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November 20, 2009

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Allenby sets the early pace in Dubai

ROBERT Allenby shot a seven-under 65 yesterday for a one-shot lead after the first round of the Dubai World Championship, while Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy kept up their battle for the European Tour money title.

Allenby, a 38-year-old Australian who plays mainly on the US PGA Tour, had eight birdies and only one bogey on the Earth Course, which is hosting the US$7.5 million final event of the European Tour season.

Allenby was one shot ahead of England's Westwood, Chris Wood and Colombian Camilo Villegas, who all shot six-under 66s.

When the tournament ends on Sunday, the top player on the European Tour's money list will win a US$1.5 million bonus from the new Race to Dubai.

Westwood, lying second in the race, was two shots ahead of money leader McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who shot a 68. Westwood produced three birdies in the final four holes to boost his chances of overtaking McIlroy's US$191,000 lead in the money race.

The two other players in contention for the money title were further off the pace. Germany's Martin Kaymer shot a 71, and England's Ross Fisher had a 73.

It was only last weekend that Allenby, resting at his home in Florida, decided to travel to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, with a new set of clubs in his bag.

He adjusted quickly to their feel on the desert course, designed by fellow Australian Greg Norman.

Allenby, who has missed only one cut in European Tour events in 10 years, approached his club supplier Srixon for a new set of irons, to comply with new rules on clubhead grooves which come into force on Jan. 1.

"They were sent to my home in Florida after I returned from the HSBC tournament in Shanghai and they were just sitting there," he said. "But when I hit them once on the range I really liked the way they felt.

"Although I was not gaining a lot of distance with them, I tried to work out what I needed to do to create more spin with them and now my ball flight is so much better than it was. I definitely liked them and I have really noticed a big change."

Earlier in the day, Villegas and Wood, playing for the first time in a month after injuring an ankle falling down a flight of stairs during a tournament in Spain, had taken the clubhouse lead with 66s. That score was matched later in the day by Westwood.

Villegas arrived in Dubai saying he was tired after a recent hectic international schedule that took him to tournaments in Spain, China and New Zealand.

"If you look at it, that's five nights spent on a plane in one month and that's something I am going to have to get used if I am to play schedules on both sides of the Atlantic," he said.

China's Liang Wenchong carded a four-under 68.

After notching his fifth birdie on the 12th, Liang stumbled with bogeys on the 14 and 17, but tidied up his round with a birdie on the last.

"The pin positions on the 14th and 17th were very tricky and I three-putted them both," Liang said.

"But fortunately my all-round game earned my good score.

"It's great to be in this position in the first Dubai World Championship but it's now important for me to go on from here."


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