Abu Dhabi - Rory McIlroy produced a Seve Ballesteros-like recovery shot during his solid opening-round five-under par 67, three adrift of triple champion Martin Kaymer after the opening round in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Thursday.
World number one McIlroy was even-par after 11 holes when he reached the par-4 third hole (his 12th) and smashed his tee shot into the fairway bunker.
But from a horrific lie that prompted a very unusual stance, the Northern Irishman somehow muscled his wedge shot to 12 feet and turned what looked like a bogey into a birdie.
That got his round going, and McIlroy added four birdies in his last six holes to finish on 67, the same as his playing partner, world number 10 Rickie Fowler, who made a bogey on his final hole after sending his shot over the green on the par-4 ninth.
But the round of the day, which saw two holes-in-one, belonged to world number 12 Kaymer. Two birdies in the last two holes saw him finish one shot better than Belgium's 22-year-old, 6ft 6in-tall Thomas Pieters, who went out in the morning and shot a superb seven-under par 65.
Kaymer, the defending US Open champion, made the turn in 33 shots, and then made six birdies and a bogey on the back nine.
The German credited his hot putter for the score, and said: "I think the key to me doing well here the last few years was my putting. And today, it was the same. I made ten birdies, and there were three putts in those that were over 15 feet, and that's very rare."
McIlroy admitted the shot on the third hole changed everything, but he would have to up his game over the next three days to secure what would be his first Abu Dhabi title after three runner-up finishes.
"I was just trying to get it on the green. From looking like going one-over to finishing five-under, I'm very happy," he said.
"I'll need to do a lot more of that over the next few days if I want to have a chance to win. I know I'll need to hit more fairways, as well. I didn't drive the ball particularly well today."
Pieters was going great guns with seven birdies in his first 13 holes, but a bogey on the easy par-3 15th halted his charge, and he needed to make a birdie on the final, par-5 18th for his 65.
The long-hitting Belgian said: "I've been driving it a lot better. I think that's the key out here. You have to drive it around the fairway and I drove it long today, so gave myself a lot of wedges in and converted some putts. It was a nice start to the season."
There was a five-way tie for the third place at six-under par 66 that included South Africa's Branden Grace, French duo of Gregory Bourdy and Alexander Levy, Mikko Ilonen of Finland and England's Tyrrell Hatton.
However, world number two Henrik Stenson did not have the best of starts, and a double-bogey on his first hole was followed by two more bogeys as he closed with a birdie-free round of 76. England's world number six Justin Rose was three-under at the turn, but four bogeys on the back nine saw him finish at one-over par 73.
Of the two holes-in-one - the first by England's Tom Lewis on the difficult seventh hole won him a Cadillac Escape worth $88,580. While Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez got one at the 15th hole, winning a five-night stay in the Royal Suite of the official hotel, the St Regis.