Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy kept his hopes of catching Luke Donald in The Race to Dubai alive as the Northern Irishman ended the first round of the UBS Hong Kong Open in a three-way tie for the lead on six under par with David Horsey and Alvaro Quiros.
The 22 year old was among the first groups out at Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling and collected six birdies without dropping a shot to set the early clubhouse mark with a 64 in windy morning conditions.
But Horsey responded with a similar effort in the afternoon, while Quiros chipped in at the 18th to also end the day six under par.
The trio head former two-time winner Miguel Angel Jiménez by a stroke, with Northern Ireland's Gareth Maybin and Australian Darren Beck two back on four under.
Starting on the tenth, McIlroy – needing a top-two finish to retain hope of overhauling World Number One Donald at next week’s Dubai World Championship presented by DP World - picked up birdies at the 14th and 16th courtesy of mid-range putts to reach the turn in 33 before a sand wedge to inside three feet at the first brought another.
The World Number Two moved to four under at the next and although his drive from the fifth tee found the bunker, a superb recovery allowed the Northern Irishman to knock in a short putt for his fifth birdie of the day, before adding his sixth at the next to complete a satisfying opening effort.
"I think, first of all, the greens are a lot firmer and a lot faster than they usually are, which makes it tougher to get the ball closer to the hole, but the wind today was a big factor," said McIlroy
"It swirls in these trees, you can feel it one minute downwind and the next right to left so you just have to trust where the wind is coming from. I was able to do that today, I got a couple of gusts where the ball might have gone a few yards left or right from where I wanted to but all in all, I was able to handle the wind pretty well."
After lamenting his failure to turn promising positions into more victories this season, McIlroy is keen to capitalise on a good start over the next three days.
"Just getting myself in the position is a start and there might be a couple of things I can do better to turn those top-fives into wins. I have felt this year that I've definitely let two or three tournaments slip away from me and that's something I'm trying to work on so that doesn't happen," he said.
"As long as I get myself in these positions and start winning more regularly, it becomes a habit and hopefully I'll do it more often.
"I think it's a very encouraging sign that I'm getting these top-fives, top-threes regularly and hopefully all of a sudden I'll get on a run and maybe win a few events in a short space of time. It's just about consistency and putting yourself up on a Sunday week in and week out. All that experience has to help you in some way.
"There's still a long way to go in this tournament, I've led a lot of tournaments from the first day and I've won a couple of them but I realise more than anyone else there's a long way to go and over 54 holes, I'll have to play very well to pick up the trophy."
Horsey, meanwhile, quickly climbed the leaderboard with birdies at the first and third before adding two more at the ninth and tenth.
A crucial par save from the sand came at the next before a fine approach at the 12th moved the 26 year old Englishman to five under. He then finished in style as his second to the par four 18th landed two feet from the pin and he tapped in for a 64.
"A very nice start, I wasn't feeling great coming into the week but did some good work yesterday on the range and it's a good start," said Horsey.
"I've been playing well for a while to be honest, since the Dunhill I've been hitting the ball quite nicely but the scores haven't been coming in so hopefully I can change that these last two tournaments of the year.
"I'm very pleased with the start but there's a long way to go. The wind seemed to be gusting on the back nine so it was tricky to get the direction.
"I love this course, it suits me and I haven't done as well as I should have the last couple of years so hopefully I can put that right this week."
Quiros carded an eagle and four birdies in his 64 and the Spaniard was also pleased to defy the blustery conditions.
"I played well, I gave myself a lot of good chances but didn't holes putts. I think it was a fair score today," he said.
"The wind was changing direction very easily. You have to be lucky to shoot low in these windy conditions. This is not my course, you have to hit draw, so I don't think it is my style.
"Seeing Rory up there is not a surprise because he's there every single week."
Maybin’s display could prove crucial – he slipped out of The Race to Dubai’s top 118 after last week’s SA Open Championship, but after an opening 66 has reason to be confident of climbing the two places he needs to retain his European Tour card.
“It’s the same as every other week - just go out and post the best number,” he said. “It doesn't change too much to be honest. Keep doing what I've done over the years and see where it puts me at the end of the week.”