DUBAI: World No. 2 Rory McIlroy trailed the leaders by four shots after the opening day of the $10.5 million DP World Tour Championship, the season-ending event of the DP World Tour, but the spotlight was still very much on the Northern Irishman, given events earlier in the week.
McIlroy, a two-time winner of the event, shot a 1-under-par 71 to finish the day tied for 15th. He started well, with three birdies in the first eight holes, but the rustiness as a result of not playing any competitive golf for six weeks since the Ryder Cup began to show after that, as unforced errors led to three bogeys.
Frenchmen Julien Guerrier and Matthieu Pavon both finished the day bogey-free and topped the leaderboard after shooting five-under-par 67s. They were joined by one of the rising stars of the game, Nicolai Hojgaard from Denmark, who represented Europe at the Ryder Cup this year. He made six birdies after an early bogey on the fourth.
McIlroy, who said this week he was stepping down from the PGA Tour’s policy board, was grilled by the media after his round about the sudden announcement.
The four-time major champion said the role had been taking a lot of his time and energy and added: “Something had to give. There’s only so many hours in the day and there’s only so many days in the week, and I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now.
“I am trying to be a world-class golfer, trying to be a good husband and a good father. I’ve got a growing investment portfolio that’s taken up more of my time, I’m involved with the TGL (a new proposed golf league in partnership with the PGA). I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.
“With the policy board stuff, it’s taken more of my time than ever this year. I just feel like there are people who are able to spend more time and put more energy into it than I am right now. And it’s better if someone else takes that spot of mine.”
Meanwhile, Hojgaard, who finished fourth in his previous appearance at the event in Dubai, in 2021, is headed to the PGA Tour. He already secured his card from the limited opportunities he has had to play in the US, and was a leading contender at an event again last week when he finished second in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Johannesburg.
“I played really well today, drove it well and got on a run,” Hojgaard said after his first round in Dubai, during which he made five birdies in the first six holes of the back nine.
“You know there are a few chances out there, so it’s just about keep hitting good shots and staying in the present, and I feel I did a good job today.
“The Ryder Cup was huge for me. Spending time with the best players in the world and fighting for a common goal was amazing. Just being around those guys, seeing what they do, what do I do different and what do I need to work on — it gave me a lot of confidence going into the back end of the season here. You want to play with those guys but you also want to beat them.”
Due to weather concerns, the second round on Friday will be a two-tee start beginning at 11 a.m. UAE time.