Rory McIlroy was one of nine players sharing second spot on six under par following the opening day at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship .
Ian Poulter holed a mammoth 70-foot putt on the final green to earn a share of a one-stroke first-round lead after carding a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 today.
South African Keith Horne, who finished second last week in Johannesburg, and Southampton resident Richard Bland matched Poulter’s effort to top the leaderboard ahead of a the chasing group, which also included Sergio Garcia.
Garcia recovered from back-to-back early bogeys, while McIlroy blamed a “mental error” for a double-bogey, although he did respond in style with two consecutive birdies.
World number 10 McIlroy has targeted breaking into the world’s top five this year and picked up where he left off last year by signalling his intentions today, despite opting for the wrong club off the tee at the 11th which resulted in the only blot on his scorecard.
“I’m very happy. Apart from that one loose tee shot it was really good,” said McIlroy, who finished fifth 12 months ago.
“I made a lot of birdies and converted a lot of my chances. So anytime you open up a tournament with a 66 you’ve got to be happy.”
Former champion and last year’s runner up Martin Kaymer dropped just one shot in a five under 67 to share third with a bogey-free Louis Oosthuizen, who also claimed a runner-up finish at Abu Dhabi Golf Club 12 months ago.
Poulter admits he is hungry to compete after a six-week Christmas break and all signs point to a positive result this week after he returned from a similar break to end a two-year winless streak in Singapore at the end of last year.
“I wasn’t expecting to come out quite as fast, but I’ll take it – I hit it lovely. I started practising on Tuesday and I didn’t feel 70% let alone the way it was today,” said the world number 12.
“I put an extra session in on Tuesday and Wednesday, my hands were raw and sore. I’ve done an awful lot of hard work and it definitely paid off. I hit my irons very solid and I holed some nice putts.
“One of my goals at the start of the year was to hole more 20-foot putts which I haven’t done a lot of. And I said to my caddie ’I hope you’re keeping count, a few of those are going in’ and they kept going in. They dried up on the back nine a little, but there was a little bonus on the last.”
World number 13 Garcia is still struggling with the hand injury he picked up at the end of last year, but bounced back from his early setbacks by picking up seven shots in 10 holes around the turn.
“It didn’t look great for the first four holes, but I played fairly well and it is definitely a good comeback,” said the Spaniard, who finished eighth last year.
“There is still a couple of shots I need to fix, there’s obviously a little bit of rust still in my body, but overall, I think it was a good comeback and a good solid round to start the week with.”