Strong start for Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy in opening round action at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. IMAGE CANNOT BE REUSED - ONLY FOR ONLINE USE WITH PR FROM EUROPEAN TOUR.
Rory McIlroy in action in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Getty Images

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy may still be chasing his maiden victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but he certainly got his season off to a strong start in this year’s opening round.

The four-time Major winner carded a stunning eight-under-par 64 – his lowest ever round in 11 appearances at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

“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,” McIlroy said.

“Maybe played slightly better on our front nine, but I holed some really nice putts coming in for birdies. It was obviously a lovely way to start the year.”

McIlroy’s remarkable record in the tournament includes four runner-up finishes, three third place finishes, a top five and a top 15.

Tackling the first Rolex Series event of the 2021 Race to Dubai, he carded two birdies in the opening three holes, having teed off at the par five tenth which he duly birdied.

McIlroy then coasted to six more in a flawless round which left him one stroke clear at the top.

“A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part, a couple of swirly ones in the middle of the round,” he said.

“Distance control was really good. I think I started off really well. Hit a lot of nice iron shots.

Leading the chasing pack was three-time Rolex Series winner Tyrrell Hatton, who signed for a seven-under-par 65 which included a pair of eagles in his first nine holes.

Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti was a shot further back on six under, while Frenchman Romain Langasque and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain shared fifth place on five under.

Defending champion and reigning Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood opened with a three under 69.

Play was suspended due to darkness with round one set to restart at 7.40am local time.