Tommy Fleetwood picks up where he left off to outshine Rory McIlroy

Javier Stokes
January 20, 2018

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroys patience was tested Thursday on his comeback, needing three late birdies to shoot 3-under 69 that left him three strokes behind first-round leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

At nine under par McIlroy is just three from the halfway lead in the Middle East, with the rising standard of his play endorsing the theory of him being the man to beat.

McIlroy - who has yet to make a bogey at the tournament - rolled in an eagle putt at the last for a six-under-par 66.

Fleetwood, the defending champion and last years European Tour money victor, continued his solid form by hitting all greens in regulation.

Playing his first event since calling an early end to his injury-plagued and winless season in October a year ago McIlroy said: "I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of hard to convert them", McIlroy said.

"First competitive round in over 100 days, so its a little bit different", said McIlroy, who last played at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on October 8.

"It felt like I..."

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Even though Murphy went out there and shocked some of the top players in the world, maybe it shouldn't have been so shocking that he hit a brilliant shot. "Today was an improvement on yesterday just in terms of scoring". Johnson shot 64 while Fleetwood returned a 68.

The world No 1 is now eight under with Tommy Fleetwood - 27 today - who played alongside McIlroy and Johnson, at minus 10. I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player. "But it was good fun and he hit a great shot, a really, really good little swing".

"Hitting 18 greens, that doesn't happen very often, so nice to do it around here". That all helps. Off the tee was decent and I rolled in a couple of putts which was nice.

Brazel started fast with a birdie at the 10th hole, his first, but gave the shot back immediately.

"I was probably a little nervous on the 1st tee". "I was trying to do some stretches to try and get it off".

"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".

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