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Rory McIlroy posts target number in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy at 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Rory McIlroy says he 'sort of got my eye in early and kept it going' on the greens as he opens the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday with an 8-under 64 for a 1-stroke lead before play was suspended because of darkness.

Northern Irishman, seeking his 1st victory in more than a year, shoots 64 in European Tour opener before darkness halts play

Rory McIlroy hasn’t won on any major professional tour in more than a year, but he took a big step Thursday toward adding to his substantial resume.

McIlroy shot a bogey-free 8-under 64 to take the clubhouse lead in the first round of the European Tour’s season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Round 1, which was delayed by morning fog, was suspended by darkness with 67 of the 132 players still on the course. The $8 million tournament will resume early Friday (scores).

“I felt like I drove the ball well, for the most part,” said McIlroy, who birdied all four of the par 5s at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates’ capital. “Distance control was really good. I started off really well and hit a lot of nice iron shots.

"But 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 it going.”

When McIlroy appears in the UAE, he’s virtually a certainty to be at or near the top of the leaderboard. He has won four times in Dubai, including twice at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship. His record at Abu Dhabi has been extraordinarily consistent, but with one glaring omission: a victory.

In 10 starts at the Abu Dhabi event, dating to his 2008 rookie season, he has posted seven finishes of third or better, including four runners-up.

McIlroy, 31, a Northern Irishman who makes his home in Florida, hasn’t won on any major professional tour since Nov. 3, 2019, when he claimed the WGC HSBC Champions in China. He has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, including four major championships, plus seven more titles on the European Tour.

McIlroy made his first start since he tied for fifth at the Masters in November. It was his third top-10 result in his final five starts in 2020.

He ended the year at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking and slipped to No. 6 to start this week. McIlroy topped the world order for a total of 94 weeks in 2012-15.

England’s Tyrrell Hatton eagled both par 5s on the back nine, his opening nine after starting at the par-5 10th, and shot 7-under 65 to stand second.

"You can't win the tournament today or through to Saturday,” Hatton said, “but obviously it's a nice start."

Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti shot 66 to stand alone in third place. France’s Romain Langasque and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello shared fourth at 65.

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