Garcia, Mickelson start slowly in Abu Dhabi

Sergio Garcia in action during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Garcia fired a 4-over 76 while dealing with an injury that occurred during the round.

Sergio Garcia in action during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Garcia fired a 4-over 76 while dealing with an injury that occurred during the round.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Sergio Garcia is doubtful for the second round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship after incurring an injury caused by perilously deep rough. He wasn’t the only marquee name to struggle with the primary rough around Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Phil Mickelson had his travails, too.

Mickelson, Garcia and the rest of the field turned up to play in the first leg of the European Tour’s Desert Swing and found U.S. Open conditions. The rough off the fairway and around the greens was 4-plus inches thick in places.

Garcia, who struggled to a 4-over 76, tweaked his left shoulder hitting out of rough in the pro-am, then exacerbated the problem in the first round after finding the long grass. The Spaniard needed to call for a physio on two occasions during his round. The second time, he was lying prone on the sixth fairway (his 15th hole) while the physio administered treatment.

“The ball just nestles down, and you have to hit so hard down into the ground to get the ball out,” Garcia said.

When asked if he thought the rough was dangerous, he replied: “I would say so. Hopefully nobody else will get injured.”

Mickelson also was surprised by the rough’s depth. “You’ve got to be careful,” Mickelson said. “I kind of hurt myself going after one. When you go really hard into it, it grabs your club and your body jars up. I kind of twinged my back there on the last hole.”

Mickelson drove into the left-hand rough on his last hole (the ninth), and could only advance the ball into a greenside bunker about 35 yards short of the flag.

“You certainly have to be careful," he said. "The instinct is to try to hit the shot. You don’t want to have an injury in the first tournament of the year.

“There’s a fine line between challenging and putting yourself at risk for the rest of the season.”

Mickelson was in real danger of injury during the first round. He struggled off the tee and returned a 1-over 73 thanks to his brilliant short game. After having made 17 consecutive pars, he bogeyed the final hole.

Mickelson, last year's Open Championship winner, hit only five fairways in the opening round, despite all his pre-tournament talk about hitting the ball longer and straighter with a new driver in the bag.

“I hit a lot of 3-woods today," he said. "I tried to get it in play but didn’t hit as many fairways as I needed to.

“I may have to step back and hit hybrids because the rough, you just can’t play out of.

“I didn’t get the ball in the fairway enough to allow me to be aggressive and make any birdies, and I didn’t make any birdies.”

Mickelson’s round was in stark contrast to the 2-under 70 by playing competitor Rory McIlroy. Twelve months ago the Northern Irishman opened with a 3-over 75 with a driving display similar to Mickelson’s. A year on and McIlroy looks back to his imperious best. He trails first-round leaders Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain, Romain Wattel of France and Matthew Baldwin of England, who are tied at 67.

“I played well,” McIlroy said. “I was very happy how I struck the ball from tee to green. I felt like I drove the ball really well, which you need to do around here because the rough’s so thick. I was hitting it long and straight.

“It’s the foundation of my game. If I drive the ball well, I play well and my results are good. So it’s great to see that the driving has really improved and it’s where I want it to be. Hopefully I can continue that not just this week but for the rest of the season.”

McIlroy added another 75 last year to miss the cut along with the tournament’s other marquee name, Tiger Woods. McIlroy seems to be in no danger of departing early this year.

For sponsors Abu Dhabi and HSBC to justify the large appearance fee paid to the Open champion, Mickelson will need to stay out of the long grass.

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