Tommy Fleetwood hits 18 greens en route to 66, lead in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 18: Tommy Fleetwood of England reacts on the seventh green during round one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 18, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tommy Fleetwood hits 18 greens en route to 66, lead in Abu Dhabi

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Tommy Fleetwood hits 18 greens en route to 66, lead in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Typical Tommy Fleetwood. He dusts up two of the world’s best players in Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and all he can talk about is how he might never play in a better three-ball.

Fleetwood not only outplays his opponents, he kills them with kindness, too.

The reigning European No. 1 returned an opening 6-under 66 to take the early lead in the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Fleetwood beat McIlroy by three shots and Johnson by six to make the best possible start to holding onto the Falcon Trophy.

“During my career, I think I’m going to struggle to find a better three-ball,” Fleetwood said. “Doesn’t matter how long I play. That might be the best one I get.”

He was anything but star-struck though.

“(Last year) I played with David Lipsky and Kristoffer Broberg for two rounds,” he revealed. “Honestly nothing feels that much different. You’re in a marquee group and you’re playing with the best players in the world. There’s a bit more of a crowd than followed me last year. Aside from that, nothing.”

Fleetwood hit all 18 greens. Typical Tommy couldn’t remember if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s not like a course record where you remember it. You hit 18 greens and after lunch today I’ll forget about it.”

It’s a testament to how far Fleetwood has come in the last year that he can nonchalantly beat McIlroy and Johnson. Twelve months ago, he began this tournament ranked 100th in the world and uncertain about where his game was headed.

Now he’s Europe’s No. 1 player, up to 18th in the world with a chance to break into the top 10 if he repeats this week.

“Had control of my ball really from the get-go,” he said. “Just sort of did what you need to do well around here to get a good score. I drove it well.

“(Hitting) 18 greens, doesn’t happen very often so nice to do it around here. My pace putting was really good. I didn’t put myself under any stress at all. All in all, a very good morning.”

One to tell the grandkids about, maybe? Fleetwood’s so modest he might not.

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