Rory McIlroy’s 2024 season is off to a great start.
He carded a 9-under 62 at Dubai Creek on Thursday, as McIlroy leads the Dubai Invitational by two shots over Yannik Paul of Germany.
“I didn’t expect that. It didn’t feel quite as good as that the first couple of days when I was here and hitting balls and playing the course,” McIlroy said of Thursday’s round.
“But it was nice to get a card in the hand again and sort of feel the competitive juices flowing… I surprised myself a little bit, but hopefully, more of the same over the next few days.”
He began the day on the back-nine and opened with a disappointing par on the par-5 10th—the third easiest hole on Thursday.
But any disappointment was short-lived. McIlroy made his first birdie of the day at the par-4 11th and then made three more birdies on the 15th, 17th, and 18th holes to go out with a 4-under 32.
The wind had not yet picked up, so McIlroy took full advantage of the final holes on his opening nine.
“I think when the wind gets up, it can get a little bit tricky when the wind starts coming off the water,” McIlroy said.
“We played the first 12 or 13 holes basically without any wind, and then there was a little wind.”
McIlroy began his back nine with three birdies over his first four holes, including one on the par-5 4th—his 13th hole of the day. He was on fire.
When the Northern Irishman arrived at the 5th tee box, he sat at 7-under with complete control of the Dubai Invitational.
The wind then picked up, but it did not bother McIlroy. He made zero bogeys and closed with two birdies over his final three holes. That included a near-hole out on the par-4 9th, where he made his ninth birdie of the day.
“I think around [Dubai Creek], you have to miss it in the right spots,” McIlroy explained.
“There’s some water here and there. I think I did a good job today of managing my misses and missing on the right side, and when I did make a hit shot, I managed to take advantage of it.
Indeed, McIlroy had very few misses on Thursday. But plenty of other players struggled to score at Dubai Creek. Only 31 golfers in the 60-man field at the Dubai Invitational shot under par on Thursday.
But the relaxed nature of the Dubai Invitational—a pro-am event—has allowed McIlroy to revamp and re-focus on his game and upcoming season.
“It’s a very easy way to sort of get back into things, and this is a nice week to do some extra practice and put some work in,” McIlroy said.
“I feel a bit more ready not just for next week, which is obviously a bigger event, but also going into the bulk of the season.”
McIlroy will tee it up in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic next week, one of the marquee events on the DP World Tour.
As for the Dubai Invitational, McIlroy will begin his second round at 1:36 a.m. ET with Ryan Fox. Coverage starts at 2:30 a.m. ET on Golf Channel.