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Rory McIlroy sets the pace wit...
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Rory McIlroy sets the pace with blistering start in Abu Dhabi

Neil Treacy
Neil Treacy

13:14 21 Jan 2021

Rory McIlroy has made a lightning start on day 1 of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour, taking the clubhouse lead.

The world number 6 carded a bogey-free -8 round of 64, leading the field by one shot at the time of writing.

The four-time major winner hasn't played since the Masters at Augusta last November, but showed no signs of rust, starting his day with a birdie 4 on the par 5 10th (his opening hole), before picking up further birdies on the 12th and 15th (both par 3s).

His round kicked into life with three consecutive birdies on the turn, signing off on the round of 64 which sent him top of the leaderboard.

It's the lowest round the Ulsterman has ever hit at the tournament, and he says he owes a lot to his short game.

"It feels good. I knew 65 was the best I have shot here and I've shot it a few times but after I turned in four under I said to myself, 'let's go one better and shoot another four under on the next nine' and I was able to do that.

"I maybe played slightly better on the front nine but I holed some very nice putts coming in for birdies.

"It's probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi and it was obviously a nice way to start the year," he said.

McIlroy is targeting his first win since November 2019when he saw off Xander Schauffele in a playoff to win the WGC HSBC Champions event.

Despite McIlroy going so low on day 1, it was only enough for a one shot lead in the clubhouse, with England's Tyrrell Hatton closing on seven under, and Paraguay's Fabrizio Zanotti one shot further back.

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington carded pairs of birdies, wither side of consecutive bogeys to finish off with a -2 round of 72.

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