World number one Koepka fires opening round of 66 on return from injury

World number one Koepka fires opening round of 66 on return from injury

World number one Brooks Koepka marked his return from injury in ominous fashion with an opening 66 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Koepka, who has not played since October, showed no signs of rust as he carded six birdies in a bogey-free round to lie two shots off the early clubhouse lead held by Italy’s Renato Paratore.

The four-time major winner had stem cell treatment on his left knee at the end of August but aggravated the problem after slipping on wet concrete during the CJ Cup in South Korea and was forced to withdraw from the United States team for December’s Presidents Cup.

“It’s good to be back,” Koepka told Sky Sports. “I missed the competition obviously.

“Played really solid. Missed a few putts early if I really want to pick it apart. Drove the ball well. Controlled ball flight and controlled distances really well and that’s what you have to do out here.

“Usually in the afternoon the wind picks up and you know that going in so when you have a morning tee time, you have to take advantage of it. I did that today.

“Hopefully tomorrow the wind stays down a little bit because this golf course into the wind, or with the wind, can be very difficult.”

Asked about his knee, Koepka added: “It feels fine. It was a little sore last night. That’s expected. This is the first week I’ve walked 18 holes and I’ve done it three times already. It’s a little tired.”

In the week when the European Tour’s bid to stamp out slow play came into force it felt fitting that Paratore, who is renowned as one of the quickest players in the game, set the early pace with a superb 64.

The 23-year-old ended his round with four straight birdies to enjoy a two-shot lead over Koepka and Australia’s Jason Scrivener, with Sergio Garcia a shot further back and defending champion Shane Lowry carding an opening 70.

“Today the short game was really good and also the iron play,” Paratore said.

“I made some good putts the first few holes so that give me good confidence for the rest of the day, and I keep making putts, so it’s been a really good day.”

More on this topic

Rory McIlroy adds name to star-studded Irish Open field at Mount JulietRory McIlroy adds name to star-studded Irish Open field at Mount Juliet

Seeing his children fight over green jacket is Tiger Woods’ favourite Masters memorySeeing his children fight over green jacket is Tiger Woods’ favourite Masters memory

Royal Troon to host 2023 OpenRoyal Troon to host 2023 Open

Kevin Markham: Hotel list every bit as fickle as world golf rankingsKevin Markham: Hotel list every bit as fickle as world golf rankings

More in this Section

Highfield want to ‘push on and finish the deal’Highfield want to ‘push on and finish the deal’

Young Munster weather the storm against rivals GarryowenYoung Munster weather the storm against rivals Garryowen

Jaze Kabia’s first goal enough for ShelbourneJaze Kabia’s first goal enough for Shelbourne

Jack Byrne strikes the winner as Shamrock Rovers take Tallaght thriller over DundalkJack Byrne strikes the winner as Shamrock Rovers take Tallaght thriller over Dundalk


Lifestyle

Spring has sprung and a new Munster festival promises to celebrate its arrival with gusto, says Eve Kelliher.Spring has sprung: Munster festival promises to celebrate with gusto

The spotlight will fall on two Munster architects in a new showcase this year.Munster architects poised to build on their strengths

Prepare to fall for leather, whatever the weather, says Annmarie O'Connor.Trend of the week: It's always leather weather

The starting point for Michael West’s new play, in this joint production by Corn Exchange and the Abbey, is an alternative, though highly familiar, 1970s Ireland. You know, elections every few weeks, bad suits, wide ties, and a seedy nexus of politics and property development.Theatre Review: The Fall of the Second Republic at Abbey Theatre, Dublin

More From The Irish Examiner