Schwartzel edges Harrington on day 1
Charl Schwartzel maintained his early-season momentum on the first day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Charl Schwartzel maintained his magnificent early-season momentum on the first day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Just four days after retaining the Joburg Open and going to the top of the Race To Dubai standings, the World Number 23 went out and shot a 64 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club that took him to a staggering 60 under for his last 13 rounds and put him on top of Thursday’s first round leaderboard.
And it could so easily have been even better. The slim, 26-year-old South African was eight-under after 12 holes, but bogeyed the 17th before picking up another stroke at the par five last.
Schwartzel leads by one from early clubhouse leader Padraig Harrington, who emerged brightly from a summer of discontent and a winter break that has featured a series of changes to his golf game.
And it’s all been worthwhile it seems. The changes seemed to working. Benefiting from less wind than the later starters, the Irish hero shot a fine seven under par 65 in his first event of the season.
Coming into the elite European Tour event without a victory since the 2008 US PGA Championship, Harrington went out and set the early pace – helped by the luck of the Irish on the long eighth, his 17th.
The 39-year-old’s chip for eagle hit the flag at speed and dropped in.
“It was a shock it went in at that pace,” he admitted.
Lying third after rounds of 66 were Swede Alexander Noren and US Open Champion and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell who, in a spectacular run, birdied the last five holes for an inward 30.
The defending champion, Martin Kaymer, and England’s Danny Willet are a shot back on 5-under after the first round with World Number One Lee Westwood on 3-under after opening his 2011 season with a 69.
In a star-studded field including all four current Major champions, Masters Tournament winner Phil Mickelson marked his Middle East debut with a 71, which included two birdies.
Some of the adjustments Harrington has made to his swing seem to have helped him drive the ball straighter than he has for some considerable time, but that wasn’t all that he brought to Abu Dhabi.
He also has a new putting routine for the new campaign and just as important as his eagle was a closing 12-foot par putt after finding sand.
“The first putt of the day I was away with the fairies, but I made the most out of the round – another day that would have been 69,” he said.
“One thing showed up in the States last year. I was about 156th in every putting category, so something needed to be done.”
Harrington has never been one to leave any stone unturned in his quest to maximise his talent.
Westwood drove into the lake on the sixth for his only bogey, but was “delighted” overall with his round.
“It’s a course I battle with and it was nice to make that (15-foot) putt on the last – I felt I deserved to break 70,” he commented before confirming that he will not be playing the Players Championship in Florida in May because of US PGA Tour restrictions placed on him as a non-member.
Rory McIlroy on latest near-miss in Abu Dhabi: ‘I don’t feel like I played great’
McIlroy avoids mentioning final-round blues but admits he needs to get more consistent.
Tyrrell Hatton eyes Ryder Cup spot after winning Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Hatton carded a closing 66 to finish 18 under par.
Tyrrell Hatton wins Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as Rory McIlroy misses out
Australia’s Jason Scrivener recorded an eagle and five birdies in a back nine of 29 to claim second place.
Rory McIlroy leads the way in Abu Dhabi as he eyes overdue victory
McIlroy will have to keep his Ryder Cup team-mates at bay if he is to claim the trophy.
Tyrrell Hatton dominant as Rory McIlroy falters in Abu Dhabi
Hatton led by five shots at the end of a second weather-affected day.
Phil Mickelson on Tiger’s latest surgery: ‘I feel bad because golf should be a game of a lifetime’
Mickelson admitted he was saddened by the news of Woods’ latest back surgery.
Rory McIlroy makes brilliant start to fog-affected Abu Dhabi Championship
McIlroy has a remarkable record in Abu Dhabi with four second-place finishes.
Rory McIlroy shines in Abu Dhabi to take first-round lead following flawless 64
McIlroy has a remarkable record in Abu Dhabi with four second-place finishes, three thirds and a fifth in his last nine starts, but has never won.
Justin Thomas on end of Ralph Lauren deal: ‘They moved on so that’s what I’m doing as well’
Justin Thomas said he was upset by...
My last win feels a long time ago – Rory McIlroy aiming to start year on a high
McIlroy has not tasted victory since November 2019.