Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson set a blistering pace in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic as former world No1 Rory McIlroy provided further evidence of his own return to form.
Welshman Donaldson, whose wedge shot secured victory for Europe at Gleneagles four years ago, shot a 10-under-par round of 62 to hold a one-stroke lead over David Horsey and Anthony Wall.
Another Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton, was a further shot behind, followed by a group of players that included McIlroy, who followed up last week’s encouraging display in Abu Dhabi.
Nine birdies and an eagle raised Donaldson’s hopes of shooting a sub-60 round as he headed to the last two holes, but he could only make par and then his solitary bogey.
“I had five holes to go and started thinking about 59,” said the 42-year-old, who has not won since 2015. “Sometimes you are best not thinking and just playing, but I was thinking of jumping in the lake if I’d done it.”
McIlroy, also seeking a return to form following a barren 2017, was third last week and did enough to suggest he could win this event for a third time on Sunday.
“Not being able to play to my best last year was something I was very frustrated with,” said the four-time Major winner.
“But from then until now, it is completely different. I am really happy with where my body is, where my game is and this is just a progression of what I have seen over the past couple of months.”