With ideal weather conditions in the United Arab Emirates, play got underway without issue Thursday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Here's how things stand after one round, where three players have separated themselves from a logjam at the top:
Leaderboard: Rafael Cabrera-Bello (-5), Romain Wattel (-5), Matthew Baldwin (-5), Marc Warren (-4), Paul McGinley (-4), Joost Luiten (-4), Dawie Van der Walt (-4)
What it means: The leaderboard remains a crowded after Day 1 in the desert, as 20 players will begin the second round within two shots of the lead. Among that group is McGinley, the current European Tour Ryder Cup captain who turned back the clock with a 68, while Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer headline the group of players at 2 under through 18 holes.
Round of the day: While three players were able to get around Abu Dhabi GC in 5 under, only Wattel was able to do so without dropping a shot. The Frenchman, who has notched top-five finishes in each of his last two worldwide starts, recorded three birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 4-8 before adding two more circles to his scorecard on the back nine, including the home hole. As a result, he'll hold a share of the lead heading into Friday's second round as he seeks his first career European Tour win.
Best of the rest: A winner in nearby Dubai two years ago, Cabrera-Bello bogeyed his opening hole Thursday but then bounced back in style. The Spaniard recorded six birdies from there, including three across his final five holes, to match Wattel and Baldwin with a 67. After struggling down the stretch in 2013, Cabrera-Bello has positioned himself well early to capture what would be just his second worldwide top-10 finish since July.
Biggest disappointment: Typically, a stop in Abu Dhabi means a healthy payday for Sergio Garcia, but the Spaniard is off to a rough start this time around. Garcia, who has never finished outside the top 20 in five career starts in this event, struggled to a 4-over 76 in the opening round and also battled a shoulder injury. The 34-year-old had just a single birdie on his card and suffered three straight bogeys from Nos. 13-15.
Main storyline heading into Friday: No disrespect to the trio atop the leaderboard, but the main focus remains on some of the bigger names in the chase pack. McIlroy and Kaymer, each with stellar records in Abu Dhabi, got off to solid starts, while Phil Mickelson has some work to do after a 1-over 71 and world No. 3 Henrik Stenson is one shot further back. Mickelson had 17 consecutive pars to start the day and one bogey to finish.