Dubai: Rory McIlroy called on caddy JP Fitzgerald to help him sink six birdies on the back nine in the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday to finish six under and three shots behind surprise leader Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
World number two McIlroy, playing the afternoon round, was one over after seven holes, but then turned to fellow-Ulsterman Fitzgerald to judge the greens.
"I started to get J P to read the putts with me on the back nine, which helped - I`m finding these greens very difficult to read this year because there is so much more grain on them than usual," McIlroy told reporters at Dubai`s Majlis course.
"Sometimes you see a lot more of the putt from a side view, so it`s good to get a second opinion, especially on greens like this where sometimes the grain isn`t that obvious from behind the ball."
McIlroy, 22, was one of only three players on the 10-man leaderboard to play in the afternoon, after Cabrera-Bello had thrived on a brilliant, windless morning to shoot nine under.
"It`s the first day so you shouldn`t really be thinking about scores posted on the leaderboard," said McIlroy. "But of course you see nine under on the board early and you`re thinking you have to get off to a fast start, not fall too far behind."
The back nine in Dubai are kinder, with three par-fives and a couple of short par-fours.
"(It) is a much more scoreable nine, while on the front nine you have a tough stretch where the course doesn`t give you anything," added McIlroy.
Cabrera-Bello, ranked 119 in the world, carded 63 to eclipse tournament favourites McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer and evoke memories of his most famous achievement, an 11 under final round of 60 at the Austrian Open in 2009 that secured his only European Tour title.
"After nine under on my first 11 holes I momentarily thought about shooting 59, but I quickly put that silly thought out of my mind," Cabrera-Bello, 27, told reporters.
"If you are leading after three rounds, you can think about winning, but leading after the first round you only have to think about how many times the first round leader ends up winning, which I don`t think is a good percentage."
Starting on the 10th tee, the Spaniard shot seven birdies in the opening nine holes and added two more at holes one and two before making par on the final seven.
Fellow outsiders Marcel Siem and Scott Jamieson are joint second, both shooting seven under despite being outside the world top 200.
Germany`s Kaymer eagled the par-five 18th as he surged from one under after 12 holes to six under by the finish, tied with McIlroy and five others.
Thomas Bjorn, Classic champion in 2001, also scored six-under and the big Dane said conditions were conducive to low scores.
"These greens are as good as they come so people are going to hole puts and that always gives good scoring," Bjorn told Reuters. "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."