McIlroy admits to rustiness after round of 75
Updated: Thursday, 17 Jan 2013 14:02
The last time Rory McIlroy shot 75 he went on to win his second major title by eight strokes.
But it will be some feat if the world number one, playing competitively with his new Nike clubs for the first time, does the same at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - if he is still around for the final two rounds, that is.
After two double bogeys on the opening day - one the result of a wild tee shot at a par three and the other a drive that struck a tree and went out of bounds - McIlroy is in a battle to make the cut.
The 23-year-old is only just inside the top 100 in the 126-strong field and eight adrift of leaders Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson who sit on five under.
He has also suffered another "loss" in head-to-head combat with Tiger Woods, even with the 14-major champion hitting one of the worst shots of his professional career in his level-par 72.
Woods hit a drive barely 120 yards at the 405-yard first - his 10th hole - and had to take his second shot from short of the fairway.
There was no way McIlroy, who has outscored the American only three times in 12 clashes, was going to blame his unhappy start to 2013 on his mega-million pound equipment change, however.
"I feel like I was a little bit rusty, not playing any competitive golf for eight weeks," he said. His last tournament was in Dubai in November, when he birdied the last five holes to win the DP World Tour Championship.
"I didn't drive the ball particularly well, which you sort of need to round here because the rough is very thick.
"I actually hit my irons pretty well, but just didn't hole any putts. I'll work on that."
Asked if it was to be expected that it would take time to get used to the club switch, he replied: "Of course it does, but I'm really happy with the way the ball is in the wind - it was really stable - and the wedge play.
"I wasn't very comfortable off the tee, but just because I didn't feel like I was swinging it that well.
"I've been working leading up to Christmas and then obviously into the New Year, but it's a little bit of an experimental period and I have four weeks off after this tournament just to work on it."
Not that he has given up on the week.
"I feel like if I can just get comfortable and swing it a little better I can still play some good rounds here.
"I'm disappointed. I felt like I could have played better and shot a better score.
"I'm not overly concerned how I played. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but I felt there were a few good signs.
"I guess when you're going out with new stuff you're always going to be a little anxious."
Joint first round leader Rose marked his Abu Dhabi Championship debut with a five-under-par 67.
The world number five shares the lead with Welshman Donaldson, both of them having holed a bunker shot as they established a one-stroke lead over Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal.
They would have been pleased with their position regardless of who was in the field, but to have the game's top two players five and eight strokes back respectively made them enjoy dinner even more.
Donaldson beat McIlroy when he won his only European Tour title at the Irish Open last July, but Rose knows what it is like to beat them both.
He did that twice last year, first in the world championship title in Miami in March - Woods was already way out of contention when he withdrew injured on the final day - and then in the unofficial World Golf Final in Turkey in October.
What he most wants that they have, of course, is a major title, but by finishing last season with a course-record 62 in Dubai - McIlroy beat him with five closing birdies - hopes are high for 2013.
He actually set off with a bogey, but by the time he made it from the sand beside the ninth green he was four under and getting up and down from another bunker at the long next took him alongside Donaldson.
Donaldson's maiden triumph at Royal Portrush six months ago in his 255th Tour start helped to propel him into the sport's top 50 and the biggest reward for that is that he will make his Masters debut in April.
He has just been engaged in some banter with this week's defending champion Robert Rock by sending him a picture of his Augusta invitation and asking if the Englishman had got his.
Rock is back outside the top 100 as he was when he beat Woods head-to-head a year ago and he will be able to join his close friend if he makes it into the top 50 by the end of March.
His chances of that were not helped this afternoon when he signed for a 76, the same as new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and Europe's last two leaders Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Darren Clarke, who withdrew from the race for the job at Gleneagles next year to try to play in the match again, came home in 43 for a 79.