Abu Dhabi - Rory McIlroy won the opening
skirmish of his much anticipated battle with Jordan Spieth, edging the world
number one by two shots on his first competitive outing of the year at the Abu
Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday.
The world number three from Northern
Ireland posted a first round six-under par 66 to lie two shots behind American
amateur Bryson Dechambeau (64) with Henrik Stenson of Sweden in second after a
McIlroy made two bogeys but compensated
with eight birdies. Spieth, who uncharacteristically missed a couple of short
putts, also had two bogeys in his round of 68.
World number six Rickie Fowler, the third
player in the morning feature group, opened with a two-under par 70.
McIlroy is playing his first tournament of
2016 - after a gap of almost two months since winning the DP World Tour
Championship in Dubai in November - but showed no signs of ring rustiness as he
opened with two straight birdies on the 1h and 11th holes after starting on the
back nine of the golf course.
However, the putter took some time to warm
up as he dropped two shots on his first nine - on the 13th and 17th holes -
both because of three-putts.
Spieth, who won the Tournament of Champions
on the PGA Tour a couple of weeks ago, needed six holes to make his first
birdie, but then added six more.
The two bogeys came on the second and fifth
holes, but the defending Masters and US Open champion seemed most frustrated by
a missed birdie putt from four feet on the eighth hole.
Stenson, who had a surgery done on his
right knee in December, had said his first challenge would be to walk the 18
holes this week.
But with his iron play on song, the
39-year-old Swede had absolutely no trouble throughout the day.
The world number five, who holds the course
record of 62 in Abu Dhabi, closed with a bogey after failing to make an
up-and-down from the bunker on the ninth hole, but that was his only blemish.
He looked set for the first round lead
until Dechambeau, who eagled the par 5 8th hole, grabbed top spot with a
birdie, his seventh, at the last.
England's Richard Bland came in with a 67
which included a lone bogey in his penultimate hole, the 17th of the course.
Three-time Abu Dhabi champion Martin
Kaymer, who lost a 10-shot lead over the last 10 holes on the final day last
year, made a decent start with a three-under par 69.