Dubai Desert Classic: Rory McIlroy blows strong start as Haotong Li takes first-round lead on DP World Tour

Rory McIlroy bogeyed three of his last four holes in his opening round at the Dubai Desert Classic to give up a strong position; Haotong Li claimed the first-round lead with a five-under par 67; watch the second round live on Sky Sports Golf from 4am on Friday

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A look at some of the best moments from Day One at the Dubai Desert Classic

Rory McIlroy blew a strong start at the Dubai Desert Classic to finish the opening round four shots back from leader Haotong Li.

McIlroy bogeyed three of his last four holes at Emirates Golf Club to shoot a one-under 71 on Thursday at one of the marquee events of the season on the European tour.

Open champion Brian Harman, who like McIlroy started from the 10th hole, finished bogey-par-double to close on the same score as the Northern Irishman.

  • Leaderboard: DP World Tour – Dubai Desert Classic (external site)
  • Rory McIlroy hopes for Champions League-style golf landscape if deal agreed
  • Stream big moments on NOW | Get Sky Sports | Download Sky Sports App

England’s Richard Mansell finished in a five-way tie for for second place on four-under alongside Adrian Meronk, Nicolai Hojgaard, Soren Kjeldsen and Sebastian Garcia.

McIlroy, a three-time winner of the tournament, birdied five of his first 11 holes to be on the leaderboard at four-under before he hit problems in the tough final holes of the front nine.

Image: Rory McIlroy reached the turn at four-under

At the sixth, he missed a par putt from inside four feet. At the seventh, he duffed his chip from just off the green and couldn’t save par from 30 feet.

He completed a hat-trick of bogeys when he missed the eighth green from the middle of the fairway, was short again with his chip from the rough and missed a par putt from 10 feet.

Even the ninth, his final hole, involved some slight trauma. McIlroy drove into a bunker then left himself an up-and-down from 21 yards, which he just about made when his par putt squeezed into the right of the cup, prompting a sigh of relief from the four-time major champion.

Harman’s round was damaged by a six on the par-four 9th that came after he hit his second shot out of the trees and into the water running down the left of the hole. The American had been on four-under after 12 holes.

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McIlroy hopes to see a framework in golf where at the very top level is a Champions League style tour where the very best can compete

Harman is playing in his first European tour event not co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour, with his victory at the Open in Hoylake giving him more freedom on his schedule to play overseas.

Li, the Dubai Desert Classic champion in 2018 when he held off McIlroy down the stretch, birdied his last hole to shoot 67 and break free from a group on four-under, continuing his career rebound after finishing last year with 14 missed cuts and two withdrawals in his last 16 events.

“Yeah, it happens. Just golf,” he said of his form in 2023. “I don’t know – hopefully doesn’t happen again.”

Li tied for 14th last week at the Dubai Invitational, the first event in 2024.

Tommy Fleetwood, who edged out McIlroy for victory at last week’s Dubai Invitational, also finished on one-under, while European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald is in T19 on two-under.

Watch the Dubai Desert Classic live on Sky Sports Golf from Thursday through to Sunday. Coverage of day two begins at 4am on Friday. Stream golf and more top sport with NOW.

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