Donald shoots 65 to lead in Dubai
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP)
Donald saved par on Nos. 1 and 4 with clutch putting, and some accurate up-and-down play helped him make four birdies in a stretch of six holes.
''It was a nice, solid start,'' said the Englishman, who made six of his seven birdies in the first 10 holes. ''It was very tidy. Just a lot of solid golf. I gave myself a lot of opportunities.''
Donald fended off a challenge from McIlroy at the tournament last year to become the first player to clinch both the European and PGA Tour money titles. The Northern Irishman has repeated the feat this season, and he surged into contention Thursday at the $8 million event with three birdies on the back nine. The PGA Championship winner could have matched Donald, but his tee shot on the 18th went into a creek.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain and Marc Warren of Scotland are also at 6 under.
On a day when more than three-quarters of the field shot under par, there were plenty of other big names in the mix.
Lee Westwood, three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, 2010 PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer and two others were at 5 under. Six players, including 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, were a further shot behind.
McIlroy struggled on the front nine, shooting only one birdie, but turned it around coming home with a stretch of five birdies in seven holes. He is trying to emulate Westwood's feat in 2009 in which he won the money title and the tournament.
''I got off to a bit of a slow start but felt I was hitting the ball well enough to give myself opportunities for birdies. I just had to stay patient. I got it together on the back nine,'' McIlroy said. ''It's a great way to start. Obviously, I'm confident heading into tomorrow.''
Fernandez-Castano, looking for his second victory of the season, holed six birdies on his back nine to draw level with Warren, the early clubhouse leader.
''The back nine had nothing to do with the front nine,'' Fernandez-Castano said. ''I played very well on the front nine, believe it or not. I didn't hole any putts but I stayed patient, and all of the putts seemed to drop on the back nine.''
With the money title decided, players are now counting on strong performances to help them move up the rankings. A top-30 finish gets them into the British Open, while the top 15 is enough for the U.S. Open. The leading 10 on the European money list will receive a portion of the $3.75 million bonus pool.
Warren is the only surprise among the leaders in his first appearance at the Race To Dubai for the year's top-60 money winners on tour. He hasn't won on the European Tour since 2007 and is ranked 189th.
''I felt as if I played a lot of good golf,'' said Warren, who holed three birdies in his first five holes and made seven in total. ''It's been steady progress the last couple of years. This year I got into contention a couple of times early on, and in contention a couple of times in the middle of the year. So there were signs of progress already. I think consistency was the biggest thing, and I probably lacked that when I got on tour.''