Golf

Defending champion Rory McIlroy recovered from an early blunder in Dubai.

Rory McIlroy bounces back from poor start at Omega Dubai Desert Classic

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Defending champion Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start thanks to some characteristic flashes of brilliance on the opening day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

Starting on the back nine at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy was lucky to drop just one shot on the 10th after finding a greenside bunker with his approach and watching his recovery attempt roll off the green and back to his feet.

However, there was nothing fortunate about the way McIlroy started his recovery on the par-five 13th, the world number two cutting his approach from 219 yards around a palm tree on the edge of the fairway and finishing just 10 feet from the hole.

McIlroy missed the eagle putt but tapped in for birdie and holed from eight feet for another on the next before completing the back nine in remarkable style.

The 26-year-old's 329-yard drive ran through the dogleg and into a water hazard, but after taking a penalty drop McIlroy fired a long iron to seven feet and calmly holed for birdie.

At two under par McIlroy was three shots off the early pace being set by Australian pair Nathan Holman and Brett Rumford, with English amateur James Allan, Eddie Pepperell and Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke a shot behind.

Clarke has not recorded a top-10 finish on the European Tour since winning the Open in 2011 but had covered the back nine in 33 with birdies on the 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th.

Pepperell was playing the course the right way round and opened with four straight birdies before bouncing back from dropping a shot on the sixth with another birdie on the next.

McIlroy, who is looking to join Ernie Els as the only players to win the event three times, again had to work hard to avoid a double bogey after hooking his drive into the trees on the second and failing to reach the fairway with his recovery.

But the four-time major winner responded with a two-putt birdie on the par-five third, where his three-wood approach almost hit the pin, and holed from nine feet on the fifth to reach three under.

That remained three off the lead however, with fellow Northern Irishman Clarke holing from two feet on the second and from 40 feet on the fourth to reach six under, one clear of Rumford who had set the clubhouse target after a 67.

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