By Bernie McGuire
DUBAI, Jan 29 (Reuters) - A dynamic sequence of five birdies in a row lifted Austrian Bernd Wiesberger to the top of the leaderboard on eight-under 64 after the Dubai Desert Classic first round on Thursday.
World number one Rory McIlroy was handily placed on 66, as was Scotland's Stephen Gallacher who is bidding for a hat-trick of victories after landing the trophy in 2013 and 2014.
Sharing second spot on seven-under were English pair Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan, Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium and American Peter Uihlein.
Twice tour winner Wiesberger, who had only 25 putts in ideal conditions at the Emirates Golf Club, reeled off birdies at the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th.
"I struggled with my putting early on, just didn't get the ball to the hole, and finally hit one close on six, got a nice birdie on nine and took advantage on the back nine," the 29-year-old from Vienna told reporters.
"Once I got the pace right on the greens, which was a bit slower than expected, the ball started dropping."
Wiesberger led after the second and third rounds of last week's Qatar Masters before finishing third behind South African winner Branden Grace.
That effort helped him jump eight places to 59th in the world rankings, within sight of becoming the first Austrian to qualify for the U.S. Masters.
Former winner McIlroy posted seven birdies, including two in succession at the start.
"Compared to when I first won here in 2009 my golf game is much better and these sort of scores come a lot easier to me these days," said the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.
"Managing my game and knowing how to shoot a score is kind of second nature whereas back then, 66 would have been a really good score for me. These days it's sort of what I expect of myself."
Gallacher showed he was not about to hand his crown back lightly, notching five birdies and an eagle and holing out from a greenside bunker.
"This round is a statement that I don't want to give the trophy back without a fight but then it is only the first round and I still have three rounds to play," said the Ryder Cup Scot.
Gallacher is looking to join a select group of five players to have won three European Tour events in a row.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)