With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods struggling, fifth-ranked Justin Rose and unheralded Jamie Donaldson had 5-under 67s Thursday for a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in United Arab Emirates.
McIlroy, playing with new clubs following his multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, finished with a 3-over 75 and risks missing the cut. Woods shot an even-par 72.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain finished one stroke behind the leaders.
McIlroy repeatedly missed fairways, including a shot on his 12th hole that hit a tree and ended up in a parking lot, leading to one of his two double bogeys. His other came when he muffed a chip in thick rough on his par-3 sixth.
The top-ranked McIlroy insisted his difficulties had more to do with rusty strokes than the new equipment that he hyped only a few days ago. While he repeatedly slumped after a bad shot or frowned following a missed putt, the 2012 European Tour and U.S. PGA Tour money winner seemed resigned to adjusting to the new Nike clubs.
“When you go out and you’ve got new stuff, you are going to be a little anxious and hopefully you play well,” McIlroy said Thursday. “But I guess I can learn from it and move on and go into tomorrow and try and play a bit better. It’s about playing yourself into the weekend.”
Woods, who was paired with McIlroy, finished a roller-coaster round at par after “grinding it out.” The 14-time major winner had four birdies and four bogeys and ended his round by three-putting his 18th for a bogey when he hit the second putt too hard.
Woods can thank his short game and putter for salvaging the round, saving par on several occasions and sinking several long birdie putts. He had three birdies on the last four holes of his front nine. But he lost that momentum on the back nine, when he mishit a tee shot that led to a bogey on the 10th hole, and couldn’t make a short par putt on his 11th.
Rose came into the tournament saying he felt he was closing the gap on the world’s top two players and he showed it in the first round. He had five of his six birdies on the front nine, sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 5 and holing a bunker shot on No. 9 for birdie. He cooled down considerably after that as conditions worsened.
“That was definitely a great start, shooting 5-under,” Rose said. “I knew it was going to be a tough afternoon, and certainly the wind picked up even more on the back nine. And I guess it was a good scoring day for me.”
Phil Mickelson opened his season with an erratic even-par 72 in the Humana Challenge in LaQuinta, Calif., leaving him nine strokes behind the first-round leaders.
Recovering from flu-like symptoms, the 42-year-old Mickelson had three birdies, a bogey and double bogey at La Quinta Country Club — one of three courses used in the pro-am event.
Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and James Hahn topped the leaderboard at 9-under 63. Kokrak had two eagles and five birdies at La Quinta, Castro had nine birdies at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Private Course, and Hahn had nine birdies on PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course.