Rory McIlroy enjoyed a spectacular finish to his opening round as further weather delays at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday forced organisers to schedule a Monday finish.
Sweden’s world amateur number one Ludvig Aberg and Ian Poulter shared the 18-hole lead after seven-under-par 65s.
Most of the field did not even have time to start their second rounds before darkness fell, although Poulter was joined at the top of the leaderboard on eight-under by Richard Bland after a few holes of round two.
World number one McIlroy fired a six-under first round of 66, returning after a solid start on Thursday to finish in stunning fashion.
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He made a birdie, eagle and another birdie in his closing three holes. That included a holed-out second shot on the par-four eighth, his penultimate hole, and a near eagle on the par-four ninth.
“I should not have warmed up for an hour,” quipped McIlroy.
“I was hopeful that I would hole that birdie putt on seventh (he hit his tee shot to four feet when play was suspended on Thursday) and get to three-under and then maybe birdie one of the last two and get to four-under.
“I would have been ecstatic with that. To do what I did, it glosses over the golf I played. There’s no way I should have shot six-under par out there for the last couple days.
“I feel lucky to be in this position. I could have been at least four or five shots worse. Usually, I would be the master at turning 66s into 70s, and that was a 70 turned into a 66.”
LIV Golf star Patrick Reed, who was involved in a controversial incident before the tournament when he was accused of throwing a tee at four-time major champion McIlroy, eagled his 18th hole to also finish on 66.
After their feisty war of words in recent days, McIlroy was happy to shut down their feud and focus on the golf, mentioning how he yesterday informed Reed about the weather delay outside their shared hotel.
“Ironically the first person I saw was Patrick Reed,” McIlroy said.
“Look, it’s fine. It’s been blown out of proportion and once the golf starts it’s nice that we can all just focus on the birdies and the bogeys and not all the rest of the nonsense.”
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The second round did get under way and England’s Bland moved to the top of the leaderboard alongside fellow LIV Golf player Poulter.
Bland, who lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland at the event last year, made three birdies in his first four holes, while Poulter birdied his third hole of the second round.
With more than nine hours lost because of rain — close to 60 millimetres were dumped on the golf course over the two days — the organisers decided to schedule the third round for Sunday and the final round on Monday in an effort to make it a 72-hole tournament.
“This is one of the biggest events on the DP World Tour and we clearly want to make every effort possible to get to 72 holes at one of our biggest championships,” European Tour tournament director Mike Stewart said.
The 23-year-old Aberg earned his place in the tournament as the top-ranked player from the PGA Tour’s university rankings, and he wasted no time in showcasing his potential.
Aberg started with a bogey, but made eight birdies after that. Two bogeys saw him slip to three shots off the lead after seven holes of his second round.
The Dubai Desert Classic is the second straight week of Rolex Series events on the European Tour. The winner walks away with $1.53 million USD and important Ryder Cup points.