McIlroy mounts late birdie surge in Abu Dhabi; Kaymer leads

Thu Jan 15, 2015 9:24am EST
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By Matt Smith

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy overcame a slow start to shoot a five-under 67 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday, three strokes behind leader Martyn Kaymer.

McIlroy, who finished second at the UAE capital's tournament in three of the past four years, ended the day level with playing partner Rickie Fowler who was making his Middle East debut.

Despite a first-hole birdie McIlroy, 25, struggled for rhythm on the season opener for many of the European Tour's prominent players, finding sand as a bogey at his eighth hole left him on par at the turn.

Fowler, a year older than the Northern Irishman, acted as pace-setter with birdies at his sixth and eighth holes and another at 10 to move three stokes clear of McIlroy.

The world number one's body language, hands on hips and head down after missing a birdie chance on the same hole, betrayed his frustrations as he struggled to spark his game into life.

"He (Fowler) was kicking me on today," McIlroy told reporters. "I didn't want to let him get too far ahead. It looked like he was going to shoot quite a low one, I was in neutral and needed to get something going."

That moment came at his 12th after he drove his ball to the bunker edge for a tricky second shot to the green, but a precision wedge while straddling the sand gave him a 12-foot birdie putt he duly converted.

"I was just trying to get it anywhere on the green," said McIrloy. "It's not something you ever practice, it's all feel and instinct. It was the first one I saw go in for a while so it got me going and gave me a bit of confidence on the greens."   Continued...

World number one and defending champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the 17th hole during the fourth and final round of the Australian Open golf tournament at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney November 30, 2014.    REUTERS/David Gray