsaerts(Bel);
68 S Garcia(Esp); F Molinari (Ita); J Luiten (Ned);
69 M Fitzpatrick(Eng); J Van Zyl (RSA); K Aphibarnrat (Tha); M Fraser (Aus); L Oosthuizen(RSA); A Levy (Fra);
70 S Lowry(Irl); C Schwartzel(RSA); B An (Kor); R Sterne(RSA); T Fleetwood(Eng); V Dubuisson(Fra); M Ilonen(Fin); R Paratore (Ita); N Elvira(Esp); B Wiesberger(Aut); S Kjeldsen (Den);
71 D Willett(Eng); A Noren(Swe); T Hatton (Eng); P Larrazábal (Esp); R Cabrera Bello (Esp); T Olesen (Den); S Lee (Kor); M Kaymer (Ger); R Bland (Eng);
72 D Lipsky (USA); R Jacquelin (Fra); S Hend (Aus); M Southgate(Eng); R Gouveia (Por); P Harrington (Irl); G Coetzee (RSA); B Grace(RSA); B Dredge (Wal); J Campillo (Esp); R Karlberg(Swe); G Bourdy (Fra); D Horsey (Eng); R Fisher (Eng); T Pieters(Bel); H Stenson (Swe);
73 A Cañizares(Esp);
74 B Stone (RSA); T Jaidee (Tha); L Haotong (Chn); J Lagergren (Swe); F Aguilar (Chi);
75 C Wood(Eng); J Wang (Kor); R McIlroy(Nir);
76 A Sullivan (Eng);
78 A Johnston (Eng);
82 R Wattel(Fra)