DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Rafael Cabrera-Bello made nine birdies in his first 11 holes to finish at 9-under-par 63 on Thursday for a two-shot lead after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Marcel Siem and former Augusta State golfer Scott Jamieson each shot 65.
U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy was three shots back, making seven birdies on the last 10 holes. He’s tied for fourth with six other players, including 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer.
“I didn’t really get much going on the front nine,” McIlroy said. “And then I sort of got a few things going after that.”
Cabrera-Bello said he briefly thought about scoring 59, one shot better than his
career-best 60 that helped him win the Austrian Open. But he ended the round with seven consecutive pars.
“It felt simple. I know it’s not and I know it’s really hard to repeat,” the 119th-ranked Cabrera-Bello said. “But it felt like everything was going nice and smooth today.”
Third-ranked Lee Westwood had 69, and defending champion Alvaro Quiros shot 70. Robert Rock, who beat Tiger Woods and McIlroy at Abu Dhabi on Jan. 29, trails by 10 shots.
Cabrera-Bello, 27, said his consistent short game helped put him in contention for a second European Tour win and first since 2009. He chipped within 3 feet on his fourth hole for birdie, then sank a 20-foot birdie putt on his fifth and made a 15-foot putt on his eighth.
Cabrera-Bello said it’s too soon to start thinking about winning the tournament.
“I don’t think anyone who plays good in any tournament in the first round thinks about winning,” Cabrera-Bello said. “I’m sure that is one thing you shouldn’t do. … You only need to think about how many times the first-round leader ends up winning, which I don’t think is a very good percentage.”
McIlroy, who won the tournament in 2009 and finished second in January at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, started with six straight pars and a bogey. He sank clutch birdie putts on No. 9 and 11 and missed a hole-in-one on the par-3, 15 by a foot.
LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR: In Melbourne, Australia, Stacy Lewis and Sarah Kemp shared the Women's Australian Open lead at 4-under-par 69, leaving top-ranked Yani Tseng a stroke back in her bid to win the event for the third consecutive year.
Lewis, the Kraft Nabisco winner last year, had six birdies and two bogeys in the LPGA Tour opener at historic Royal Melbourne, the 2011 Presidents Cup venue that is playing host to a women’s professional event for the first time.
“I’m much more confident, just with the year I’ve had,” Lewis said. “I had such a consistent year. I was in contention quite a bit and you just get comfortable there. You don’t worry when you’re a couple under and you see your name on the leaderboard and it’s not that big of a deal.”
Kemp had a bogey-free round.
Tseng won the tournament, sanctioned this year by the LPGA Tour for the first time, the past two seasons at Commonwealth Golf Club. She went on to win 12 worldwide titles last year, including major victories in the LPGA Championship and Women’s British Open.
Long-hitting Brittany Lincicome, a two-time winner last season on the LPGA Tour, and Julieta Granada matched Tseng with 70 in the event also sanctioned by Australian Ladies Professional Golf and the Ladies European Tour.
Teen star Lexi Thompson opened with 74 as did14-year-old New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko also had 74.