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McIlroy slips up at the last

A WAYWARD shot at the last cost defending champion Rory McIlroy the outright lead at the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates today, leaving the Holywood golfer to settle for a double bogey and a round of 70.

The 20-year-old began his round on the 10th and played to par until the 17th where he carded the first of four birdies in a row.

However, he had been shaky off the tee throughout and it came back to haunt him at the last as he surrendered his lead to Miguel Angel Jimenez with a shot into the water.

The Spaniard carded a five-under-par 67 to move to seven under.

Gareth Maybin carded six birdies to catapult himself back into the thick of things by moving to three under with a 68.

Yet another Ulsterman, Graeme McDowell, was on course to join him having shot 16 holes in three-under-par

In his opening round McIlroy hit five birdies and one bogey to join Briton Stephen Dodd, Swede Alex Noren, South African Charl Schwartzel, India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Italy's Molinari at the top of a congested leaderboard.

Blustery winds made scoring difficult in the desert, with parts of the Emirates Golf Club obscured and Dubai's skyscraper landscape lost in the clouds of sand.

The Irishman started with a second-hole bogey after sending his second shot onto the adjoining 18-hole course. But the 20- year-old recovered immediately with a "lucky" birdie at the par-five next.

"I hit my drive into the left rough and then hacked out a five-wood into the right rough, and hit a wedge to about 35 feet, and then if the ball didn't hit the hole it was going to be another wedge (next)," he said.

"I was lucky to hit even the side of the hole as it was going to go way past ... it jumped about a foot in the air and went in. I was pretty fortunate and from there on I just played pretty solid golf."

After six straight pars from the fourth, McIlroy birdied the 10th, 12th, 17th and 18th.



DEFENCE

"It's very important to start off my defence with a good score," said the youngster. "At the start of the day I would have taken anything under 70, looking at the scores and the conditions."

Noren produced one of his best scoring displays since winning the European Masters in Switzerland in September.

"I'm in the Ryder Cup at the moment and if I do make the team that will be amazing," said Noren, who occupies sixth place on the European points list.

Money-list leader Schwartzel, winner of two tournaments in his native South Africa last month, produced a flawless round.

The 38-year-old Singh had a purple patch of form in mid-round, reeling off four birdies in a row from the ninth.

Molinari, who together with brother Francesco won the World Cup for Italy last year, carded five birdies and one dropped shot in his round, while Welshman Dodd blotted his copybook with bogeys at the 14th and 16th.

Last year's European number one Lee Westwood began his campaign with a 72 and a 14th-hole double bogey, after finding water, meant five-times British Open champion Tom Watson marked his Middle East debut with an opening 73. Fellow American Mark O'Meara struggled to a 77.


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