Every great player has tough seasons. Phil Mickelson didn't card a single win in 2003. Tiger Woods went two full seasons on the PGA Tour without a win between the end of '09 and the beginning '12, but the thing is, great champions tend to bounce back after those tough years and get right back to their winning ways.
For Rory McIlroy, 2013 might go down as that bad year. Rory didn't card a single win last season, finishing out of the top-20 in three of the four majors and struggling mightily with his game for most of '13.
But this year is a different one for Rory, and he showed it on Thursday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Playing alongside Tiger Woods, a man that finished '13 with five wins, Rory carded an opening 9-under 63 that was as good as you'd expect.
Rory's 63 on Thursday was the lowest score he has posted in a European Tour event since November of 2010, and was good enough to take a three-shot lead into the final three days of this star-heavy event.
McIlroy was able to do this simply by putting the ball in the fairway (12 of 14 on Thursday) and getting the ball in the hole when he had the chance, carding seven birdies and an eagle to go along with no bogeys.
Rory's 63 was five shots better than the 68 put down by Woods, but both looked very comfortable in the opening round playing alongside each other and both seem pretty content with their scores after the first day.
Now comes the tough part for Rory. We can praise a good opening round and even get excited about a solid tournament like he had at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship a couple of weeks ago where he finished T-2, but this kid is expected to win and that's something he hasn't done in quite some time.
Rory needs to continue to approach each round with this sense of confidence, strutting around the course with what looks like a completely opposite understanding of his game than he had a season ago. He is rolling the ball beautifully and hitting his driver as good as anyone in the field, so as long as he gets out of his way, avoids any dumb penalties and continues to wedge it close, expect him to be the story coming out of Dubai come Sunday.