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Rory McIlroy finishes with sensational birdie, eagle, birdie to finish tied for lead with rival Reed

Rory McIlroy in Dubai© Getty Images

Brian KeoghIndependent.ie

Rory McIlroy produced a dramatic birdie-eagle-birdie finish to fire an opening 66 to share the clubhouse lead with Patrick Reed in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

But the world number one confessed he was more relieved than thrilled after some superb putting and a hole out from the desert from 116 yards for an eagle two at the eighth to put a sticking plaster on some rusty play in Dubai.

As arch-rival Reed put Tee-Gate behind him and eagled the 18th to match McIlroy's 66, the Holywood star assessed a stop-start first round.

"Honestly, not very good," he said of his play and a round characterised by some brilliant putting as he used the blade just 20 times. "I struggled out there most of yesterday. I thought I did well to be under par by the end of the day.

"I fought back after some very sloppy rusty golf over the first sort of 14 holes. And then yeah, today I came out and I don't really know if anything clicked because I don't think I hit enough shots to know.

"But it was definitely needed. Like I would have been happy with anything around 70 the way I played, and then to come in and shoot 66 is quite the bonus."

While the resumption of play was delayed by two hours due to heavy rain, McIlroy resumed by knocking in a four-footer for a birdie two at the sixth to get to four-under-par.

He then found the desert at the eighth but holed a wedge from 116 yards for a welcome eagle two before ripping a 160-yard approach from deep rough to just three feet at the ninth to set up another birdie.

"Yeah, you know, I wouldn't say I'm the best fairway bunker player in the world," admitted McIlroy. "The desert is a little nicer, it's a little more packed down, so you get some better lies.

"All I was thinking about was catching it clean. My tendency out of those lies is to hit it a little bit heavy.

"As soon as I struck it, I knew it came out really nicely and it was right down the pin.

"Again, anything inside of 20 feet, I would have been happy with, so that was certainly a bonus."

McIlroy could win and still lose his world number one ranking to a red-hot Jon Rahm, who played his last four holes in five-under to card a second-round 67 on the North Course in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines to move up to within eight shots behind leader Sam Ryder at halfway.

"Yeah, I mean, I can't control what anyone else does," McIlroy said. "Rahmbo has got off to an unbelievable - it is an unbelievable start of the year but building off what he did at the back end of last year as well.

"I'm not really paying attention to the World Rankings or anything. I'm just trying to get off to a good start to my year, trying to work on some things in my game and concentrate opponent myself.

"I still have some work to do as I said. I didn't play well at all yesterday, so a little bit of rest and some practice over the next 24 hours before I go out and play again tomorrow."

Reed had just two holes of his first round to complete and followed a par at the 17th with an eagle three from 15 feet at the 18th,

"I'm obviously really happy with the way I played," said Reed, who was ignored by McIlroy on the range earlier in the week and then flicked a tee in his direction, leading to an exchange of barbs that ended with the Texan branding McIlroy "an immature little child".

McIlroy and Reed lead by a shot from Victor Perez, Thomas Pieters and Adri Arnaus but it was a tough opening round for Tom McKibbin and Padraig Harrington.

McKibbin was four-under with six holes to play on Thursday but signed for a two-over 74, while Harrington was at the bottom of the field after nine-over 81.

He birdied the fifth on his return to the course but bogeyed the eighth and ninth.

It was his worst score on the DP World Tour since he shot 78 in the second round of The Open last year.

His highest is an 84 in the second round of the Benson & Hedges International at The Oxfordshire in 1996.

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