Dubai: The world’s top two golfers, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald, are already contemplating an end-of-season showdown on Sunday after both topped the leaderboard on day one of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Thursday.
Donald, the World No.2, hit a bogeyless 65 over the par 7, 7675 Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates to lead by a stroke over European Tour money-list winning McIlroy, who’s tied for second with Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez Castano and Scotland’s Marc Warren.
With the Race to Dubai money-list already wrapped up, unlike last year where Donald had the pressure of trying to win both the tournament and the European Tour’s order of merit, the two golfers can now play for fun. That’s a prospect which promises fireworks.
Discussing the chances of a McIlroy match-up, Donald said: “I’d love the challenge. Rory is No.1 in the world, and it will be fun for us. It will be fun for the fans and obviously for TV.
“It would be a great way to end the year if — and it’s a long way to go — Rory and I go head to head.”
McIlroy, who shot a faultless 66, agreed: “I really wanted to try and make birdie on the last to play with him in the final group tomorrow [Friday]. I wasn’t able to do that, but I feel like if I play the way I did today, I might have a chance to maybe play with him on Saturday afternoon.
“He’s obviously playing well. He won last week in Japan. He’s the second-ranked player in the world and he’s always very tough to beat.”
Without the pressure of last year, when McIlroy launched a late assault on his Race to Dubai crown, Donald insists he is confident of holding his first-round lead.
He said: “I’m not sure I enjoyed it here last year. It was quite pressure-packed, even though I had a bit of a lead in the money-list I felt Rory’s presence behind me.
“But this week I’m more relaxed. I’m just playing to try and win this tournament. I guess that’s what my focus was last year as well but in the back of my mind I obviously had a few other distractions.”
After the failure to catch Donald last year, McIlroy has since made up for it by acquiring the Englishman’s two money-list titles and his World No.1 spot in 2012. If he were to catch Donald on this, the home stretch of the season, it would typify the year.
With a strong start to the tournament, the Northern Irishman is now targeting both trophies at the end of the week, last achieved by Lee Westwood in 2009.
“There’s still a lot of golf left to play, but I’m off to a good start. It would be great to emulate what Lee [Westwood] did a few years ago and pick up both trophies. That’s the goal and that’s the motivation this week and hopefully on Sunday evening, I’ll be able to do that.”