Monday 19 March 2018

Flawless driving helps Rory McIlroy into contention in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks on the eighth hole during the Abu Dhabi Golf championship
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks on the eighth hole during the Abu Dhabi Golf championship

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy is bang in contention after the first round after a strong start to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Former world number one Rory McIlroy's superb driving meant he had minimal problems with the rough, the 24-year-old carding a flawless 70.

"I played well and was very happy with how I hit the ball from tee to green," said McIlroy, who missed the cut here last year in his first event with his new clubs, but ended a difficult 2013 with victory in the Australian Open in December.

"I hit it long and straight and just did not take advantage of some of the opportunities, especially on the last two holes. It definitely could have been a bit better but it's a solid start and I was pleased."

McIlroy was three shots off the lead with over half of the players out on course.

Damien McGrane (-2), John Parry (+4) and Padraig Harrington (-1) are the other Irish players to have finished their round.

Sergio Garcia labelled the rough as "dangerous" after struggling to a four-over-par 76 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Garcia suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-tournament pro-am and exacerbated the problem hitting from the thick rough on Thursday, the Spaniard needing treatment from a European Tour physio for three holes.

The 34-year-old will receive further treatment before deciding whether to continue in the event and warned other players could suffer similar issues.

"The problem is they have cut it from green to tee and the ball nestles down," Garcia said. "Every single ball nestles down and you can't hit it 100 yards.

"I have tweaked a muscle and hitting from the rough is not helping. We will see how it feels tomorrow. Hopefully I am not the only one (who gets hurt), but unfortunately the way the course is set up it could happen to more people."

Asked if he felt the rough was dangerous, Garcia added: "I would say so."

Open champion Phil Mickelson revealed he had also hurt his back playing from the rough on the ninth, his final hole, the left-hander carding his only bogey of the day there after 17 pars.

"I kind of hurt myself going after one," said Mickelson, who was unable to remember the last round he had completed without a single birdie. "I twinged my back on the last hole. You have to be careful and maybe just wedge it out and not risk any injury.

"It's a world-class course and there's nothing unfair about it - it's just difficult. Tomorrow I will have to be very conservative off the tee just to put it in play."

England's Simon Dyson, playing his first event since being handed a suspended ban from the European Tour for illegally tapping down a spike mark in the BMW Masters in October, carded an opening 73 to lie six shots off the lead.

That was shared by England's Matthew Baldwin, France's Romain Wattel and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello, with Scotland's Marc Warren and Holland's Joost Luiten among those a shot behind on four under.

Out on the course, Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was four under par after 10 holes, with former world number one Luke Donald on the same score after eight. European number one Henrik Stenson, playing alongside Donald, was level par.

McGinley, who was named captain here 12 months ago, picked up further shots on the 10th and 11th to improve to five under par and claim a share of the lead.

And Donald was just a shot behind after a birdie on the ninth made it three in a row, the Englishman seemingly benefitting from the work done with new long-game coach Chuck Cook late last year.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport