It was like 2014 all over again, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler trading birdies in pursuit of golfing hegemony. Though Martin Kaymer gave them all pause for thought with a masterful 64 in the afternoon, it was the principal ticket sellers that gave the HSBC Champions in Abu Dhabi the start the plot demanded.
McIlroy and Fowler seem intent on sticking to the Hollywood script, twentysomething poster boys shaping a new era in golf. McIlroy started with a birdie then ripped five in six holes on the back nine to post an opening 67. Fowler did McIlroy the service of dropping a stroke at the last to come in on the same five-under-par total.
“I was just trying to keep up with this guy,” McIlroy said of the American, who he trailed by two strokes at the turn. “He was kicking me on, for sure. I didn’t want to let him get too far ahead of me. I just wanted to try to stay as close to him as possible and thankfully I was able to do that.”
McIlroy’s round turned at the par-5 third, his 12th, where, from a desperate lie on the edge of one bunker he found the green and turned what might have been a bogey into a red number. “It’s not a shot I would practice too much, that’s for sure. But from looking like you’re going to make a bogey to making a birdie that gives you a little bit of momentum and you can go on from there and luckily I was able to make a few birdies after that,” he said.
“My short game was really good. I’ll need to hit more fairways. I didn’t drive the ball particularly well and it’s something I’ll need to do better if I want to have a chance.
“It doesn’t really feel like I’ve taken a few weeks off. I’ve just come back the way I left off and hopefully that’s the way it’s going to be for the next few months.”
At 30, Kaymer is hardly past it, and he did what he often does here, turning the tournament into a game of catch the Kaiser. The imperious German, a three-time winner here, could play this place blindfold and still break par. As it was he rattled off 10 birdies to lead by one from 6ft 6in Belgian tyro Thomas Pieters.
“I’m not sure if I have ever done it on a golf course, hit 10 birdies,” Kaymer said. “I hit a lot of fairways, my irons were quite sharp and I putted well. It’s very difficult to shoot a bad score when you play like this.
“Now the goal is not to compare myself tomorrow to the round that happened today. Tomorrow will be a new start but it’s a brilliant start to a great tournament.”
The opening day also featured a pair of aces, one of which won Tom Lewis a Cadillac Escalade. However, it was Miguel Angel Jimenez’s misfortune to hole out at the 15th instead of the gift-bearing seventh.
After his best 200 yards since leading the Open at Royal St George’s in 2011, Lewis said: “It was a nice seven-iron and as soon as I hit it I said ‘that’s got a chance’. I was just waiting for my dad’s reaction, who was down by the green.”
Cries of “get in there”, delivered by a man in his middle age, could be heard echoing around the Gulf.Reuse content