Dubai, United Arab Emirates (SportsNetwork.com) - Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both opened with 6-under 66s on Thursday and share the first-round lead at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
McIlroy clinched the Race to Dubai title without playing the first three finals series events. He won four times on the European Tour in 2014, two of which were major championships.
"I was really excited to get back out on the golf course and play competitively," McIlroy said. "The last six weeks have felt like a long time away from competitive play, and I just wanted to get back out there and feel what it was like again."
Lowry hasn't won since the 2012 season, but did finish second twice this season. He was the runner-up to McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship and shared second place at the Wales Open.
Richie Ramsay and Thorbjorn Olesen carded matching 67s and are tied for third. Olesen had seven birdies in the first 14 holes to grab the lead. But he found water off the tee at the 16th and that led to a double-bogey.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson birdied the par-5 18th for a 4-under 68. He was joined in fifth place by Emiliano Grillo.
Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen posted a 3-under 69 in round one on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. He shares seventh place with Edoardo Molinari, Ross Fisher, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood.
After a six-week break, McIlroy wasted no time in moving into red figures. He rolled in a birdie putt from just outside 10 feet at the first and followed with a 2-putt birdie at the par-5 second.
The Open champion missed a 5-footer for birdie at the third, but came right back with birdies at four and five. McIlroy was quickly 4-under par through five holes, but he cooled off.
McIlroy, the 2012 champion, ran off nine consecutive pars from the sixth. He followed that run with birdies at 15 and 16, both from about eight feet out, to join Lowry at minus-6. McIlroy parred the final two holes to end at minus-6.
"(The round) was really solid. I felt like I missed a lot of putts in the middle part of the round. I got off to fast start, obviously," stated McIlroy. "I gave myself quite a few opportunities around the turn and didn't quite make them. I made a good par save on 12 and finished quite strongly."
Lowry also started quickly as he birdied the first and second. After a pair of pars, he converted a birdie chance at the fifth.
The Irishman parred the last four holes of his opening nine before tripping to a bogey at the 10th, then recovered that lost stroke with a birdie at the 13th.
Lowry made it two in a row as he also birdied the par-5 14th. He again dropped in back-to-back birdies at 16 and 17 to jump into the lead at minus-6. Lowry parred the last to be the first in with a 66.
"Any time you shoot 66 it's pretty decent. I played nicely. I had one really bad hole, but other than that I played beautiful golf, so I'm pretty happy," Lowry said. "I holed a few nice putts coming in and I hit the ball well.
NOTES: In the five years of this event, McIlroy's worst finish was a tie for 11th in 2011 ... Lowry, who is playing this event for the third time, finished tied for eighth in 2011 and shared 39th last year.