Fleetwood, Tanihara lead in Abu Dhabi as McIlroy returns

Dustin Johnson

Around the time Fleetwood was moving to six-under, the Scot dropped his only shot of the round at the par-3 seventh, but, that blip apart, it was a good day's for Gallacher in his first competitive round since the Nedbank Challenge towards the end of last season.

The 2017 Championship victor Tommy Fleetwood showed no signs of loosening his grip on the Falcon Trophy on Thursday, as the Brit shot a clinical, bogey-free round of 66 to lead the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA on day one at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. "It was a good day".

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole. "Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year". "It could have been better but I'll take it".

Fleetwood didn't miss a green in regulation, endorsing his new-found love for a course which once made him grimace.

McIlroy, therefore, was as intrigued as anyone to see how he would fare in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday. He is, after all, the defending champion.

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Interestingly, Johnson "kinda" agreed with Woods' suggestion that pros ought to use reduced-distance balls with the same specifications before apparently altering his views ahead of the Abu Dhabi event. "All in all, a very good morning". It was entirely typical of Fleetwood to extol the virtues of his playing partners - "I think this was probably the best threeball that I'll play in during my life" - and then go out and beat them. "You think the rough is okay at times but other times it will catch you out", he said. Last year's European Tour Player of the Year, Fleetwood has picked up where he left off last season.

"Felt like I did what you need to do well around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons, but you can't really be too greedy all the time". He could sell that for plenty of dirhams on Sunday.

Starting from the 10th at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy opened with 11 straight pars and could be forgiven for growing increasingly frustrated, especially after three-putting the par-five 18th for par.

But the 38-year-old slipped back late in his round, back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes leaving him on two under.

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