Rory McIlroy keeps it on the straight and narrow
Superb form with the driver helps McIlroy card two under round in Abu Dhabi
Rory McIlroy makes a putt on the 12th hole during day one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
While Sergio Garcia labelled the rough as “dangerous” after struggling to a four-over-par 76, Rory McIlroy’s superb driving kept him out of trouble as he carded a flawless 70 to lie three shots off the lead in the early stages of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy, who struggled badly with his driving for most of last year, appeared much more in control off the tee in his first tournament of 2014 and he could perhaps have applied more pressure to the joint clubhouse leaders, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Romain Wattel and Matthew Baldwin who finished their rounds on five under.
“I played well and was very happy with how I hit the ball from tee to green,” said McIlroy, who missed the cut here last year in his first event with his new clubs, but ended a difficult 2013 with victory in the Australian Open in December.
“I hit it long and straight and just did not take advantage of some of the opportunities, especially on the last two holes. It definitely could have been a bit better but it’s a solid start and I was pleased.”
On a encouraging morning for much of the 11-strong Irish contingent, Damien McGrane and Michael were also on two under but the biggest surprise of the morning was the form of Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who was four under after 10 holes.
Garcia, meanwhile, suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-tournament pro-am and exacerbated the problem hitting from the thick rough on Thursday, the Spaniard needing treatment from a European Tour physio for three holes.
The 34-year-old will receive further treatment before deciding whether to continue in the event and warned other players could suffer similar issues.
“The problem is they have cut it from green to tee and the ball nestles down,” Garcia said. “Every single ball nestles down and you can’t hit it 100 yards. I have tweaked a muscle and hitting from the rough is not helping. We will see how it feels tomorrow. Hopefully I am not the only one (who gets hurt), but unfortunately the way the course is set up it could happen to more people.”
Asked if he felt the rough was dangerous, Garcia added: “I would say so.”
British Open champion Phil Mickelson revealed he had also hurt his back playing from the rough on the ninth, his final hole, the left-hander carding his only bogey of the day there after 17 pars.
“I kind of hurt myself going after one,” said Mickelson, who was unable to remember the last round he had completed without a single birdie. “I twinged my back on the last hole. You have to be careful and maybe just wedge it out and not risk any injury. It’s a world-class course and there’s nothing unfair about it - it’s just difficult. Tomorrow I will have to be very conservative off the tee just to put it in play.”