Rory McIlroy continued his strong start to the new golf season with a seven under par first round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Following up on his third place finish last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, McIlroy carded a 65. 

Former Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson flirted with carding the first 59 on the European Tour before having to settle for an opening 62.

Donaldson, who secured the winning point for Europe at Gleneagles in 2014, began his round on the back nine of Emirates Golf Club and fired nine birdies and an eagle in his first 16 holes.

That left the Welshman needing two more birdies to break the magical 60 barrier, but after almost chipping in on the eighth and tapping in for par, the 42-year-old bogeyed the ninth to miss out on equalling the course record of 61.

Donaldson still enjoyed a one-shot lead over David Horsey and Anthony Wall, with Tyrrell Hatton a shot further back. Alongside McIlroy on seven under are Dane Lasse Jensen, England’s Chris Paisley, Alexander Bjork of Sweden and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters 

Paul Dunne also had a good day in the desert after his round of 66. The Greystones native hit four birdies and had an eagle at the last.  

Thursday was a low-scoring day and the head of the leaderboard was bunched, with 20 players within five shots of the lead, including Sergio Garcia on five under and Ian Poulter on minus four. 

McIlroy tees off

"I don't think you could have got better conditions out there," McIlroy said after his round.

"The greens in the morning are perfect and there wasn't much wind for probably the first 12 or 13 holes. So you needed to take advantage of it today. Thankfully I was able to do that.

"I feel like I left a few out there but at the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that."

Asked to compare his mood now and at the end of last season, the former world number one added: "It's a big difference. Not being able to play to my best last year was something that I was very frustrated with.

"But from then until now, it completely different. I'm really happy with where my body is, where my game is and this is just a progression of what I've seen over the past couple of months, which has been nice.

"I didn't expect to play as well as I did last week, and it's been nice to continue that into this week. Yeah, I'm ahead of schedule right now, but I don't mind that. That's nice. (I) Just have to reassess everything and go from there."