DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy birdied his last hole to keep pace with Danny Willett in their chase for the Race to Dubai trophy on the opening day of the European Tour's season-ending World Tour Championship on Thursday.
McIlroy chipped in from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole to card 4-under 68, tied with Willett, two shots behind the four leaders. McIlroy and Willett are the main contenders to finish No. 1 for the season. Five others are in contention, but whoever finishes higher between McIlroy and Willett is expected to claim the trophy.
Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Andy Sullivan, and Marcus Fraser topped the leaderboard with 6-under 66s at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
McIlroy made the turn at 2 under, bogeyed the 10th, recovered with consecutive birdies and capped his round with an accurate chip off his fourth shot.
"Nice way to finish," he said. "It was a bit scrappy before that. In between those birdies (on 11 and 12) and the birdie at the last, there was a bit of ugly golf in there."
Willett had a similar round: He went 2 under going out, bogeyed one soon after the turn and birdied the last hole.
"It's what everyone wanted. It's very close," Willett said. "It's going to be a great tussle all week."
Francesco Molinari was 5 under, sitting between the leaders and McIlroy, Willett and six others at 4 under.
Justin Rose, who was third in the Race to Dubai, made successive bogeys in his last two holes for 1-under 71.
Two-time defending champion Henrik Stenson dropped five shots in his last four holes for 77.
LPGA: Austin Ernst shot 6-under 66 to take a one-shot lead over Mi Hyang Lee after the opening round of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome was in a group of six at 4 under. "It's great to come in and have a good round on the first day," Lincicome said. "My dad always told me, you can't win it on the first day but you can definitely lose it. So I put myself in contention a little bit."
Also 4 under was Sei Young Kim, a three-time winner this year who already has wrapped up rookie of the year honors and entered the week as one of nine players with a shot at winning the "Race to CME Globe" and the accompanying $1 million bonus.
Lydia Ko was in a group of four at 3 under to move closer to earning player of the year honors, plus the scoring and money titles.
PGA: Kevin Kisner made eagle on his penultimate hole for 7-under 65 on the Plantation Course and a one-shot lead based on par after the first round of the RSM Classic at St. Simons Island, Ga. Eight players were 6 under as the tournament — formerly known as the McGladrey Classic — for the first time in its six years is being contested over two courses. The other is the par-70 Seaside Course.
Davis Love IV — a 21-year-old junior at Alabama who earned a spot through a qualifier — made his tour debut playing with his father, tournament host Davis Love III, and Justin Thomas. Both Loves shot par 70 on the Seaside Course. Thomas shot 67.