- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The form that shot him to No. 1 in the world more than a year ago was on full display on Thursday in the Middle East, where Rory McIlroy made it look easy and left Tiger Woods to do some chasing.
The current No. 1 player in the world got a close-up view of some impressive driving at Emirates Golf Club, where McIlroy shot 9-under-par 63 in the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy leads the European Tour event by 2 shots over Italy's Edoardo Molinari and is 3 strokes in front of France's Julien Quesne, South Africa's Richard Sterne, Ireland's Damien McGrane, England's Matthew Baldwin and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher -- who described McIlroy's play as "sublime."
Woods, who has won this tournament twice, shot 68 and is tied for 10th, 5 strokes back.
"We all played well," said McIlroy, who was grouped with Gallacher and Woods and will be again at 3:25 a.m. ET on Friday during the second round. "Tiger took a little time to get going, but he managed his game really well the first nine holes and started hitting the ball better on the back."
McIlroy, who has dropped to No. 6 in the world after starting 2013 on top to a great deal of fanfare, never appeared in danger of making a bogey. In tying his lowest score on either the European or PGA tours since the 2010 Hong Kong Open, McIlroy hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens.
Starting on the back nine, he played it in 32 to turn in 5 under, then made a birdie at the second and hit a 5-wood approach to the par-5 third to set up an eagle.
"That was the highlight of the day for me," he said.
Woods managed his first birdie of the year on a par-5 hole when he opened with a 4 at the 10th, and managed to play those scoring holes in 3 under par after failing to make a single birdie on them last week at Torrey Pines. Woods' debut on the PGA Tour a week ago was disappointing as a third-round 79 led to a Saturday exit from the tournament and a tie for 79th.
At the Farmers Insurance Open, a tournament Woods has won seven times, he failed to birdie any of the par-5s and played them in 4 over par.
"I'm going to work on a couple of things here and there, but I feel like it was a good day," said Woods, who hit seven of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens in regulation. "I could have got a couple more out of it, just by making a couple of putts from about 10 feet or so. I hit a lot of good putts, which was nice. Last week I didn't do it. It was nice to actually play well again."
Woods scrambled to stay in the game, especially on his first nine holes. He hit the fairway with a driver just once, at the 18th hole, and that was a skied tee shot that was 60 yards behind McIlroy. Woods still knocked his second shot on the green and two-putted for birdie.
He also missed the fairway at two other holes he birdied, and made a couple of key par saves to keep his round going and turn at 4 under par. He made nine straight pars on the front nine.
"Overall it was a pretty good score," said Woods, who had no bogeys.
For McIlroy, he said his 63 rivaled the 66 he shot on the final day in November at the Australian Open, where he bested Adam Scott by a stroke to win his first tournament in a year.
After an otherwise disappointing 2013, McIlroy, 24, is now on a nice little roll. In his last seven worldwide starts, he has five top-10s, including a victory and a second-place tie two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.
McIlroy, who won his first professional tournament in 2009 at this week's venue -- Emirates Golf Club, has never finished out of the top 10 in the Dubai Desert Classic.
"It's definitely the lowest round I've shot in a while," McIlroy said. "The way I controlled my ball and the way I played, it's definitely up there."