By Bernie McGuire in Abu Dhabi.
Seamus Power clearly benefited from having a scorecard in hand for a second tournament in three weeks, posting a superb six-under 66 to be lying fourth on day one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
It did take Power nine holes before a first birdie but he then completed his inward nine in five-under, including back-to-back birdies at his 10th and 11th holes and then birdieing 13 and 14 ahead of a birdie at his 17th on the host Yas Links course.
European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald surprised many in muscling his way to the lead with an impressive eight-under 64 that included birdieing his closing four holes.
However, he laughed off suggestions of picking himself for September’s Ryder Cup showdown in Rome.
Donald’s effort and after last week overseeing the Hero World Cup at the nearby Abu Dhabi Golf Club course, handed him a one-shot advantage over Aussie Jason Scrivener and Italian sensation Guido Migliozzi with 65s.
Power arrived in the UAE having played the first ‘individual’ tournament of the New Year with a mid-field finish in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
It means Texas-based Austrian Sepp Straka and Power are the only players in this week’s record-setting $US 9m event to have teed-up this New Year prior to arriving in the UAE.
Of course, all but one player, and that is Thomas Detry from last week’s 20-player Hero Cup field, are also competing this week, though the team format of the Hero Cup does not come with having to play with a scorecard in hand.
Power was out in the third group of the day and finishing as it got windier and also a lot cloudier and cooler.
“All parts of my game were good today and while nothing unbelievably stood out, nothing was weak, and I think having played last fortnight in Hawaii helped today,” Power said.
“It was back to playing your own golf ball while I figured out a little bit more about the strategy of tackling the course, as it my first visit here.
“There were a good few birdies on my card and if I had to pick out one it would be at my ninth hole sinking a three-footer as that got my score going.
“I birdied the next two holes, got a good break in making par on my 12th while I had good chances on my 16th and final holes, but then that’s being a typical golfer as you are focussing on the ones that didn’t go in.”
With still 17 players to complete their round when darkness halted play, Power was a shot clear of fellow Irishman Shane Lowry who bounced back from last week’s Hero Cup disappointment with an eagle and three birdies in his 67.
Padraig Harrington was out in the afternoon half of the draw, and with the sky already in sunset mode, he was disappointed to walk off in three-putting the last for a par, and a score of 68.
Harrington capped his round with an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole but gave a shot back at the next.
“It would have been nice to birdie the last, so that would have been a nice return but overall it was pretty solid,” he said.
“I’ve had a nice break since Paddy and I played early last month in the PNC Championship so it’s nice to get back into competition.”
Harrington, like Lowry, is electing to compete in three of the UAE events, including next week’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic and next fortnight’s Ras Al Khaimah Championship and, as such, it’s meant not travelling the long distance to Hawaii and side-stepping the ‘winners only’ start to the 2023 Champions Tour.
“I have always enjoyed playing the early season events out here in the UAE and besides, it’s a long way to Hawaii, and I just enjoy these tournaments so much,” said Harrington.
“My golf is all about making sure I am enjoying myself and not feeling misery in three-putting the last (smiling).”
In contrast to Harrington being a regular competitor in the Middle East, Tom McKibbin’s debut produced a mixed bag of five birdies, three bogeys and a double that leaves him with work to do at even par.
- Full scoring HERE