After 102 days off, Rory McIlroy pleased with first round of 2018
January 18, 2018
By The Associated Press
- Rory McIlroy plays his tee shot on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Gof Championship. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Making his first competitive appearance since October, Rory McIlroy's patience was tested Thursday. He needed three late birdies to register a 3-under 69, leaving him three strokes behind first-round leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
"First competitive round in over 100 days so it's a little bit different," said McIlroy, the 2016 FedExCup champ who last played at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on Oct. 8. "But I did well. I stayed patient."
McIlroy's last start on the PGA TOUR was last season's BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs. He then made two starts on the European Tour before starting his off-season.
Starting on the 10th hole, McIlroy made 11 straight pars, which included a three-putt par on the par-5 18th.
McIlroy, who hit 17 greens in regulation, collected his first birdie of the day by making an uphill 15-foot putt at the third and made further birdies at the seventh and eighth.
"I gave myself loads of chances," McIlroy said. "Really pleased. I played very solid. I think I only missed one or two greens, drove the ball well and the iron play was pretty good. So just need to keep doing that over the next three days and I should have a chance."
Fleetwood, the defending Abu Dhabi champion and last year's European Tour money-list winner, continued his excellent form by hitting all 18 greens in regulation.
Fleetwood said he had control of his ball throughout.
"It was very good, very stress-free," he said. "Played really well from start to finish.
"Felt like I did what you need to do well around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons, but you can't really be too greedy all the time. My pace putting was really good. (Hitting) 18 greens doesn't happen very often so nice to do it around here."
There was a five-way tie for third place with Fabrizio Zanotti, Ross Fisher, Thomas Pieters, Bernd Wiesberger and Sam Brazel shooting 67s.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson drove his ball into a lake at the ninth, his closing hole, to finish with a 72. Matt Kuchar was also on level-par while Justin Rose went one better with a 71.