DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form Thursday with his lowest score in more than three years, a 9-under 63 while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He easily upstaged Woods, who was five shots behind after a 68.
Edoardo Molinari made an eagle on the par-4 second hole on his way to a 65. The group at 66 included Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion who also played in the feature group with Woods and McIlroy.
McIlroy had his best score since a 63 in the Hong Kong Open in November 2010.
The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland was No. 1 in the world at this point a year ago, but went through a troublesome season adjusting to new equipment and coping with his first prolonged slump. He didn't win a tournament until the Australian Open in December. In his 2014 debut two weeks ago, McIlroy finished one shot behind in Abu Dhabi, where he was given a two-shot penalty in the third round for not taking proper relief.
McIlroy said he was "very close" to playing his best and that this was "another step up from Abu Dhabi" the way he controlled his irons.
"I played the ball really well from tee to green, drove the ball really well again," he said. "You can see how well I am driving it that I am leaving myself a lot of wedges into the green. So that's going to help."
McIlroy ran off three straight birdies early in his round and made the turn on the back nine in 32. He made eagle on the par-5 third hole with a 5-wood into 8 feet.
Woods managed to hit just half of the fairways in regulation, but taking only 25 putts helped him. The world's No. 1 player also made his first birdie of the year on a par 5, his opening hole at No. 10. Woods did not birdie any of the 12 par 5s he played last week at Torrey Pines, where he missed the 54-hole cut.