Rory McIlroy brilliantly emerged from a near three-hour fog delay to find his way into the clubhouse lead with an eight-under par 64 on day one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Once the fog lifted the current World No. 6 was at his majestic best in seizing eight birdies to produce his lowest Abu Dhabi score in 39 rounds on the National course in the UAE capital. McIlroy headed to the clubhouse a shot clear of England’s Tyrrell Hatton who snatched two eagles in his round, at the par-5 10th and 18th holes, in a round of seven-under par 65.
McIlroy’s sizzling 64 is the 10th occasion he has commenced a round with a 64 or lower while his prior lowest score in Abu Dhabi was a pair of 65s (Day three 2018 & day three 2011). His prior lowest opening day score on the Peter Harradine-designed National course layout was a 66 in both 2016 and 2009.
Sporting a standout pink shirt, McIlroy produced a standout display of superb driving, precise iron play while also seeing the hole as though it was a bucket on the greens. Though in saying that, his first drive since sharing fifth place in last November’s Masters was way right off the tee but McIlroy was soon back on the ‘short stuff’ to set-up a 15-footer for birdie at the par-5 10th hole.
McIlroy, playing in the company of good friend and World No. 3 Justin Thomas, grabbed birdies also at the 12th, 15th and 18th holes to make the turn at four-under par. The Holywood golfer then made it three birdies in succession at the first, where after finding the rough left off the tee he holed an eight-footer, and then birdied the par-5 second hole to leap to six-under par .
McIlroy muscled his way into the lead at seven-under in holing a 15-footer from behind the flag at the par-4 sixth hole that he was playing as his 15th before moving to eight-under in holing a superb 20-footer at the eighth or his 17th hole ahead of a closing par.
“I was very pleased as a lot of it was very good,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part, a couple of swirly ones in the middle of the round. Distance control was really good. I think I started off really well. Hit a lot of nice iron shots. But honestly it was probably the best I’ve putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career. I’ve shot some really good scores here but I holed some really good ones today. And I’ve always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept me going.”
McIlroy, as mentioned, had not played since last November’s rescheduled Masters and had purposely not teed-up until some nine weeks later to spend quality time with wife Erica and newborn daughter, Poppy. And after an indifferent run of results since the June 11th lifting of the lockdown, he admitted he sensed a turnaround in his game at the BMW Championship that was in full swing on day one of his 11th showing in Abu Dhabi.
“I sensed something starting at the end of the summer,” McIlroy explained. “One of the first breakthroughs I made was the second Playoff event, the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. I played well there and felt like I sort of found something. Next week, our daughter was born and I went to the Tour Championship and ended up playing pretty well. Played pretty well at the U.S. Open with a couple of not-so-great rounds, and then played okay at the Masters, just apart from a bad nine holes.
“So it was getting better as the year went on, and honestly it was sort of disappointing that it finished when it did because I felt like I was getting right back into it. I didn’t really take much time off after Augusta. I sat at home for maybe three or four days and was like I just need to get out there and sort of keep this going. I played quite a bit over the Christmas break and practiced quite a bit. Felt maybe as sharp as I’ve ever done coming into the start of the season. It’s paid off early.”
As for the other Irish in the field, European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington posted four birdies in a two-under par round of 70. Both Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell were both under par after a couple of holes but won’t finish their opening rounds on day one after the fog delay on Thursday morning.
- Full scoring HERE