Rejuvenated McIlroy sets early pace in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy shrugged off a near three-hour fog delay to lead the pack. — Twitter
Rory McIlroy shrugged off a near three-hour fog delay to lead the pack. — Twitter

By James Jose

Published: Thu 21 Jan 2021, 5:48 PM

Last updated: Thu 21 Jan 2021, 8:37 PM

It may have been a pretty foggy morning, forcing a delay in the start of play, but Rory McIlroy’s eyesight was as clear as a Falcon’s, as he strode to the clubhouse lead on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday.

The world No.6, who was making his first appearance on the European Tour in 14 months, could see the greens crystal clear as he shot a flawless round at the testing National Course. By the time he returned to the Falcon-shaped clubhouse at the Course, past noon, the Northern Irishman had signed off on a card of eight-under 64. The three-time Race to Dubai champion fired eight birdies in his round.

The 31-year-old holds a one-stroke lead over Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, who came up with a seven-under par 65. Two strokes back was Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, while three shots further adrift were Frenchman Romain Langasque and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Defending Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood, who was paired with McIlroy and American Justin Thomas, shot a third-under 69 to be placed tied 10th along with eight others.

Teeing off from the 10th, two hours and 55 minutes later than his scheduled tee time, McIlroy began with a birdie on the par-5, before following it up with another on the par-3 186-yard 12th. He had birdie opportunities on the par-4s 13th and 14th but had to settle for pars.

McIlroy, who has 14 wins on the European Tour, then went on to birdie the par-3 177-yard 15th and par-4 562-yard 18th to complete his front nine.

McIiroy, who has finished second on four occasions and third thrice in 10 appearances here, started his return journey by rolling in back-to-back birdies on the first and second. And he wrapped up his round with birdies on the par-4 sixth and the par-5 eighth.

McIlroy’s best here had been a 65 and he was delighted to have lowered that mark.

“it feels good. I actually thought that to myself after I turned 4-under. I knew 65 is the best I've shot here and I've shot it a few times, so I thought let's try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that. It was obviously a lovely way to start the year” McIlroy said after his round.

“I've shot some really good scores here but I held 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. It was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi, probably in my whole career,” added McIlroy, whose first professional win came at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, at 19 years of age.

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