Rory McIlroy opened with a bogey-free 62 to lead the Dubai Invitational

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy is playing the Dubai Invitational to support a friend and get in some early-year practice in the pleasant weather.

The way he started, McIlroy could take home the trophy.

The No. 2-ranked Northern Irishman made nine birdies in a bogey-free, 9-under 62 to take a two-shot clubhouse lead in Thursday's first round of the European Tour event.

Germany's Yannick Paul was two shots back at the Dubai Creek Resort.

McIlroy sees the Dubai event — a tournament with a relaxed setting, no cut and no 60-man field — as a smooth way to ease into 2024.

On the team side of the event, he is partnered with Abdullah Al Naboodah, a non-executive director on the European Tour who helped set up the Dubai Invitational and whom McIlroy considers a good friend.

McIlroy certainly looked at home in Dubai, where he once lived and where he often visits earlier in the year to fine-tune his game.

No. Starting on 10, he made six birdies in eight holes around the turn during a spell in which he made six straight 3s.

No. He took the lead with a birdie from 5 feet on the 7th, then made another birdie on his last hole after a great approach to 8 feet from the rough of the fairway.

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