Golf: McIlroy in the mix as van Zyl catches fire in Turkey with opening 61

BELEK, Turkey (AFP) - Rory McIlroy made a fine start in the defence of his European No. 1 crown with a bogey-free round of five-under 67 in Thursday's opening round of the US$7 million (S$9.7 million) Turkish Airlines Open.

In the first of the European Tour's four-event Final Series and as good as McIlroy's round was, he was still six shots behind the leader, with South African Jaco van Zyl coming home in 11-under 61.

England's Lee Westwood, who put together an exhibition of ball striking, was in second place at 64, while his compatriot Chris Wood was third in 66.

Van Zyl's round was the lowest in the three-year-history of the tournament, but will not be considered a course record at Montgomerie Maxx Royal as the players were playing preferred lies.

McIlroy's round included a left-handed chip-out after pulling his tee shot against a tree on the 18th hole - his ninth - but he made a battling par there. He chipped in for his first birdie on the 11th hole, and after making the turn at one-under, added four more birdies on his back nine.

"I thought it was good. I felt like my game came together a lot more on our back nine, which is the front nine of this course," said McIlroy.

"I was sort of trying to find my rhythm a little bit for the first few holes and then I actually made a good par save on 18, which gave me some momentum going into the front nine. I hit a lot of quality shots on the front nine and gave myself a lot of looks and held some putts."

Van Zyl, who is ranked 51st in the Race to Dubai and 132nd in the world, made the most of the excellent scoring conditions with an eagle on the 11th hole and nine birdies. He was seven under for his last eight holes, pars on the 12th and 16th being the two holes where he deviated from making birdies.

"I've had lower scores, but obviously not on a calibre-golf course like this. Greens are really good but there's a lot of grain around the greens. You hit fairways and greens, and it seems very easy. But as soon as you're a little bit off, you're going to get busy.

"It was really nice. Had a really good score and putting round. Hopefully we can continue."

Six players were tied for fourth on 67 along with McIlroy - Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti, England's Richard Bland, Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Frenchman Julien Quesne and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger.

Ian Poulter was going well at five-under after 13 holes when he was undone by a triple-bogey six on the par-three fifth, where his tee shot found the water guarding the front of the green. He ended with a 69.