Bob MacIntyre joins Rory McIlroy in making strong start in Dubai
Bob MacIntyre’s “reset” after his horror 82 in Portugal recently paid dividends with a strong start along with Rory McIlroy in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
On a day when McIlroy carded a brilliant seven-under 65 to hold a two-shot lead as he took up where he’d left off when winning the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour last month, it was also a productive first round for MacIntyre.
Having revealed on the eve of the season-ending event that he has added performance coach Stuart Morgan to his backroom team, the 25-year-old made five birdies in signing for a 68.
The effort, which matched his opening score last year over the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, left him in a tie for fifth on a packed leaderboard in the Rolex Series event.
“I played great to be four-under,” said MacIntyre, who started the event sitting 17th in the Race to Dubai, having finished 11th in the rankings in 2019 then 23rd last year.
Set up by a burst of three straight birdies to start the back nine, the performance was produced in the company of 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry.
“It was a really casual round of golf,” added the Oban man. “Shane is one of the best guys to play golf with. He enjoys the game in the same way I enjoy it and that’s being relaxed and pretty stress-free.”
MacIntyre recently linked up with Morgan, a Welshman who is based in Austria, after being impressed with his work with Ryder Cup player Bernd Wiesberger.
Talking about that development, the Scot told golfbytourmiss.com: “Stuart is pointing out the obvious, but I need that. For me, it’s someone telling me, ‘right, this is good or what I am doing is rubbish’.”
That 82 came in the closing round of the Portugal Masters, but it was more like it from MacIntyre in last week’s AVIV Dubai Championship and this effort provided further encouragement as he bids to sign off the 2022 campaign on a high.
“I’ve struggled the past weeks in hitting poor shots and not accepting those poor shots and today I found myself accepting those and just moving on,” said the left-hander.
“The last 12 weeks or so my golf has not been the way I would like to play, but, if that’s to be my poor golf for the next few years, then it can’t be all that bad.
“I’ve got three rounds of this season remaining then I need to work on a few things over the winter time in trying to get better.”
On a day when Open champion Collin Morikawa cemented his position at the top of the Race to Dubai rankings with a polished 68, McIlroy produced one of his masterclasses on a course that always seems to bring out the best in him.
It has now yielded 30 rounds in the 60s to the Northern Irishman, who, thanks to an effort containing an eagle and six birdies, is also now a combined 148-under-par for the event.
“I've been coming back here now for 12 years,” said McIlroy. “I have a lot of experience around this place, a lot of great memories and memories of great shots and great putts. It's comfortable for me.
"I think if you can carry the ball over 300 (yards) on this course, it gets a lot easier, getting over some of those fairway bunkers and the landing areas become that bit wider. That's an advantage and I've been able to use that to my advantage over the last few years here.”
While McIlroy can’t win a fourth Race to Dubai title this weekend, he’s bidding to make it back-to-back victories for the first time since 2014. It’s been quite a turnaround since he was overcome with emotions after feeling he’d let his team-mates down in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September.
“I feel I'm a big boy now,” said the four-time major winner of the alterations he’d made in recent weeks, having decided to work exclusively again with his boyhood coach, Michael Bannon, after a spell when Pete Cowen also provided technical input.
“I've been around the block a bit, and, if I have problems or struggles, I should be able to sort them out myself. Instead of looking to others to fix my problems, I'm going to take responsibility a bit and that's what I did after the Ryder Cup.
“Put my head down and spent a lot of time just on the range and just figuring out, okay, what is it I do well and what do I need to get back to.”
This effort had everything from perfectly-shaped shots from tee to green, the pick of which set up his eagle at the second, to some brilliance around the green, notably a sublime flop shot for a closing birdie.
“I've always been a very visual player. I always see shots,” said McIlroy told Sky Sports Golf. “I don't know how much the shot tracer was out there today, but people probably saw me playing shots again.
“Maybe not quite as much as Bubba Watson but still that's how I've always played golf and seen the game, and I just need to get back to seeing it like that again.”
Morikawa, who is bidding to become the first American to win the Race to Dubai, signed for six birdies and two bogeys, saying of his day’s work: “It was pretty solid throughout.”
Compatriot Billy Horschel, his closest challenger in the rankings, could only manage a 74, with English trio Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Matt Fitzpatrick, all of whom can deny Morikawa, each carding 70s. Australian Min Woo Lee, the only other player still in the race to be No 1, had to settle for a par-72.
Flying the Saltire in the 53-man field along with MacIntyre, Grant Forrest and Calum Hill carded 70 and 75 respectively. Hill later withdrew due to a recent mosquito bite and subsequent infection flaring up.