Danny Willett pleased with opening round of Rory McIlroy battle

Danny Willett
Danny Willett
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So far, so good is the verdict of Danny Willett after the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Willett fired a four under par opening round of 68, matching the effort of playing partner and Order of Merit rival Rory McIlroy at the Jumeirah Golf Estates.

The Sheffield golfer must finish ahead of McIlroy this weekend to finish the season top the of the Race to Dubai rankings.

But there was little give between the two men during difficult afternoon conditions.

McIlroy holed from the bunker on the last, putting pressure on Willett to make his birdie put which he sunk well.

Though he admits the nerves did set in.

“I had all the visions of missing it,” Willett said with a chuckle. “It was a good fun day and we both put ourselves into good positions.

“I went out there and played some pretty decent golf. There was a couple of little scrappy ones.

“I probably didn’t play my best golf but four under puts me right up there.”

Not only did his decent opening round see him keep pace with McIlroy, it left just two shots off the four way tie for the lead.

Willett had been keen to avoid his tournament descending into a matchplay-like battle with McIlroy but admitted it was difficult to ensure that did not happen when playing in the same pairing as the Northern Irishman.

He said: “It probably helped us both shooting a good number, then you can treat it a bit more like that.

“You don’t want to be playing matchplay if you’re one over. But seeing as we’re both going along nicely, it kind of turned into that and a pretty good match overall.”

Quirks of the leaderboard mean Willett and McIlroy have been separated for Friday’s second round. Willett is set to head out at 7.50am alongside Branden Grace,

Also on four under was fellow Sheffield golfer Matt Fitzpatrick who dropped just one shot during another superbly consistent round. It was the tenth time in his last 13 events that the 21-year-old has opened a tournament with a sub-70 round.

He begins his second round at 8am alongside Chris Wood.

Five other players have outside chances of winning the Race to Dubai ahead of Willett and McIlroy but none finished their first round ahead of the pair.

Grace is the best placed of the five on -4 but needs to win the tournament or finish outright second to have any chance of top spot.

Byeong-hun Anis on -2, Justin Rose -1, Louis Oosthuizen +1 and Shane Lowry +3.

The overnight lead on -6 is shared by Martin Kaymer, Andy Sullivan, Marcus Fraser and Ian Poulter, who is chasing his first tournament win in three years.