Thursday 14 December 2017

Paul McGinley rolls back the years to make promising start in Abu Dhabi

Paul McGinley of Ireland follows his ball on the 14th hole during the 1st round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi
Paul McGinley of Ireland follows his ball on the 14th hole during the 1st round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi

Phil Casey

Sergio Garcia predicted more players would suffer injuries in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship after labelling the rough "dangerous" on Thursday.

Garcia suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-tournament pro-am and exacerbated the problem hitting from the thick rough, 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 after struggling to an opening 76 that left him nine shots off the lead shared by England's Matthew Baldwin, France's Romain Wattel and Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley celebrated the anniversary of his appointment by carding a fine 68 to finish one shot off the pace, while Rory McIlroy returned a flawless 70 and Open champion Phil Mickelson shot an uncharacteristic 73 with 17 straight pars and one bogey.

Michael Hoey (-3), Damien McGrane (-2), Padraig Harrington(-1) and Simon Thornton (-1) are the only other Irish participants under par.

"The problem is they have cut it from green to tee and the ball nestles down," Garcia said of the rough. "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 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."

Mickelson revealed he had also hurt his back playing from the rough on the ninth, his final hole, the left-hander conceding his much-vaunted new driver had not lived up to its pre-tournament billing.

"I kind of hurt myself going after one," said Mickelson, who could not remember his last round without a birdie. "When you go really hard into it and it grabs your club, your body jars up and I kind of twinged my back there on that last hole.

"You've got to be careful and maybe just kind of 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."

Scotland's Marc Warren managed the conditions well enough to lie one off the lead after a 68, but said: "The course is really lush and that's making the rough really, really penal.

"And I think that they have been maybe been a little bit cheeky and brushed the rough towards us a little bit; a couple of times I noticed that today. I think they are determined to test us to the limit."

Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer, who was 24 under par for the last of his three victories here in 2011, added: "It was very, very thick rough, you can compare it with the US Open.

"Twenty four under is not very realistic. If you shoot three under every day you have a very good chance to win the tournament."

Responding to Garcia's criticism, tournament director Miguel Vidaor said that cutting the rough from green to tee was standard practice and that the rough had actually been cut more often than in previous years.

A statement from Vidaor read: "We have three gradients of rough, semi at 30mm, intermediate at 62mm and the remainder at 72mm. In past years we have cut the remainder to 72mm the Sunday before the tournament week and on the Monday of the tournament week itself, but have then left it to grow.

"However, this year due to the success of the overseeding process - which was enhanced firstly by the warm and wet weather immediately after that process was undertaken and by the warm and wet weather last week - we took the decision to cut the rough back again to 72mm on Wednesday as well, such was the growth. Therefore we have actually cut the rough back more this year than in previous years."

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