The reigning U.S. Open champ is off to a good start at the Hong Kong Open, firing a six-under 64 Thursday to share the first-round lead with Alvaro Quiros and David Horsey.
McIlroy, who reached the highest of highs at Congressional Country Club after the lowest of lows at Augusta National, had a flawless round of six birdies at Hong Kong Golf Club. He currently trails Donald by a little over 1.1 million euros, but can cut the gap nearly in half with a win this week.
Quiros, who is chasing his sixth European Tour title and second this year, matched McIlroy stroke for stroke on Thursday with an eagle and four birdies. Horsey also has one win this year -- two overall -- and had six birdies in a bogey-free round.
All eyes, however, are on the No. 2 player in the world McIlroy, who has yet to taste success again following his record performance at the U.S. Open. That's not to say he hasn't come close, posting four consecutive top-five finishes prior to this week's event in Hong Kong.
"It was very good, a solid round of golf," McIlroy said. "I didn't make a mistake. Six birdies and no bogeys is always a nice way to start the tournament."
Miguel Angel Jimenez trails the first-place trio by a stroke at five-under 65, while Darren Beck and Gareth Maybin both came in at four-under 66. Defending champion Ian Poulter stumbled to a one-over 71 and shares 45th place.
McIlroy held the clubhouse lead after the morning wave and was only caught, never passed.
He began on the back nine -- paired with Poulter and Edoardo Molinari -- and got into red figures with a birdie on the 14th. He added a birdie on the 16th before catching fire around the turn.
"I played very solid from the first hole, hit two good shots into the 10th and made par there," McIlroy said. "(It) was probably the toughest hole we played all day."
McIlroy hit his approach at No. 1 to three feet en route to a birdie and followed with another at No. 2 to move to four-under. He posted back-to-back birdies again from the fifth to move atop the leaderboard.
Quiros was the next to join him, beginning with birdies on Nos. 3 and 7 on his front nine. He birdied the 11th and eagled the par-five 12th to jump to five- under before closing his round with a birdie to match McIlroy.
Horsey's front and back nine were identical, each with three birdies. He birdied Nos. 1, 3 and 9 on the first nine and Nos. 10, 12 and 18 on the final nine to get into a three-way tie.
NOTES: Marcus Fraser is alone in seventh at three-under 67...Molinari finished at even-par 70...Donald is playing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, which isn't sanctioned by the European Tour...The Dubai World Championship is next week, the European Tour's closing event with a limited field...Poulter is looking to become the first back-to-back titles at this event since 1963-64.