Dubai Invitational - Day One
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After an eventful (and short) offseason, Rory McIlroy showed up Thursday in Dubai ready to do business. The four-time major champion shot a 62 at the Dubai Invitational to lead Yannik Paul by two, Thriston Lawrence by three and Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjorn Olesen by four each.

McIlroy had nine birdies in his first official round of 2024 and went out in 32 on the back nine of the golf course. He shot 30 on the front nine to close out his 62 with six 3s and three 4s. Only one of his birdie putts on the front nine was outside of 8 feet.

His game was incredible everywhere Thursday. Rory gained nearly nine strokes on the field overall, but he had an especially great day with his irons where he did nearly half his damage. Golf, as McIlroy often shows, can be easy when you hit driver-iron to 7 feet on half the holes.

This round was an outlier. Only 31 players broke par. Only 19 broke 70. Only three shot 65 or better, and McIlroy shot 62 while only playing the par 5s in 1 under for the round.

The 62 was not a round he felt he had going into the week as the last time he played competitively was the week before Thanksgiving. Still, it speaks to both his talent level and a golf course that apparently suits him quite well so far.

"I didn't expect that," said the No. 2 player in the world after his round. "It didn't feel quite as good as that the first couple of days when I was here and hitting balls and playing the course. But it was nice to get a card in the hand again and sort of feel the competitive juices flowing. It was a really comfortable group. ... Yeah, surprised myself a little bit but hopefully more of the same over the next few days."

A win here would be the 17th European Tour victory of McIlroy's career, and he is now a -175 favorite to win. Doing so would mark the second year in a row he would open the calendar year with a victory. (He will defend at the Dubai Desert Classic next week.) A few days ago, he said this week was simply a ramp up for that defense next week.

"This week is an easy warm-up for me," he told Golf Digest. "I'm here as a favor to Abdullah [Al Naboodah, Chairman of Al Naboodah Group investments and a non-executive director for the European Tour Group], who is a great friend of mine. I lived here for four years, and I've played in what they call 'The Dogfight' here at the Creek, the roll-up skins game they have every Friday and Saturday. 

"I like Dubai. I love coming back here. And it represents a nice way for me to ease my way into a new season before I defend the Desert Classic next week. I'm staying onsite. So, I can roll out of my bed onto the range and the putting green. It's an extra week of preparation, although I obviously still want to play well."

McIlroy hasn't had any trouble so far with that last part.