Rory McIlroy grabs lead in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy grabs lead in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI - Agence France-Presse
Rory McIlroy grabs lead in Abu Dhabi

Rory Mcllroy of Northern Ireland wrestled his way around the par-72 National Course in Abu Dhabi for a five under 67. REUTERS photo

Rory McIlroy used muscle power to steal an early season march on his main rivals for golfing dominance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship yesterday.

The 22-year-old Ulsterman, who spent much of his winter break in the gym working on his physique, wrestled his way around the par-72 National Course for a five under 67 that included seven birdies against two bogeys.

That was three shots better than Tiger Woods and four ahead of Luke Donald, the two men he played with in what was the first round’s big drawing card.

It left him joint leader, with Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, of the $2.7-million European Tour tournament which opens a three-week long swing through the Gulf states and effectively kick-starts the season for the elite of world golf.

Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland, Richard Finch of England and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet of France were joint third at four under. A stroke further back came Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, Robert Rock of England and Richie Ramsay of Scotland

In what was one of the best fields ever assembled outside of a Grand Slam or WGC tournament, six of the world’s top 10 were present as well as a resurgent Woods.

World number two Lee Westwood, looking to make it three wins in a row after a strong finish to last year, had a 72, while number four Martin Kaymer, out to win this tournament for the third straight year, disappointed with a 77. Playing in the same group, Spain’s Sergio Garcia sunk a seven-iron ace from 193 yards at the 12th en route to a 71.

It was the first ace of a career on the European Tour that goes back to 1995 when he made his debut as a 15-year-old amateur.

McIlroy, who ended the 2012 season laid low by Dengue fever, looked refreshed and keen as he sprinted out of the blocks with a run of three birdies from his second hole.

Woods showed that his renewed confidence in his ball-striking abilities is justified as he went bogey-free in a round of 70.

The 36-year-old American was the focus of attention once again as he lit the fuse on a campaign that he hopes will see him return to the forefront and possibly add to his majors haul of 14. 

A win here could propel him back into the world top 10, but the main objective he has is to win a 15th Grand Slam title at Augusta National in early April.

“Hit the ball well all day today,” he said.“I just had a hard time reading the greens out there.”