Dubai: Rory McIlroy sent out a statement of intent on Thursday that he is determined to amend one aberration on his stellar resume as he shot his best-ever round in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and lead the way in a competition he has never won, despite trying for more than a decade.
The Northern Irishman blasted a blemish-free 64, to lead the pack on eight-under par, one stroke ahead of Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, who hit two brilliant eagles on his way to a 65.
Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti holds third spot on his own on six-under, one ahead of Frenchman Romain Langasque and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello. Nacho Elvira and Matt Wallace are in a group on four-under alongside Victor Perez and Lucas Herbert.
Defending champion Lee Westwood is tied for 10th on three-under, as two bogies on the back nine dented his hopes slightly.
Abu Dhabi debutant and world No. 3 Justin Thomas had a day to forget as he scrapped his way to a one-over 73, to sit way down the field in joint-78th.
World No. 6 McIlroy said on Wednesday that he loves to start his season in the UAE capital, despite having never lifted the famous Falcon trophy. He is in the driver’s seat this week to change that fact.
“It feels good to have a bogey-free round,” he said. “I knew 65 was the best I had ever shot around here, so I thought: ‘Let’s try and go one better.” And I was able to do that.
“I had some really nice putts coming in for birdies. I drove the ball well and had good ball control off the tee. That is the best I have putted these greens in Abu Dhabi and probably in my whole career. I have struggled to read these greens in the past but got my eye in early and kept it going.
“I was getting better as the year went on last season and I was kinda disappointed when the season ended. So I didn’t take too much time off and just got out there to keep it going over the Christmas period and this is the sharpest I have ever felt coming in to the start of the season and it has paid off early.”
1 Rory McIlroy (NIR) -8
2 Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) -7
3 Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR) -6
4= Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) -5
4= Romain Langasque (FRA) -5
6= Nacho Elvira (ESP) -4
6= Lucas Herbert (AUS) -4
6= Matt Wallace (ENG) -4
6= Victor Perez (FRA) -4