Rory McIlroy showed all the hype surrounding him in the build up to the Abu Dhabi Championship was justified as he produced an excellent 67 to leave him at the top of the leaderboard after the first round.
McIlroy knocked in seven birdies and two bogies in a round that saw the US Open champion overcome some less than brilliant driving.
Speaking to the Guardian, McIlroy said: “I didn’t feel like I played that good, but I did well to manage my way around the course.
“In the last few months of last year I felt even though I didn’t play very well I had could still find a way to score out on the course.
“This is a continuation of that. It makes a huge difference when you can turn a 74 into a round of 70, or as I did today, turn a 70 into a 67.”
McIlroy shares the lead with Swede Robert Karlsson who hit birdies on 17 and 18 to move into a share of the lead.
However, they – along with everyone else in the field – will be keeping a close eye on Tiger Woods who is placed very handily in joint ninth place after an opening round of 70.
Woods was at his imperious best from tee to green but it was his form – or lack thereof – with the flat blade that saw him post a much higher score than his ball-striking warranted.
He hit 34 puts during his round and a fair few more putts will have to drop over the next few days if he is to be challenging on Sunday.
Woods is currently 15/8 to shoot lower than his playing partners Luke Donald and McIlroy, while the Northern Irishman is 11/8 to go the lowest of the three.
Meanwhile, Martin Kaymer – who is looking to win his third consecutive Abu Dhabi Championship – opened with a disappointing five-over 77 and looks out of the running already.