Rory McIlory and Tiger Woods both looked short of form on Thursday as they opened their 2013 campaigns at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
World No.1 McIlroy, playing for the first time in competition with his new Nike golf clubs had two double-bogeys en route to a three-over par 75 that left him trailing down in 62nd place
Second-ranked Woods was wayward off the tee as he matched four birdies with four bogeys to come in at level par.
The third member of the day’s marquee grouping, three-times former winner at Abu Dhabi Martin Kaymer, bettered them both with a one under 69 that left him four shots off the early pace set by Jamie Donaldson of Wales.
Europe’s choice of Paul McGinley as captain for the defence of the trophy at Gleneagles, Scotland in 2014 had dominated most of the build-up to a tournament which has become a platform for the top players to open their seasons.
But the focus in perfect, early morning conditions switched to McIlroy and Woods, who now find themselves as stablemates of sportswear giant Nike following the Northern Irishman’s mega-money deal with the US company announced here on Monday.
How he would fare with his new clubs was one of the talking points of the day. He had a solid enough start but things took a distinct turn for the worse at the short 15th (his sixth hole) where McIlroy sent it way long and right.
The 23-year-old Ulsterman looked shocked at how far off target he was and he promptly failed to find the green with his chip from thick rough.
The result was a double bogey five and a three shot swing in favour of Woods and Kaymer, who both had birdies.
McIlroy remained at three behind his playing partners at the turn, but it was Woods’ turn to struggle as he topped his drive off the 1st tee and failed to even reach the fairway 180 yards away.
The American eventually had back-to-back bogeys to start his back nine, allowing McIlroy to draw level with him at level par but the world No.1 then hit a wild drive out of bounds at the third and had to go back to the tee.
A second double bogey was his punishment as he fell back to two over with Woods at level par and Kaymer at two under.
McIlroy was in trouble again after finding thick rough off the tee at the par-five eighth. He only managed to squirt the ball into a bunker on the other side of the fairway which resulted in another bogey.
Woods birdied that hole with a long putt to duck under par but he three putted the last. McIlroy missed a short birdie putt and both players were shaking their heads ruefully as they completed what had had been frustrating first rounds of the season.
Kaymer found water off the tee and had to settle for a bogey to finish with.