Thursday, 21 January 2016
It's a great way to start the year - Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy was delighted with his morning's work as he began the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with a 66 on Thursday.

The World Number Three has finished second at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in four of the last five years and showed how comfortable he was as he opened birdie-birdie and then just lipped out for a third quick gain on the 12th.

He bounced back from a bogey on the 13th with back-to-back birdies and recovered straight away again after dropping a shot on the 17th to turn in 33. Three birdies on the front nine, his back nine, then left him two shots off the lead held by American amateur Bryson DeChambeau.

McIlroy is beginning his season in Abu Dhabi for the seventh straight year as he looks to defend his Race to Dubai title and the 26 year old is confident his game is in good shape.

"It's a great way to start the year," he said. "I felt in practice last week in Dubai that I was swinging well and I really came back mentally refreshed and really excited to play again. I think that showed out there today.

I was really excited to get going, especially playing in a group like that, first round of the year. So couldn't be happier - Rory McIlroy

"I drove the ball really well. I think that's one of the secrets of this golf course, if you can drive the ball well and keep it in play, because you can see if you do hit it into the rough it makes it awfully difficult, even just to reach the green.

"I drove the ball well and I'll need to keep doing that over the next three days to have a chance."

McIlroy was paired with World Number One Jordan Spieth and World Number Six Rickie Fowler with the former sitting just two shots behind his Northern Irish rival.

The competition between the two is set to be one of the stories of the season with McIlroy eager to reclaim top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he insists he is not looking to make a statement to the American.

"I don't know if it's about making a statement, but I just want to play well," he said. "I want to compete each and every week. I felt really ready to come out and play well here this week.

"I got off to a great start. Obviously there's still a long way to go, but I want to win every tournament I play.

"It's not about making statements or trying to lay down markers. It's just about trying to play the best that I can. I know if I do that, hopefully there's a lot of wins to come."

Spieth had six birdies and two bogeys in his round of 68 and he admitted he had been impressed by the form of his playing partner.

It was a masterclass, the Rory that I have seen win Major Championships - Jordan Spieth

"It was very impressive today and minus one or two short putts, which is mainly just rust, it felt like he was on his A game."

Of his own performance, he added: "I didn't drive the ball well, which is really the key out here. So to shoot four under with the way I felt with my driver is spectacular. Yes, I'm very pleased with that.

"I need to play the par fives better. I had 85 yards into two of them, played them one over on our back nine, the front nine, and that's a perfect number for me. I'm normally looking to make a four.

"I feel like I scrambled pretty well for the majority of the round, and then a couple wedge shots just really hurt me from making it a great round."

Branden Grace was the pick of the afternoon starters as he fired a 66 to sit alongside McIlroy at six under.

The South African had looked poised to seriously threaten the leader when he turned in 31 but could only pick up one shot on the back nine after a week in which he admitted he had been battling with his game.

"It was good," he said. "Obviously I started off strong from the start. Ball-striking coming into the week wasn't the best, so I did a lot of hard work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, trying to get the game in pretty decent shape.

"Today was something different. I hit the ball good from tee-to-green. A couple of bad swings, lost concentration around the turn, but those things happen. And on a golf course like this, anything from four and better under is a great score out here.

"The rough is thick and you just need to know where to miss it and I think I've done that well today."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1FOWLER, RickieUSA18-16
2PIETERS, ThomasBEL18-15
T3STENSON, HenrikSWE18-14
T5SIEM, MarcelGER18-11
T5SPIETH, JordanUSA18-11

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