While the golf world had its eyes on new Nike teammates and top-ranked players Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson look toward Day 2 with a one-stroke lead over the field.
Rose and Donaldson each tallied rounds of 67, good enough for five-under par on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a stroke ahead of Thorbjorn Olesen and Pablo Larrazabal at four under.
There aren’t many familiar faces atop the leaderboard, but Paul Casey, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer and Ernie Els (among others) all finished the day tied for 16th at one under. More than three-quarters of the field finished at even par or worse on the day.
Woods finished the day at even par (72) tied for 32nd, but McIlroy was one of 13 players that finished the day two strokes short of the projected cut at three-over par (75), and he’ll have a bit of a hole out of which to dig if he is to compete past Day 2.
Much has been said about McIlroy’s switch to Nike as his main sponsor, and some feel his new clubs may take some getting used to. Several bad shots on Day 1 only led to more speculation.
As quoted by Bob Harig of ESPN, Woods (the face of Nike golf equipment) believes making the switch to new clubs is a “big deal” for any golfer:
"I think that any time you make a change in equipment, it's certainly a big deal. I think it's about how you go at it. Going through the testing process, trying to get the right shaft and the club head, plus ball ... it's a challenge, and there's a lot of hitting of golf balls or a lot of testing, a lot of days out there spending by yourself testing.”
McIlroy will be further testing his new gear in Round 2, and he’ll likely be focusing heavily on improving his work with his new driver. McIlroy finished day one with just 35.7 percent driving accuracy.
Where McIlroy struggled, Rose and Donaldson excelled. Rose hit half of his fairways with a driver, and Donaldson posted a 64.3 driving accuracy mark. Each player also made more than two-thirds of greens in regulation on Day 1.
Despite Dufner’s one-under finish on the day, he may be poised for a move if he can limit his number of putts going forward. Dufner hit 83.3 percent of greens in regulation and posted 64.3 percent driving accuracy, but attempted 32 putts on the round. If the putter starts to come around, he could make a push up the leaderboard on Day 2.
Kaymer will also be a player to make a push on Day 2 after a solid Day 1 performance. He has won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship three times in his career, and eyes a fourth this weekend. He feels comfortable on a course he knows well, as quoted at a tournament press conference (via EuropeanTour.com).
“I'm coming here to a golf course that I really like and have been successful on; that I never really have to play against my feel, which is very rare on golf courses where you go and you can really feel very comfortable.”
The field is still very much wide open, though, and the rest of the weekend should shake out as an exciting one. There haven’t been many low scores yet, but that will change as the cut approaches after Day 2. The full leaderboard can be found here.
*All tournament stats courtesy of EuropeanTour.com.