Rory McIlroy has taken the early lead after a bogey-free opening round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The world number six, who is searching for his first tournament win since November 2019, carded an impressive 64 to finish on eight under, one shot clear of England's Tyrrell Hatton, setting the early pace.

"A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part. Distance control was really good," McIlroy said. afterwards.

"I think I started off really well and hit a lot of nice iron shots. But honestly it was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career."

McIlroy has finished in the top five eight times at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club but is still in the hunt for his first title.
"I've shot some really good scores here but I held some really good ones today," the 31-year-old added. "And I've always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept it going."

Padraig Harrington is six shots further back on two under after a 70 to squeeze just inside the top 20, while Graeme McDowell made the turn at one under par, before picking up another shot to finish level. 

Shane Lowry is not enjoying his opening round, as the 2019 Open champion's card was ruined by a triple-bogey seven on the ninth. Three more bogeys coupled with two early birdies leaves the Clara man on three over. 


McIlroy made a fast start, with a birdie at the 10th, picking up further shots at the 12th, 15th and 18th.

His positive momentum continued as he progressed to the front nine with three birdies in-a-row completed by consecutive birdies on the first and second.

Further birdies on the sixth and eighth holes helped him maintain an advantage over the field as he completed his opening round.

"It feels good," McIlroy told Sky Sports after surpassing his previous best score in Abu Dhabi. "I actually thought that to myself after I turned four under.

Padraig Harrington lines up a putt on the 18th green

"I knew 65 is the best I've shot here and I've shot it a few times, so I thought let's try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that.

"I maybe played slightly better on our front nine, but I holed some really nice putts coming in for birdies. It was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career.

"I've always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept me going. It was obviously a lovely way to start the year."

McIlroy, who began 2020 with four straight top-five finishes, struggled to reproduce such form after the coronavirus shutdown, although the 31-year-old ended the year with a tie for fifth in the Masters, despite an opening 75 at Augusta National.

"It was getting better as the year went on and honestly it was sort of disappointing that it finished when it did because I felt like I was getting right back into it," he added.

"I didn't really take much time off after Augusta. I sat at home for maybe three or four days and was like I just need to get out there and sort of keep this going.

"Played quite a bit over the Christmas break and practiced quite a bit. Felt maybe as sharp as I've ever done coming into the start of the season. It's paid off early."

Meanwhile, Ryder Cup captain Harrington picked up consecutive birdies on the 16th and 17th but saw his progress dented by back-to-back bogeys on the first and second.

But he picked up shots on the fifth and sixth as the three-time major winner restored momentum.

Defending champion Lee Westwood is five shots off the lead after an opening 69 but world number three Justin Thomas struggled to a 73.