Rory McIlroy is playing the Dubai Invitational as a favor to a friend and to get in some early-year practice in pleasant weather conditions.

The way he has started, McIlroy might end up taking 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 the first round of the European tour event Thursday.

Yannik Paul of Germany was two shots behind at Dubai Creek Resort.