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Nicolai Hojgaard leads after 1st round in Dubai as McIlroy, Rahm falter

David Cannon / David Cannon Collection / Getty

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Nicolai Hojgaard used his Ryder Cup debut to learn off the best golfers in the world.

Now he’s upstaging them.

Hojgaard, a 22-year-old Dane regarded as one of the great hopes of the European game, held a share of the first-round lead at the season-ending World Tour Championship after shooting 5-under 67 at the Earth Course in Dubai on Thursday.

French players Julien Guerrier and Matthieu Pavon were tied with Hojgaard as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm — ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively — faltered down the stretch to drop off the leaderboard.

McIlroy made three bogeys in his final seven holes — one coming after his tee shot at the par-3 13th hole ended up on the lap of a spectator — and shot 71. Rahm shot even par after finishing bogey-bogey.

Hojgaard was a rookie and the youngest player at the Ryder Cup won by Europe last month outside Rome, and spent time inside and outside the team room watching how the likes of Rahm and McIlroy operate.

In his two European tour events since golf’s biggest show, Hojgaard tied for second at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa last week and now he’s leading the $10 million tour finale.

“Just being around those guys, seeing what they do, what do I do different and what do I need to work on, it gave me a lot of confidence going into the end of the season,” Hojgaard said. “You want to play with those guys but you want to beat them, too.”

Fourth-ranked Viktor Hovland, who won the equivalent event — the Tour Championship — on the PGA Tour in August, shot 69, including making bogey after needing to chip off a wooden bridge at No. 17. He was tied for seventh place, two strokes off the lead.

McIlroy has already clinched the Race to Dubai title and been named Europe's No. 1 player for the fifth time, taking away one of the big subplots of the week.

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