Rory’s 63 driven by driver, Tiger breaks 70
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour
Good playing, bro
Rory McIlroy fired a nine-under 63 in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic to take an early two-shot lead. McIlroy put on a clinic with his flawless round, carding an eagle and seven birdies. He was fueled by confidence off the tee with his driver (last fall, he switched to the VR_S Covert 2.0) — which, interesting enough, was the core of his struggles a year ago.

As you may recall, McIlroy signed a multimillion dollar deal with Nike and switched equipment manufacturers at the start of 2013. When he didn’t immediately perform to the high standards he set in 2012, panic and criticism ensued from the public and the media. What was wrong with Rory? Was he having problems adjusting to the equipment? That *had* to be the problem (eye roll).

Who knows. Perhaps McIlroy didn’t take to the Covert 1.0, but he sure likes the 2.0 version. He also switched to a new ball (the Nike RZN Black), which he’s also attributed to the turnaround in his game.

And we’re not just talking about this one round. Since he’s started using the new driver and ball, he won the Australian Open at the end of last year and finished second in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago.

“Today was another step up from Abu Dhabi as I controlled my irons better,” McIlroy said. “You can see how well I am driving it that I am leaving myself a lot of wedges into the green, so that’s going to help.”

McIlroy didn’t just upstage the field, but he also outshone his playing partner, Tiger Woods. However, Woods performed much better than he did less than a week ago where he nearly failed to break 80 in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Tiger’s tee shot, particularly his driver, remained his Achilles heel.

“It’s my old pattern again,” said Woods. “With my last coach, it was a push-block. We tried to get out of that and go to a cut [a ball that curves from left to right]. It’s harder to aim [more to the] right knowing that I’ve got to cut it.

“Last year all my misses were in the left rough. But they were all straight balls. It was dead straight because I aimed it there. Trying to aim down the right side of the fairway is a little harder. When I get it (right), I hit these bullet cuts that go forever. And I started getting that toward the end. At the beginning of the round, I was in that old pattern. Aim left and hit it. None of them overhooked. It just started left and stayed there.”

He hit 7 of 14 fairways and scrambled his way to a four-under 68 to stay in the mix. Which is progress! It was the first time Tiger broke 70 in five rounds this year.

“He’s experienced, he’s a true pro,” McIlroy said of Woods. “He knows there are no pictures on the scorecard and he started hitting it a lot better at the end of the round. But to shoot the score he shot on our front nine was a good effort.”

In other words, Tiger got the most out of his round and could have easily shot a much higher number had it not been for his adept scrambling.

Meanwhile, Rory found 12 of 14 fairways.

“It’s definitely the lowest round I’ve shot in a while,” McIlroy said. “The way I controlled my ball and the way I played, it’s definitely up there.”

Rory won the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic at this week’s venue, Emirates Golf Club, for his first professional victory. He has never placed outside the top 10 at this event.

(Getty Images/Ross Kinnaird)