McIlroy leads DP World Tour Championship as Morikawa maintains control of Race to Dubai

By Sports Desk November 18, 2021

Rory McIlroy leads the season-ending DP World Tour Championship after the opening round, but Race to Dubai frontrunner Collin Morikawa was Thursday's big winner.

A seven-under 65 gave McIlroy a two-stroke advantage at the top of the leaderboard at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with Tapio Pulkkanen, Joachim B. Hansen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout in a three-way tie behind him.

McIlroy, whose 14th and most recent European Tour win came at the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2019, made a flying birdie-eagle start and only dropped a single shot all day at the ninth.

After turning in 31, the Northern Irishman protected his day-one advantage over a steady back nine.

McIlroy, who beat Morikawa at the CJ Cup last month, believes he has "got [his] golf game back" since contributing only a single point to Europe's Ryder Cup defeat.

"I'm just excited for the road ahead, because I feel like I'm on the right path," he said.

But the main focus this week is on the Race to Dubai, in which McIlroy is 20th and out of the running.

First-placed Morikawa has competition chiefly from fellow American Billy Horschel this week following Jon Rahm's withdrawal, although four other players could also yet scoop the seasonal title with 2,000 points on the line in Dubai.

Of the six contenders, Morikawa is best placed heading into Friday after his four-under 68 secured a share of fifth.

Crucially, Horschel endured a difficult start as three bogeys across four holes on the back nine set him back and he carded a two-over 74 – a hugely damaging deficit given his need to outperform Morikawa.

Rounds of 70 for Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey kept the English trio in the mix, although each need to win and see Morikawa struggle. Min Woo Lee, the sixth man in contention, has work to do from even par.

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    Zalatoris claimed a share of the 54-hole lead with Jason Day thanks to a seven-under-par 65 at Torrey Pines.

    That took him to 14 under, level with 2015 US PGA Championship winner Day, who carded a 67.

    Zalatoris had started the day six strokes adrift of midway leaders Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Adam Schenk.

    But an eagle at the par-four second gave him early momentum and five further gains followed in a blemish-free round for last season's Rookie of the Year.

    That eagle featured a 338-yard tee shot as a day Zalatoris described as perhaps the best with the driver "maybe ever" put him in position to push for a maiden tour win.

    Asked how much distance he has gained following a switch to a 46-inch driver, Zalatoris replied: "Twelve yards, I've clocked it up to 127 [mph clubhead speed] and have 186 ball speed so, around here, that's huge.

    "Obviously you've seen what Bryson [DeChambeau] has done, you won't be seeing me at 220 [ball speed] anytime soon but definitely the added distance has really paid dividends."

    Along with Day, Zalatoris still has Rahm in his rear-view mirror, a level-par 72 keeping him at 13 under, tied for third with Aaron Rai.

    Rahm carded a double bogey at the 10th and lost another shot at the 12th, but he will hope his experience of winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last year can help him recover on Saturday.

    Thomas, meanwhile, carded a one-over 73 and has Cameron Tringale and Sungjae Im for company on 12 under.

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    The former world number one vaulted up the leaderboard into a share of fifth place, following up a steady 71 with a bogey-free round containing four birdies and an eagle.

    A two-time winner of this tournament, having been champion as a 19-year-old in 2009 and again in 2015, McIlroy has happy memories and there could be more cause to celebrate come Sunday.

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    South African Erik van Rooyen and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti share second on eight under par, with McIlroy one shot back in a group that also includes England's Richard Bland, Norway's Viktor Hovland, Adrian Meronk of Poland, and the first-round leader Joachim B Hansen, who had four bogeys and four birdies in a level-par 72. Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey were all on six under.

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    McIlroy said he had been making technical alterations to his swing on the range, and added: "I thought I hit my irons a lot better today and was in control of the driver a bit better too."

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