Willett and Westwood make solid starts

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SHEFFIELD golfer Danny Willett is three shots off the lead after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

Ranked 83 in the world, Willett, a member of Rotherham Golf Club, shot 35 on the back nine to reach four under.

Worksop’s Lee Westwood dropped his first and last shots of the day to finish on 69.

Talented putter Rory McIlroy, who won his only European Tour event to date in Dubai two years ago, blasted an eight-birdie 65 to storm to the top of the leaderboard.

World number one Westwood, who was granted life membership of the European Tour earlier this week, said: “I’m quietly pleased, I played solidly and didn’t make too many mistakes. I would have liked to finish one under on the last two holes instead of one over and shot five under, but you have to understand that in Dubai the wind gets up in the afternoon.”

The 37-year-old, who deposed American Tiger Woods from the top of the world ranking in October missed the cut in Qatar last week,

It was McIlroy who outshone the elite three-ball of Westwood, Woods and Martin Kaymer. The young Northern Irishman, who could move to number four on Sunday, has opened up a two shot lead.

Woods rescued a “scratchy” 71 with a stunning closing eagle while Kaymer matched Westwood’s feat and scored 69.

Able to “fly under the radar” because of the attention on the sport’s three leading lights, McIlroy took advantage of his early tee-off time with five successive birdies around the turn.

“I got into the round gradually, but once I did I felt there was a good score out there,” he said.

“All I’m trying to do is focus on hitting good shots - not just for the next three days, but for the next 12 months.”