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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Tommy Fleetwood gets his Abu Dhabi title defence off to a flying start

The Englishman hits a round of 66 to be the early clubhouse leader on the first day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood carded a round of 66 on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.  Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood carded a round of 66 on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Reigning champion Tommy Fleetwood made a superb start to his title defence at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, firing a 6-under par 66 on Thursday to take his place at the top of the leaderboard.

The Englishman, out early in the marquee group alongside world No 1 Dustin Johnson and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, opened with a birdie and then added five more for a flawless opening day’s work.

By the time Fleetwood had finished his first round, only Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti was within one shot of the European No 1. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher was two back.

Meanwhile, McIlroy took a while to get going on his long-awaited return to competitive action, parring every hole until he sank a birdie, finally, on the par-4 third – his 12th.

The Northern Irishman, a four-time runner-up in Abu Dhabi, then birdied two of his final three holes to post an opening 69.

Johnson was the worst of the trio, matching four birdies with four bogeys to finish on even-par. The American is making his second appearance in Abu Dhabi after finishing joint-second 12 months ago.

The morning’s other standout three-ball comprised Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and debutant Matt Kuchar, with the group going out one slot before the Fleetwood group.

Stenson earned the early bragging rights, though, carding a 2-under 70, with Rose one shot worse off and Kuchar one further back.

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