Rory McIlroy got his season off to the perfect start as the Northern Irishman carded a stunning eight under 64 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the first Rolex Series event of the 2021 Race to Dubai.
The four-time Major winner is still chasing his maiden victory at the prestigious tournament, despite a remarkable record which includes four runner-up finishes, three third place finishes, a top five and a top 15. But his opening 64 was his lowest ever round in 11 appearances at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
McIlroy carded two birdies in the opening three holes, having teed off at the par five tenth which he duly birdied, and coasted to six more in a flawless round which left him one stroke clear at the top.
Leading the chasing pack was three-time Rolex Series winner Tyrrell Hatton, who signed for a seven under 65 which included a pair of eagles in his first nine holes – opening his account for the season with a three at the tenth before picking up another eagle at the ninth.
Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti was a shot further back on six under, while Frenchman Romain Langasque and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain shared fifth place on five under. Defending champion and reigning Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood opened with a three under 69.
Play was suspended due to darkness with round one set to restart at 7:40am local time.
Rory McIlroy: “I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I’ve shot it a few times, so I thought let’s try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that. Maybe played slightly better on our front nine, but I holed some really nice putts coming in for birdie s. It was obviously a lovely way to start the year.
“A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part, a couple of swirly ones in the middle of the round. Distance control was really good. I think I started off really well. Hit a lot of nice iron shots. Honestly it was probably the best I’ve putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career. I’ve shot some really good scores here but I holed some really good ones today. And I’ve always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept me going.”
Tyrrell Hatton: “I’m really happy with that. I think I got away with it, ten holes, I hit one fairway, so that wasn’t ideal. The wind certainly picked up as the round went on, which I think the guys going out this afternoon, it’s going to be a lot tougher for them. Obviously I can only play with what’s in front of me and I’m happy with the job I managed to do in the end.
“Depending on the wind direction, if you can take advantage of them, you to need to do that. Like I said I was able to do that today and hopefully I can do that over the next few days.”
Fabrizio Zanotti: “I am (travelling) from Paraguay. It’s very tough to get the flights and then to go back home. So to be here playing, it feels great, really. I didn’t practice too much at home. I was with covid, I have (had) it already, but I just have enough time to come here and at the end I just finished practising six days before coming, and I was feeling good. The practice rounds were good, also, and today I think I do what I practiced.”