McIlroy 'ahead of schedule' after continuing fine start to 2018

Rory McIlroy believes he is ahead of schedule in his bid to compete again with golf's elite after starting the Dubai Desert Classic with a blemish-free 65.

The four-time major champion endured a winless, injury-hit 2017 and, despite placing third upon his return from a self-enforced break in Abu Dhabi last week, has slipped out of the top 10 in the world rankings.

McIlroy has shown plenty of signs of returning to his best, though, and was seven under, without a bogey, to open his tournament at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, a score that left him just three off leader Jamie Donaldson.

And the Northern Irishman is happy with how he is feeling physically.

"I didn't expect to play as well as I did last week and it's been nice to continue that into this week," he said.

"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.

"I was excited about the process of trying to get better and trying to get my body better, my game better, so I was excited about that.

"But not being able to play to my best last year was something that I was very frustrated with.

"From then until now, it's 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."

McIlroy added: "It was nice to get off to a good start that way and sort of put yourself right in contention in the tournament straight away.

"That's honestly one of my goals this year. I feel like I started off last year a little bit sort of 71, 70 instead of getting right into the thick of things from the start. So, it's been nice to start the last couple of weeks like that.

"There's so many chances out here that I knew if I got into a rhythm that some would fall. I feel like I left a few out there but the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that."

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