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Dubai, United Arab Emirates • Rory McIlroy took another step toward regaining his form Thursday with his lowest score in more than three years, a 9-under 63 while playing with Tiger Woods to take a two-shot lead in the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy played bogey-free in ideal scoring conditions on the Maglis course at Emirates Golf Club, picking up six birdies and an eagle during a 10-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He easily upstaged Woods, who was five shots behind after a 68.
Edoardo Molinari made an eagle on the par-4 second hole on his way to a 65. The group at 66 included Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion who also played with Woods and McIlroy.
McIlroy had his best score since a 63 in the Hong Kong Open in November 2010.
Woods managed to hit just half of the fairways in regulation, but taking only 25 putts helped him. The world's No. 1 player also made his first birdie of the year on a par 5, his opening hole at No. 10. Woods did not birdie any of the 12 par 5s he played last week at Torrey Pines, where he missed the 54-hole cut.
Phil Mickelson's back was better than his game in the Phoenix Open at Scottsdale, Ariz.
Returning to play after withdrawing from Torrey Pines last Friday night because of back pain, Mickelson opened his title defense with an even-par 71 at TPC Scottsdale. That left him seven strokes behind leaders Bubba Watson and Y.E. Yang.
Mickelson first felt soreness in his back two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and pulled out of his hometown event in San Diego after making the 36-hole cut. He flew to Georgia to see back specialist Tom Boers and was told his facet joints locked up.
Watson and Yang shot 64.
Watson birdied four of the final six holes. The 2012 Masters champion had eight birdies and a bogey.
Yang birdied the final two holes. The 2009 PGA winner also had eight birdies and a bogey.
Dubai Desert Classic
Rory McIlroy -9
Edoardo Molinari -7
Five tied at -6
Tiger Woods -4