Abu Dhabi: On a day when most competitors struggled to cope with the windy conditions on the challenging fairways at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, world number five Justin Rose made it a memorable debut to share the opening day’s plaudits with Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
The pair shot five-under-par scores of 67 each to take a one-shot lead over the chasing duo of Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen.
While a few thousand fans were following the marquee group comprising world number one Rory McIlroy, number two Tiger Woods and three-time Abu Dhabi winner Martin Kaymer, it was Larrazabal, with hardly a dozen supporters following his group, who sizzled to card a five-under 68 to emerge as the clubhouse leader.
Teeing off in the afternoon alongside defending British Open champion Ernie Els and 2012 Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, Rose served notice of his intentions to close the gap between him and the top-ranked duo of McIlroy and Woods and match Donaldson.
Though Rose bogeyed his first hole, the South Africa-born Englishman struck form and picked up five shots at the end of the first nine holes. He started his back nine with a birdie and then battled the conditions to finish with a five-under-par 67 on his debut here.
“That was definitely a great start, shooting five under, I knew it was going to be a tough afternoon, and certainly the wind picked up even more on the back nine,” said Rose, who acknowledged the challenging conditions.
“It’s the nature of the golf course this week. It’s set up very, very difficult, difficultly, the fairways are narrow. Clearly with a lot of crosswinds, the fairways are hard to hit and the rough is punishing,” he said.
Donaldson, while agreeing that the wind had made life difficult, attributed his joint lead with Rose to two shots early in his round.
“I hit two ropey wedge shots on the second and third, and I made two birdies from them. So that was a turning point for the day and kept the momentum going. Like I said, it’s a tough golf course and it’s tricky out there and I’m very happy with the score,” the 37-year-old said.
If it was Donaldson’s best start here after first-round scores of two-over 74 in his previous two starts, for the world number one McIlroy his three-over 75 was his poorest opening round here since 2008.
McIlroy was worst of the marquee group with two double-bogeys and a bogey and is expected to battle hard to make the cut on Friday. Woods also found the conditions hard to negotiate and finished with a par score of 72, his four bogeys cancelling out his four birdies. Kaymer kept his hopes alive to carry a one-under-par score of 71 and to boost his chances of securing a fourth title here.
Larrazabal and Olesen, who start one shot behind the lead pair, have a pack of five, including Swede Henrik Stenson, closing on them just a shot behind.
“I played really lovely today. Unfortunately I finished with a bogey, but it was a really steady round and I never got in trouble out there, so it was good,” said Olesen.
Defending champion Robert Rock is also likely to make an early exit after his error-ridden display of eight bogeys, ending his first round with a four-over 76. Els, the third member of this group with Rose, finished on one-under 71, while two-time winner Paul Casey also carded a one-under 71 on a day of challenging golf at the National Course.