|McIlroy overcomes a prickly time in the bushes to record a third place six-under par finish [GALLO/GETTY]
Rory McIlroy did his chances of becoming the new European number one no harm as five birdies in the last six holes saw him finish the opening round of the Dubai World Championship two shots behind leader Peter Hanson.
The Ulsterman, who needs to win the $7.5 million tournament to go on top of the Race to Dubai in his fascinating charge on runaway leader Luke Donald, made a double bogey on his second hole, but finished the day at six-under par 66.
That took him to third place after the first round, with only Swede Hanson, who matched the course record of 64, and the 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland, who made full use of benign early morning conditions with a seven-under par 65, ahead of him.
"It was the perfect start for me. To shoot a great score like that really sets me for the next three days"
World No1 Donald, who needs to finish inside the top-10 to complete an unprecedented Money List double on both the US PGA and European Tours, was three-under at the turn, but succumbed with three bad tee shots on the back nine and the resulting bogeys restricted him to even-par 72.
Spain's Sergio Garcia, who is looking for a third win in three starts, made a double bogey on the par-3 17th in his five-under par 67, while England's Ross Fisher and Robert Rock were among three tied for fifth place at 68 along with Spaniard Alvaro Quiros.
McIlroy, who made nine birdies, said: "It was the perfect start for me. To shoot a great score like that really sets me for the next three days.
"I made three very good birdies on the front nine, hit it still on the first, third and fifth, but also made a couple of very silly mistakes. But I just stayed patient and the back nine was pretty much flawless."
The world No2's putter was on fire on the back nine, as he made birdie putts of 12 feet on the 10th, 25 feet on the 13th, a 40-footer on the 16th, an 18-feet effort on the 17th and a slippery 20-footer on the 18th.
"I didn't expect Luke to play the way he did. I thought I needed to make a four-five under on the back nine. But then every putt I looked at, it went in," said McIlroy.
"It's not something that I experience often."
| The race is on: Rory McIlroy (r) is chasing Luke Donald for the European number one spot [GALLO/GETTY]
Donald, who had to take unplayable on two consecutive holes on the back nine, said: "It was a mixture of two halves really. I played solid the front nine and a couple of poor drives got me on the back."
"But I am going to go to the driving range and sort out a few things for tomorrow. I will just try and get a little bit better from here on."
Hanson, who missed the course record narrowly as his birdie putt on the 16th lipped out and another birdie putt on the 18th from eight feet just slid past, was delighted with his bogey-free start.
"Of course, you cannot win a golf tournament after the first round, but you can always lose it. So I am happy with the start," said the 34-year-old.
"I think it's the best golf I've played. It's quite a demanding course and the wind picked up a little bit over the back nine. I'm very, very happy with the way I struck the ball - and I rolled a few putts in.
"My ball striking was very pure. Hit a lot of fairways and missed just one green. My first five birdies were just tap-ins."