McGinley (68) stays sharp despite Ryder Cup duties

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley walks off the 13th green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley walks off the 13th green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Paul McGinley is determined not to fall into the Ryder Cup curse of becoming a “ceremonial” golfer. If his first round of the year is anything to go by, then he has no worries on that front.

The European Ryder Cup captain is one shot off the lead after the opening round of the $2.7 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, firing a 4-under 68 Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain, Romain Wattel of France and Matthew Baldwin of England set the pace with first-round 67s.

It was a nice anniversary present for McGinley: It is exactly a year to the day that he was named Ryder Cup captain.

Previous captains have watched their games go south upon assuming leadership. McGinley, 47, of Dublin, Ireland, wants to remain competitive and play in big events so he can watch potential team members up close and in contention.

“An important part of my duty is to stay competitive so that I can play and not be a ceremonial golfer," McGinley said. “That’s why I’m really motivated about my golf, and that I stay competitive.

“I’m treating my golf seriously. I’m disappointed with the second half of last season. I made all the cuts and competed quite well, but I only had one top 10 (T-8 at the ISPS Handa Wales Open). I didn’t really have many big weeks and didn’t have a higher finish on the Order of Merit," he said, noting his No. 127 ranking. "So I’ll try harder this year.”

McGinley played in the company of two possible members of the team he will take to Gleneagles, Scotland, in September to face the Americans. He competed alongside England's Tommy Fleetwood, who turns 23 on Sunday, and Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, 24, and outscored the former by five shots and the latter by six.

McGinley wants to play with as many good, young players as possible this year so he can cast a critical eye over them in case they make his side.

“It’s a great opportunity to get to know them and get to know their games,” McGinley said. “You can watch them on TV, but it’s not the same. When you go toe to toe with someone, then that’s when you get to know them.

“There’s seven or eight young kids I haven’t played with, and they are very impressive. The more information I get regarding young guys, the better. It’s one of the benefits of being competitive on tour.”

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