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McIlroy hunting Donald in Dubai

ESPN staff
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Luke Donald has made a blistering start to the DP World Tour Championship © Getty Images
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Luke Donald's bid for back-to-back victories is well on course following a blistering start to the DP World Tour Championship.

DP World Tour Championship leaderboard

The former world No. 1 endured another tough year at the majors, but he has three wins under his belt in 2012 - including at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan last week.

He has carried that form into the European Tour's flagship event and peppered the pins in a bogey-free round on the Earth Course. Widely regarded as one of the premier putters in the game, Donald fashioned a host of chances and took seven of them to post a 65.

It could have been better for Donald, as he showed he is mortal with the short stick when leaving a six-footer on the high side on the 16th.

"I had a stretch in the middle of the round where I felt I could not miss," Donald told Sky Sports. "I just had a good feel for the speed and the lines and the speed. It is fun to play golf when it feels that easy."

For much of the final hour of the day it looked like Donald would be joined at the top of the leaderboard by Rory McIlroy but he put his tee shot on 18 in the water.

He was a little untidy early on and there were occasions when his iron play was a shade awry, but McIlroy gradually dialled in and some sparkling approaches coming home created a number of chances. He did miss one birdie putt of no more than three feet, but did make six birdies.

McIlroy went out in the final group, which was his right on account of topping the money list, and stood on the 18th tee, a par five, on six-under. A birdie would have taken him level with Donald but his tee shot leaked to the right and found the stream. A superb approach to four feet ensured he walked off with a par to finish one adrift of Donald.

Padraig Harrington, sporting a hugely-impressive moustache for Movember, put himself firmly in contention with a six birdie, one bogey 67. He was joined on five-under by Lee Westwood who played superbly on a course that suits his game. Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen, Fredrik Anderson Hed and Richie Ramsay are also at five-under.

Marc Warren set the early mark with a brilliant six-under 66. The Scot was among the early starters and on the back of some heavy morning rain that made the greens extremely receptive, he cashed in with a string of birdies. He was joined on six-under by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

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