Rory McIlroy reaped the benefits of a cut off season with a brilliant start to the £ 5.8 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy has a remarkable record in Abu Dhabi with four second places, three thirds and a fifth in his last nine starts, but he has yet to taste victory in one of the biggest events of the European Tour.
The four-time major winner also got through the third winless season of his professional career in 2020, but picked up a nearly three-hour miss to start 2021 in style with a flawless 64 to enjoy a one-time lead over the Ryder Cup team. mate Tyrrell Hatton at eight under par.
Rory McIlroy got off to an exciting start in Abu Dhabi with an eight-under-round of 64
McIlroy’s score of 64 is his lowest ever score in Abu Dhabi in a promising start to his 2021 campaign
“It feels good,” McIlroy told Sky Sports after surpassing his previous best score in Abu Dhabi. ‘That’s what I actually thought to myself after I turned four.
‘I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I shot it a few times, so I thought, let’s try and do the next nine better and it worked.
“Maybe I played a little better on our front nine, but I ran in some really nice putts for birdies. It was probably the best I’ve planted these greens in Abu Dhabi, probably in my entire career.
‘I’ve always struggled to read them here, but I’ve kind of asked my attention and kept myself going. It was of course a great way to start the year. ‘
McIlroy started 2020 with four consecutive top-five finishes and, although he struggled to reproduce such form after the coronavirus cessation, the 31-year-old finished the year tied for fifth in the Masters despite a opening 75 at Augusta National.
‘It got better as the year went on and frankly it was a bit disappointing that it ended when it happened because I felt like I started right back into it,’ he added.
‘I didn’t really take much time off after Augusta. I was at home for maybe three or four days and felt like I just had to go out and keep this going a little bit.
McIlroy teamed up with World No. 3 Justin Thomas, who had a two-over round of 73
Tyrell Hatton is a shot behind leader McIlroy after a fantastic start in Abu Dhabi
‘Played a lot during the Christmas holidays and a lot of practice. May have felt as sharp as I ever did at the start of the season. It paid off early. ‘
Hatton made a spectacular start at 65 with an eagle on the 10th, his opening hole, and also moved to the par-five 18th, the pair of threes coming from a combined distance of just two meters.
The world’s number 9 carded three birdies on the first nine and added: ‘I’m really happy with that. I think I got away with it.
‘I hit one fairway in 10 holes, so that wasn’t ideal. Obviously, I can only play with what’s ahead and I’m happy with the job I ended up doing. ‘
Defending champion Lee Westwood is five shots off the lead after opening 69, but World No. 3 Justin Thomas struggled to a 73.