Dubai: Rafael Cabrera-Bello was the early pace-setter in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf Thursday, ending on nine under par after sinking seven birdies in his opening nine holes.
Tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was on par after three holes, while world number two Lee Westwood finished on three under.
Cabrera-Bello, 27, belied his lowly world ranking of 119 and looked poised to challenge Ernie Els`s record 11 under at the Majlis course after surging to nine under with 11 holes played, but the Spaniard found the final seven tougher going, holing all of them for par.
Cabrera-Bello was joined on the leaderboard by German Marcel Siem and Scotland`s Scott Jamieson, who both shot seven under.
Siem blotted his copybook with a bogey on the par-five 18th, while Jamieson bagged two birdies and an eagle on his final six holes.
Thomas Bjorn, a Classic winner in 2011, was tied for fourth on six under.
"I played well today, anytime you shoot 66 on any golf course you have to be happy," the Dane told Reuters.
"Conditions were very good today and these greens are as good as they come, people are going to hole putts and that always gives good scoring. It doesn`t matter how hard you set up a golf course, when you offer guys these conditions, there is always someone who is going to shoot numbers."
World number two McIlroy teed off in the afternoon with last month`s Abu Dhabi Championship winner Robert Rock and defending Dubai champion Alvaro Quioros, who were one and two over respectively.