x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rory McIlroy finds the going rough but still leads the way

Northern Irishman admits he struggled to match Tiger Woods in first round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Rory McIlroy produced a steady round to share the lead on The National Course.
Rory McIlroy produced a steady round to share the lead on The National Course.

ABU DHABI // Rory McIlroy betrayed signs of winter rust, and confessed to feeling driving envy while playing alongside Tiger Woods, yet still did enough yesterday to share the opening round lead at The National Course.

The Northern Irishman shot a five-under par 67 to leave his luminous playing partners, Woods and Luke Donald, the world No 1, in the shade at start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Robert Karlsson, the 2010 Dubai World Championship winner, was the only other player in the field to reach five-under par, on a day of relatively tough scoring. McIlroy spent his formative years idolising Woods and, despite being less-starry eyed than when he was first starting out, he acknowledged the American still casts a spell - not least with the length of his driving.

"When you see a guy out in front of you hitting it out there, you want to try and keep up with him," said McIlroy, the world No 3.

"It [hitting it further than Woods] did cross my mind a couple of times. At No 16, he took it way left, and I was thinking, I'm not sure if I can take it down that line."

Despite having seven birdies on his card, McIlroy reflected that his first competitive outing of 2012 had been "average", although he did win one notable admirer for his scrambling.

"It was good stuff to watch," said Woods, whose recent upturn in form continued with a solid round of 70 yesterday. "Rory didn't quite hit the ball as well as he would like, but he sure chipped and putted well."

Woods might have seen a glimpse of his former self in the way his young playing partner battled to the equal best score of the day, despite being some way short of his best.

McIlroy later reflected that he feels older than his 22 years, probably because he has been travelling the world playing high-profile golf tournaments since he was a 16 year old.

This round was a further sign of his growing maturity. "When you play really bad, turning 74s into 70s and you play average like today, turning a 70 into a 67, it makes a huge difference," he said.

The McIlroy-Woods-Donald match was the only one on the course in which all three players carded scores under par.

Even though two players, Juan Manuel Lara and Sergio Garcia, shot a hole-in-one apiece at the 12th, scoring was hardly the most prolific this competition has seen.

Lee Westwood, who will start at level par this morning, said the course played just as a championship course should, as it rewarded good shots and punished bad ones.

According to Karlsson, punitive rough and the strong field, with the world's top four players - and six of the top 10 - will make this a tough competition to win. "I don't think we are going to play many tournaments this year where there will be a stronger field than this," the Swedish player said.

"It is a pleasure to play here, the golf course is set up fantastically and it is a difficult test. The rough is very thick but the fairways and greens are fantastic."

Martin Kaymer, the most successful player in the history of this tournament, will start today in uncharted territory for him, nine shots behind the leaders.

"I said to my caddie, if you putt like Stevie Wonder, you can't make any birdies," said Kaymer, who is chasing a third successive win here.

"The golf course is definitely much tougher than the last few years. I need one of those rounds I've played in the past, one of those mid-60s."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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