Rory McIlroy Image Credit: AP

Abu Dhabi: Getting into the grove straight away after an injury layoff is always a tricky proposition but four-time major winner Rory McIlroy was in fine form during round one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Thursday.

The Northern Irishman would have drawn a lot of heart from his bogey-free round of three-under par and will be keen to build on it to take a shot at the title on Sunday.

“Yeah, it was nice. I sort of knew what I was expecting out there but at the same time, you never really know,” he said. “It was my first competitive round in over a 100 days, so it’s a little bit different. But I did well.”

McIlroy added that he focuses on staying patient to give himself plenty of chances. “I started the day with 11 straight pars, so I was trying to stay as patient as possible,” he said. “It was nice to birdie three of the last seven there and get in under 70.”

McIlroy is yet to win the title here but has finished runner-up four times. He said he felt comfortable being out there and played some solid golf.

“I think only missed one or two greens, so gave myself plenty of chances,” he said. “I drove the ball well and my iron play was pretty good. So just need to keep doing that over the next three days and I should have a chance.

“Getting the first birdie was nice. I holed a nice putt on three for birdie there which was our 12th hole, and then rattled off a couple more and gave myself a lot of chances straight away. I thought once I got a little bit of momentum going, I could go with it, and as I said, I think after the start and parring so many holes, anything under 70 was pretty good.”

McIlroy was of the view that the first day’s play has helped him get a measure of his game and he is now confident that he has not lost his sheen due to the long break.

“My expectation coming into this week was that I could win,” he said. “But I think after the first day, seeing where my game’s at and playing alongside two of the most in-form players (Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood) in the world right now, I feel like I’m not that far away.”

Leaderboard

1 T Fleetwood (ENG) -6

H Tanihara (JPN) -6

F Zanotti (PAR) -5

R Fisher (ENG) -5

T Pieters (BEL) -5

S Brazel (AUS) -5

B Wiesberger (AUT) -5

R Ramsay (SCO) -4

S Gallacher (SCO) -4

M Ilonen (FIN) -4

C Pigem (ESP) -4

M Fitzpatrick (ENG) -4

P Dunne (IRL) -4

A Johnston (ENG) -4

R Sterne (RSA) -4

O Fisher (ENG) -4