Johnson, McIlroy vault into contention in Abu Dhabi

Dustin Johnson

The four-time major victor called an early end to his winless campaign, just the second of his professional career, in October, but reaped the rewards of some hard work over the winter with an opening three-under-par 69.

Pieters, Fisher and Casey were all members of the European team which won the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur last week, with Casey having rejoined the European Tour after a three-year absence in order to be eligible for September's Ryder Cup. That he threatens to do so at the Abu Dhabi GC is not surprising in one sense (he is 5-for-5) but is in another (he has a best of T19).

"I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of hard to convert them", said McIlroy, who has finished second in the tournament four times.

McIlroy, playing his first competitive round since October 8 when he shut down his injury-ravaged 2017 season much earlier than scheduled, drove the ball beautifully, but was frustrated early in his round as he could not convert his birdie chances.

File photo shows Dustin Johnson hitting from the fourth fairway during the third round of the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.

"So it's definitely good". "It seems like I've got good memories of every hole so it's about drawing from those past experiences. But I'm obviously delighted with the two days' work, all safely through to the weekend". "I was trying to do some stretches to try and get it off". That's better than most adults and he still has many years to develop to get even better. "The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and things I needed to work on health-wise and all that sort of stuff", said the four-time major champion.

"So you've just got to roll with it". On the back nine, he found his composure and birdied 10th and 11th and added another on 18th, just like the first day.

"Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coat-tails for most of the round, so really pleased; bogey-free 69 I can't really complain". But other than that, it was just really solid all day long. His ball ended up closer to the pin than either Dustin Johnson's or Tommy Fleetwood's, earning the respect of the tourney's headliners.

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