Rory McIlroy may have to contend with fierce winds as he tries to avoid beginning the year with a missed cut for only the second time in his career.
Making his first start of 2022, McIlroy dropped shots on each of his last two holes Thursday to sign for an even-par 72 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. That left him nine shots off the early lead, but more pressing is he sits in a tie for 77th. That has added relevance with the second-round forecast in Abu Dhabi, which is calling for 40-mph gusts in the afternoon.
McIlroy was among those in the early-late wave, while world No. 2 Collin Morikawa, who opened with 73, will go off in the morning Friday.
“It’s going to be a windy day tomorrow,” McIlroy told reporters afterward, “so we’re not sure how the course will play. And, yes, I would have liked to start better, but it’s still a long way to go.”
McIlroy had an uneven day with four birdies offset by four dropped shots, two of which came on the last two holes, when he three-putted from 40 feet on the eighth (his 17th) and then hit an errant tee shot on his final hole of the day. Overall, he needed 32 putts and lost more than two strokes to the field on the greens.
“I struggled to read the greens, if anything,” he said, “as I hit some good putts that just didn’t go in and that putt on the last was the story of the day. I felt like I started it on-line with good speed and it just didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. So, hopefully, I can start hitting good putts and they start to drop.”
McIlroy has shown improved form since his disappointing performance at the Ryder Cup. He won the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup in the fall and nearly won the DP World Tour’s season finale in Dubai. This is his first start in more than a month, since he played the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
McIlroy is typically a fast starter, racking up a series of top-5s in Abu Dhabi but never a win. The tournament moved this year to a new venue, Yas Links.
Only once in McIlroy’s career has begun the year with a missed cut, in 2013.