Golf-Steady as she goes for jet-lagged McIlroy in Sydney

By Nick Mulvenney SYDNEY, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy admitted to feeling fatigued from jet-lag and an early alarm call on Thursday but the first round of his Australian Open title defence was by no means a damage limitation exercise. Starting his day with rain clouds casting an early morning gloom over The Australian Golf Club, the world number one produced a solid round of two-under-par 69 for an early share of second place. The Northern Irishman's driver was dialled in, though his short game let him down a little with a string of birdie putts going begging on the manicured greens of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. A birdie at his fifth hole was followed immediately by a bogey that saw the 25-year-old reach the turn at level par and he hit three more birdies to a single blemish on the way in. Finishing with a flourish, his sublime approach shot at the ninth, his final hole, left him with a simple two-foot putt which he drained with alacrity. "It took me a little while to get going," he told reporters after signing his card. "The conditions were pretty tricky. It was tough to get the ball close to the pins with the wind and these greens being quite firm as well. "I thought anything under par today was a decent score and it was nice to birdie the last and shoot something in the 60s. It puts me right there going into tomorrow." Last year, McIlroy also shot a 69 at the par-72 Royal Sydney in the opening round but it was an effort he described as "wasteful" as Australian Adam Scott soared into an early lead with a 10-under-par course record. He recovered the ground over the final three rounds, however, before snaring a birdie on the final green to snatch the Stonehaven Cup from Scott's grasp. "Golf tournaments are long, all you want to do is give yourself a chance going into Sunday," the British Open and U.S. PGA Championship title-holder added. "I definitely feel like there's a better score out there. I gave myself a lot of chances early on in the round and didn't really take them. "I just know I can play better, so I feel if I'm on my game, I can get it going and shoot something in the low to mid 60s." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)