Rory McIlroy shot a 6-under 65 in the Omega European Masters first round on Thursday to trail surprise leader Nick Dougherty by two shots.
McIlroy got five birdies in his final eight holes, in his first tournament since injuring his right wrist three weeks ago, to share second place with Martin Kaymer, Lee Sung and Gary Boyd.
2011 OMEGA EUROPEAN MASTERS
The Omega European Masters is the first event in which players can earn points toward making the 2012 European Ryder Cup team.
“It’s a great way to start the week,” said McIlroy, the U.S. Open winner who can rise to No. 3 in the world rankings with victory here. “I’m sixth and I want to get higher.”
Dougherty’s eight-birdie, bogey-free round belied his horrible run of form stretching back to last season. The 29-year-old Englishman has missed the cut at 21 straight events and has zero earnings on the current European Tour money list.
“I don’t need to go into too much detail (about) how bad it has been,” Dougherty, a three-time winner on the European Tour, acknowledged. “It’s the first time I’ve manned up and had a go at it,” he said of his round. “I deserved every one of those eight under-pars.”
Fifth-ranked Kaymer matched McIlroy with seven birdies and just one bogey in his 65, as both started their rounds from the 10th hole.
McIlroy missed several birdie chances before finding his putting form.
“I felt as if I left a couple out there, but I’m not going to complain in my first round back after an injury,” the Northern Irishman said.
McIlroy damaged his wrist playing a shot against a tree root early in the PGA Championship, and the pain spread up his right arm as he tried to adjust. He showed no ill effects on Thursday, after two weeks spent recuperating in the United States with his new girlfriend, top-ranked tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.
“It’s totally fine. I’m able to hit all the shots I want to and not lose any distance,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy’s steady round took off with birdie putts of 3 feet and 20 feet at the second and third holes. His only blemish was a 5 at the fourth after hooking his tee shot into trees, but he recovered with a 12-footer at the fifth, then made a downhill 14-feet putt for birdie at the 6th.
Finishing on the 649-yard ninth, McIlroy’s third shot from the apron of the green was a bump-and-run chip to within inches.
Kaymer played in the group immediately ahead of McIlroy and quickly found his putting stroke, going to 3 under after six holes.
“I played very solid -- hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and good approaches,” Kaymer said of his competitive return after failing to defend his 2010 PGA Championship title in Atlanta.
Kaymer also rued missed chances, though his were on his homeward nine.
“I would have liked to make one or two birdies between (holes) 5 and 7. They are easy par 4s,” Kaymer said. Still, the German compensated with a 40-foot putt for birdie at the short eighth, then finished with a birdie at 9.
Alejandro Canizares of Spain and England’s Simon Dyson were on 5 under.
World No. 2 Lee Westwood and British Open winner Darren Clarke were in a group of six players on 4 under, four shots behind Dougherty.
Westwood’s adventurous round included two eagles and a double bogey, while he missed short par-saving putts at each of the final two holes.
The strong field reflects the popularity of the scenic, high-altitude course in the Swiss Alps. It’s also the first tournament that counts toward qualifying for the European team to face the United States in the 2012 Ryder Cup in Chicago.