McIlroy hits the front as under-fire Thomas toils after Abu Dhabi fog delay

By Sports Desk January 21, 2021

Rory McIlroy put his lowest-scoring round at the Abu Dhabi Championship down to precision putting as the four-time major winner shot a first-round 64.

The Northern Irishman, paired with the under-fire Justin Thomas, had to be patient as play was delayed amid fog but he made up for lost time in eye-catching fashion.

McIlroy closed day one on eight under, putting the 31-year-old a shot clear of Ryder Cup team-mate Tyrrell Hatton, with Fabrizio Zanotti a stroke further back.

The delay meant not everyone managed to complete 18 holes, but McIlroy was pleased to be sitting pretty in the clubhouse. 

"A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part. Distance control was really good," McIlroy said of a display which saw him sink four birdies apiece on the front and back nine.

"I think I started off really well and hit a lot of nice iron shots, but honestly it was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career.

"I've shot some really good scores here but I held some really good ones today.

"And I've always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept it going."

After becoming embroiled in recent controversy for his use of a homophobic slur, McIlroy's playing partner Thomas found himself well off the pace on one over.

The American was dropped by sponsor Ralph Lauren following the incident, in which the world number three was heard making an offensive comment by a television microphone when playing at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this month.

Thomas subsequently apologised for his "inexcusable" use of the slur.

Reigning champion Lee Westwood carded a 69, putting him in a big group on three under, with English compatriot Justin Rose for company, though the Olympic champion managed only 11 holes.

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