Rory McIlroy back to school without hitch after 69 in Abu Dhabi

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Rory McIlroy back to school without hitch after 69 in Abu Dhabi

Professional

Rory McIlroy back to school without hitch after 69 in Abu Dhabi

 

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy’s first day back at school went without a hitch. No temper tantrums, no detentions, no teacher’s notes to his parents. 

McIlroy returned to competitive action in the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after a three-month layoff. The former World No. 1 hit 17 greens in a 3-under 69. He trails defending champion Tommy Fleetwood by three shots.

Give Rory an A, even if he was slightly apprehensive about his return.

“I sort of knew what I was expecting out there but, at the same time, you never really know,” McIlroy said. “First competitive round in over a hundred days, so it’s a little bit different. But I did well.”

The former World No. 1 made 11 straight pars then holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the third, his 12th. He also birdied the seventh hole, then hit the par-5 eighth hole in two and two-putted from 50 feet.

“Just getting that first birdie was nice.

“Once I got a little bit of momentum going, I could go with it. After the start and parring so many holes, anything under 70 was pretty good.

“I tried to stay as patient as possible. But when it’s the first day back in the year, it’s easier to stay patient.”

McIlroy’s only mistake came at the par-5 18th, his ninth. He hit the green with an iron but three-putted for par. Otherwise he looked like he’d never been away.

“I was probably a little nervous on the first tee. I was just excited to get going. It’s another season, a season that I feel like I’m as prepared for as any season I’ve started as a professional.”

McIlroy played with Fleetwood and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Both have started the year well. Johnson had an eight-stroke victory in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, while Fleetwood won three points out of three last week to help Europe win the EurAsia Cup.

“My expectation coming into this week was that I could win,” McIlroy said. “After the first day, seeing where my game’s at and playing alongside two of the most in-form players in the world right now, I feel like I’m not that far away.”

He isn’t.

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