Fleetwood, Tanihara share Abu Dhabi lead

Dustin Johnson

Stars likes Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy get their heads down, battling to make sure they are in the running to be crowned Europe's elite player.But, one golfer isn't anxious about the season ahead. No temper tantrums, no detentions, no teacher's notes to his parents.

Tommy Fleetwood made the ideal start to the defence of his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title on Thursday.

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

Despite being two-under early on, Johnson had to settle for a one-over 72 - the same score he opened with past year when finishing just a shot behind Fleetwood.

Give Rory an A, even if he was slightly apprehensive about his return. My pace putting was really good.

"First competitive round in over 100 days so it's a little bit different", said McIlroy, the 2016 FedExCup champ who last played at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on October 8. "But I did well".

Starting on the 10th hole, McIlroy made 11 straight pars, which included a three-putt par on the par-5 18th. I've lost a bit of fat and put on a bit of muscle."McIlroy also got married in 2017, and spent some of his three months off driving around Italy with his new wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible".

"Once I got a little bit of momentum going, I could go with it". Iron play was pretty good.

McIlroy was diagnosed with a minor heart irregularity, found during a routine health check in April, but says "basically, it's nothing". It beat his best opening effort in this event by two shots and was a 13-shot improvement on his first-day score on this course two years ago. And he showed no signs of cooling off with his round on Thursday, which featured hitting all 18 greens in regulation. Otherwise the looked like he'd never been away.

"Had control of my ball really from the get-go".

"So feel like I'm almost the most prepared for a season that I've ever been".

McIlroy duly outscored Johnson by three and while Fleetwood - whose star continues to soar - carded 66, the four-time Major victor has been given sufficient evidence to believe he can overturn that deficit over the next 54 holes.

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.

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