Rory McIlroy posts first-round 66 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship
By Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 21/01/16 9:52am
Rory McIlroy made a quick start to the year and outshone world No 1 Jordan Spieth with an opening-round 66 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
The world No 3, making his first start since winning the DP World Tour Championship in November, showed no signs of early-season rust and looked impressive as he struck eight birdies to sit two adrift of early pacesetter Bryson DeChambeau.
Beginning on the back nine alongside Spieth and Fowler, McIlroy opened with back-to-birdies before dropping a shot by three-putting the 13th from 20 feet.
First round leaderboard
Successive gains over the next two holes took the Northern Irishman to the top of the leaderboard alongside Richard Bland and Mikko Korhonen, before McIlroy bounced back from a three-putt at the 17th with three birdies in a four-hole stretch to briefly take the outright advantage.
Spieth, who won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions earlier this month, responded to posting a six at the second by coming within inches of a hole-in-one on the fourth, while Henrik Stenson then posted a run of four-straight birdies to move ahead.
McIlroy stopped a run of pars by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at the eighth and narrowly missed out on another at the last, as Spieth carded two birdies over his final four holes to close a four-under 68.
An eighth gain of the day at the eighth temporarily moved Stenson two shots clear, before the Swede, who had feared he would struggle to walk all 18 holes after undergoing knee surgery last month, finished his opening-round 65 with a blemish at the last.
"That's the best start I've had here in years," Stenson told Sky Sports. "All in all, I kept the score together and played a really good opening round.
"The knee feels good. I'm hitting shots with no bother and walking is really the issue. Yesterday was the first 18 I had walked and I did another one today, so hopefully I have another three in me."
Thomas Bjorn followed a triple-bogey at the 13th with a hole-in-one at the next before four late birdies saw him finish four under, with Rickie Fowler a further two strokes back after an up-and-down opening day.
"It was a bit sloppy out there," Fowler told reporters. "I had a couple get away from me on the first hole but kind of started to find form a little bit towards the end of the round.
"I felt like I putted well and made some good putts, but we'll just tighten it up a little bit."
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