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Rory McIlroy keeps good company and tidy scorecard on return

19 January 2018

On Thursday, 13-year-old Oscar Murphy from Northern Ireland got the chance of a lifetime in the challenge, going up against Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood and his favorite golfer and fellow countryman, Rory McIlroy.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson, runner-up to Fleetwood on his Abu Dhabi debut previous year, struggled for consistency in his level-par 72, while a host of Ryder Cup hopefuls were in excellent form in near-perfect conditions. He needed three late birdies to register a 3-under 69, leaving him three strokes behind first-round leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

"I started off with 11 pars and it could have been a lot better than that so I tried to stay as patient as possible".

'My expectation coming into this week was that I could win because after such a good break I think I'm almost the most prepared for a season that I've ever been, ' he said.

However, McIlroy has undergone blood profiles and worked with a dietician, monitoring his salt intake and upping his fish oil intake with six tablets a day.He has, he says, become a "bit of a pain in the backside" for waiters by continually ordering food cooked in specific ways or without oil or butter. But I did well. "This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again".

Fleetwood proved to be deadly accurate from tee to green, and admitted he was delighted to be so accurate so early in the season.

"It was very stress free".

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Playing it the other way round to Gallacher, Ramsay bagged five birdies, including a 4 to finish, and was delighted with his start to the campaign as he bids to improve on finishing 31st in last year's Race to Dubai.

Fleetwood said he had control of his ball throughout.

"Eighteen greens doesn't happen very often so nice to do it around here".

"Then sort of my pace putting was really good". I hung in there pretty well today. "There were no mistakes, I played very solidly, very smart". That might be the best one I get.

"All you can do is concentrate on your own game and that's what you always do, is you set out to play the best you can". "I think after the first day, seeing where my game's at and playing alongside two of the most in-form players in the world right now, I feel like I'm not that far away".

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

Rory McIlroy keeps good company and tidy scorecard on return