Organizers of the $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship would have been hoping for a Northern Irishman to dominate the tournament, especially in the event’s inaugural year as a Rolex Series Tournament.
Shane Lowry just wasn’t the Northern Irishman in question. He’s flying the Northern Ireland flag this week in the absence of Rory McIlroy, who’s missing Abu Dhabi for only the second time since he turned professional in 2008.
Lowry is used to operating in Rory McIlroy’s shadow; he’s been doing it since they played junior golf together. Wednesday, he played the sort of golf in the first round McIlroy is capable of to match the course record of 62, 10 under, and leap into the first-round lead.
The 31-year-old Lowry hadn’t played competitively since the ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf in November. He showed no signs of rust in matching the 62 Henrik Stenson returned in 2006. Ten birdies and no bogeys helped Lowry to a three-shot lead over 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen and fellow South African Richard Sterne, and Frenchmen Mike Lorenzo-Vera and 2014 Abu Dhabi champion Pablo Larrazabal.
“I’m obviously over the moon; it equals the best score I’ve ever shot,” said Lowry, who had a 62 while winning the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur.
“I knew that, as well, and I said it to my caddie coming down the last ‘A birdie here would be the best score I’ve ever shot’, to which obviously he said, ‘Well then why don’t you just go for it’.
“I left the putt short but I felt like I hit a decent putt, it was just a bit more into the grain than I felt, and yeah, obviously I’m very chuffed.
“I had quite a lot of time off since the World Cup, but put in a decent bit of work the last two weeks over here in Dubai and I’ve just gone out with not much expectation but knew I was playing OK and yeah, everything clicked.”
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, who is trying to win the tournament for the third year in a row, is tied for 22nd in a group that includes Dustin Johnson on 3 under. World number two Brooks Koepka is joint 11th on 5-under.