A year ago, Rory McIlroy arrived in Abu Dhabi amid much fanfare as the world's top-ranked player, only to miss the cut. This time around, the Ulsterman appears poised to extend his stay in the desert through Sunday.
McIlroy failed to drop a shot during his opening round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and at 2-under 70 he sits among a large tie for 19th, three shots off the lead with three rounds to play.
"I played well, I was very happy with how I struck the ball from tee to green," noted McIlroy, who reached 15 of 18 greens in regulation Thursday. "I felt like I drove the ball really well, which you need to do around here because the rough is so thick."
McIlroy's opening effort is a far cry from his 2013 performance, when his first start as a member of the Nike stable ended abruptly after consecutive rounds of 75. And while playing partner Phil Mickelson struggled Thursday, failing to make a single birdie in his opening round, McIlroy seemed eager to continue the momentum he garnered with his Australian Open win last month.
"I was hitting it long, and hitting it straight. I just didn't really take advantage of some of the opportunities I gave myself," he added. "It was definitely a round that could have been a little better, but no bogeys, it was a solid start."