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Rory McIlroy Leads Omega Dubai Desert Classic First Round, Tiger Woods Starts Strong (PHOTOS)

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By Nick Masuda, Golfweek

That's more like it.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods put on a show on Thursday morning at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, combining for 11 birdies and an eagle as McIlroy took the early lead with a 9-under 63. Woods picked up a 4-under 68 in his first round since missing a secondary cut at Torrey Pines last Saturday.

Here are 5 Things to take away from the first round's morning session in Dubai:

(See play-by-play breakdown for Woods and McIlroy here)

• • •

1. ROARING START: Game on! It looks as though Rory McIlroy wasn't giving lip service when he said that his life had normalized and that would lead to better play on the course.

McIlroy overcame a sloppy two-putt from 4 feet on his opening hole to blitz the Emirates GC on Thursday, grabbing a share of the lead on the par-5 18th with a birdie and never relinquishing it throughout the morning session in Dubai.

McIlroy was bogey-free, needing only 26 putts for his 9-under 63.

After a 5-under 32 on his first nine holes, a 5-footer for birdie on No. 2 and then a 10-footer for eagle on No. 3 put McIlroy in the driver's seat, adding one more birdie on the par-3 7th hole from off the green. It matched his lowest opening-round score in his Euro Tour career, doing it three other times.

In his last three European Tour starts, McIlroy has finished no worse than T-6, picking up a T-5 at the DP World Tour Championship in November and a T-2 at the season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

McIlroy has five career European Tour victories, his last coming at the DP World Tour Championship in November 2012.

• • •

2. SCRAMBLING MAN: The good news? Tiger Woods' short game seems to be in order after it let him down at Torrey Pines.

The bad news? Woods finished his first round with nine consecutive pars after spotty play off the tee put him in scramble mode and allowed McIlroy to distance himself in this marquee pairing.

Woods' 4-under 68 was considerably better than the 7-over 79 that he posted to get booted from the Farmers Insurance Open last Saturday, but Thursday could have been special for the World No. 1.

"I probably could have gotten a couple more out of it," said Woods.

Four front-nine birdies – including two on par-5s, which he also struggled with at Torrey – allowed him to grab a share of the lead at one point. But a failed birdie opportunity at the par-5 3rd and then five greens missed over his final nine holes stopped his first-nine momentum.

Woods had only 12 putts through 10 holes, but need 13 more over the next eight holes. Woods hit only 7 of 14 fairways on the day and 10 greens in regulation.

His driver was his biggest obstacle on Thursday, sending multiples drives into both the left and right rough, as well as the desert on three occasions.

• • •

3. DON'T FORGET ME! Defending champion Stephen Gallacher was the forgotten man in the pairing with Woods and McIlroy, but he proved his mettle with solid play all day long.

After a bogey at the par-3 11th erased a nice birdie to open his day, Gallacher would tally two birdies and an eagle to make the turn at 4 under, and then added birdies on Nos. 5 and 8 coming in to get within three of McIlroy.

Gallacher, a native of Linlithgow, Scotland, has two career Euro Tour victories and is ranked No. 67 in the Official World Golf Rankings coming into the week. He played in two majors in 2013, finishing T-21 at the Open Championship and T-61 at the PGA Championship.

• • •

4. USA! USA! USA! There were plenty of American flags on the leaderboard in Dubai on Thursday, led by former Florida State All-American Brooks Koepka.

Koepka sputtered a bit out of the gate, picking up an even-par 35 on the front nine, but turned it on with three birdies to finish for a 3-under 69. Koepka won four times on the Challenge Tour since 2012 and has his full European Tour card this season. He has also received an exemption into his hometown Honda Classic in March.

Joining Koepka in red figures were Fred Couples and Mark O'Meara at 2 under. Both players had three birdies and a bogey.

Koepka's close friend and roommate Peter Uihlein was 1 under on his first nine holes, but posted three bogeys and a double bogey coming in to fire a 3-over 75. Uihlein won the Euro Tour's Madeira Islands Open last season.

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS: France's Julien Quesne was just one shot off the lead standing in the ninth fairway – his final hole of the day – but an errant shot that found the water led to a double-bogey and he fell back to 6 under. Quesne went out with a 7-under 30 on the back nine. . . . Young phenom Matteo Manassero had five bogeys and one birdie in firing a 4-over 76.

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