Shane Lowry leads by three in Abu Dhabi after outstanding 62
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 17/01/19 3:11pm
Shane Lowry got his 2019 campaign off to a record-equalling start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as a stunning 10-under 62 earned him a three-shot lead on day one.
Lowry admitted his expectations for the week were low having played no competitive golf since the World Cup of Golf in November, but he lit up the opening Rolex Series event of the year with 10 birdies while keeping a bogey off his card despite hitting only four fairways.
The Irishman did miss a chance to break the course record when he left a 15-foot birdie putt short on the ninth green, but he ended the first day three clear of the chasing pack led by Louis Oosthuizen, while English veterans Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood also enjoyed strong starts as both posted 66s.
World No 2 Brooks Koepka carded a bogey-free 67 on his first appearance in Abu Dhabi since 2014, while his Ryder Cup team-mate Dustin Johnson and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood were both three under for the first round.
But the star of the show was undoubtedly Lowry, who started with pars at 10 and 11 before reeling off five birdies over the next seven holes to cover the back-nine in 31, although he was left to rue a misjudgment from four feet at the par-five 18th as he failed to convert a sublime second shot.
However, the 31-year-old did not let that affect his focus on the front nine as he added another three consecutive birdies, and he got a further putt to drop from 20 feet at the seventh which took him to nine under for the day.
Lowry collected his 10th birdie of the round at the long eighth and then knocked another pure approach to 15 feet at his final hole, but the putt lacked the required pace and he was content to settle for a share of the course record while also matching his career-best score, which came during the second round of his historic Irish Open win in 2009 when still an amateur.
"I'm obviously over the moon, it equals the best score I've ever shot," said Lowry afterwards. "I knew that, as well, and I said it to my caddie coming down the last that a birdie here would be the best score I've ever shot, and he just told me to go for it.
"I left the putt short but I felt like I hit a decent putt, it was just a bit more into the grain than I felt, but obviously I'm very chuffed. I've had quite a lot of time off since the World Cup but put in a decent bit of work the last two weeks in Dubai.
"I've just gone out with not much expectation but knew I was playing okay and yeah, everything clicked. I didn't hit as many fairways as I would have liked, but I was hitting everything close and managed to hole a couple of putts."
Oosthuizen looked in the form that swept him to his first South African Open title last month as he recovered from an early double-bogey with nine birdies in 13 holes to return a 65 which was later matched by Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Richard Sterne.
Pablo Larrazabal then made it a four-way tie for second with a remarkable finish to his opener, holing his long second from the rough at 16 for a spectacular eagle before he chipped in for birdie at the next and also birdied the last to cap the most entertaining round of the day.
Poulter made seven birdies against just one bogey in his six-under round which Westwood emulated despite a quiet inward half having raced out of the blocks with birdies at each of the first four holes and further gains at seven and nine taking him to the turn in 30.
Three-time champion Martin Kaymer also fired a 66 to edge ahead of Koepka and Thomas Pieters, with Johnson and Fleetwood seven off the pace after the opening European Tour day of 2019.