Golf: McIlroy recovers from early stumbles to post a 66 in Dubai Desert Classic

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic 2015 Golf tournament at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Jan 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic 2015 Golf tournament at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Jan 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

DUBAI (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy's driving radar malfunctioned early in his opening round at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday but he showed why he is the world's No. 1 golfer by recovering to shoot a 66.

"I didn't hit a fairway till my eighth hole but I scored well for those holes," the four-times Major champion said after his six-under effort.

"I can't really complain with a 66 to start. I feel like I've started off this tournament pretty well the last few years and it's another good one ... something to build on."

The Desert Classic holds special memories for McIlroy because it was the first European Tour victory he picked up six years ago.

"Compared to when I first won here in 2009, my golf game is much better and the sort of score I shot this morning just comes a lot easier to me these days," said the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.

"Managing my game and knowing how to shoot a score is kind of second nature now whereas, back then, 66 would have been a really good score for me.

"These days, it's sort of what I expect of myself."

McIlroy was accompanied by Ryder Cup team-mate Martin Kaymer (67) and Englishman Andy Sullivan (65), winner of this month's South African Open.

"It was the best day of my life out there playing with these guys and I just enjoyed so much watching Rory and Martin play," said Sullivan after setting the early pace with fellow countryman Lee Westwood and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.

"It was absolutely fantastic and to play the way I did in their company was brilliant."

Stephen Gallacher, who made his Ryder Cup debut in September and is chasing a hat-trick of Desert Classic wins, holed out from a greenside bunker on his way to a 66.