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Paul Lawrie leads in Dubai but McIlroy still in with a shout

PAUL Lawrie had seven birdies in 10 holes to race clear at the start of the Dubai World Championship today - and Luke Donald probably did not mind in the least.

Only a Rory McIlroy victory in the last event of the European Tour season can stop Donald completing an unprecedented double of money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.

Former Open champion Lawrie, who in Spain in March had his first win for nine years, was making his debut in a tournament reserved for the top 60 earners each season and began his run with 15-foot putts on the fifth and sixth.

The Aberdeen golfer then chipped close at the long seventh, made a 30-footer to complete an outward 32 and then collected more birdies at the 10th, 11th and 626-yard 14th.

At seven under he was four clear of Ireland's Shane Lowry and South African Jaco Van Zyl, two more first-timers in the event.

The 58-strong field - Justin Rose and Fredrik Jacobson are not playing - teed off in reverse order of their Order of Merit positions in the opening round.

That meant Donald and McIlroy, world number one and world number two respectively and top two on the "Race to Dubai" as well, were last out at 12.30pm local time.

Even if McIlroy wins on Sunday, Donald would still take the money list crown with a top-nine finish.

Twice number one Ernie Els, meanwhile, was down on two over after a double bogey six on the 10th and defending champion Robert Karlsson next-to-last on three over after bogeying both the par fives and the 499-yard par four ninth to turn in 39.

Els needs a top four finish to have a chance of climbing back into the world's top 50 just in time to earn an invitation for next April's Masters, while at 52nd on the Tour money list this could be his worst year on the circuit since 1992, his first full season.

There was also a possibility that he could lose his position as the Tour's leading career money-winner to Lee Westwood, but that was the least of his concerns.

The field size came down to 57 when YE Yang, who two years ago became the first Korean to win a major when he beat Tiger Woods at the USPGA Championship, withdrew after four holes with a neck injury.