Rafael Cabrera-Bello leads in Dubai

Rafael Cabrera-Bello fired a blistering nine-under 63 to take the day one lead at the Dubai Desert Classic – but world number two Rory McIlroy remains the clear favourite after a birdie blitz of his own.

Spaniard Cabrera-Bello burst out of the traps with nine birdies in his first 11 holes to spark talk of the European Tour’s first ever 59 but the red numbers dried up on his second nine.

However, despite seven closing pars he still finished the day with a two-shot lead over Germany’s Marcel Siem and Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, with McIlroy a further stroke back.

“It felt simple. I know it’s not and I know it’s really hard to repeat. But it felt like everything was going nice and smooth today,” said Cabrera-Bello, who also showed his ability to shoot low scores by closing with a remarkable 11-under 60 to win the 2009 Austrian Open.

While delighted with his start, the 27-year-old said it was far too soon to be thinking about winning.

“I don’t think anyone who plays good in any tournament in the first round thinks about winning,” Cabrera-Bello said. “I’m sure that is one thing you shouldn’t do. You only need to think about how many times the first-round leader ends up winning, which I don’t think is a very good percentage.”

McIlroy looks the biggest threat after shaking off a slow start with a stunning scoring burst.

The US Open champion was one over par walking off the eighth green before reeling off six birdies in seven holes. He added pars at 16 and 17 and then hit a towering four-iron to the par five 18th to set up an eagle chance.

His putt just slipped by but a seventh birdie in this final 10 holes saw him post six-under and finish in a tie for fourth with world number four Martin Kaymer, former Dubai winner Thomas Bjorn, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, South African Richard Sterne and French pair Gregory Bourdy and Romain Wattel

Speaking about the turnaround, McIlroy said: “I knew I just needed to get something to happen to get me going and I made a nice birdie on nine to turn in level par and then went on a run from there.

“Going out and seeing nine-under on the board early, it’s tough. But if you stay patient and give yourself plenty of chances this course is quite scoreable.”

The 22-year-old wasn’t happy with his swing in Abu Dhabi despite finishing in second place but said he saw improvement here when it clicked in before the turn.

“It felt good probably after six or seven holes when I got a little bit more confidence in it,” said McIlroy. “I drove the ball pretty well today which I was quite pleased with.

“Definitely going in the right direction. I still need to work on a couple of things but if I can work like this and still shoot these scores it’s pretty good.”

World number three Lee Westwood will feel he left several shots out there despite shooting a solid three-under 69 while defending champion Alvaro Quiros had a horror start with three birdies in his first four holes before hitting back with five birdies to post two-under 70.

Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, who was paired with McIlroy and Quiros, couldn’t find any spark and had to settle for a one-over 73.

Kaymer posted his 66 after an eagle at the last and said: “I think I played very well, I hit a lot of good golf shots, a lot of good iron shots, I had plenty of chances today.

“I’m ready to go again. I just want to play more and more. I feel good about the week.”

Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher produced the shot of the day by scoring a hole-in-one at the par three 15th. It helped him to a three-under 69.