ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Triple former winner Martin Kaymer eclipsed playing partners Rory McIlroy and former world number one Tiger Woods in their marquee three-ball in the first round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday.
German Kaymer, who lifted the spectacular Falcon Trophy in 2008, 2010 and 2011, carded a one-under 71 in difficult winds gusting up to 20mph (30kph) while an out-of-sorts McIlroy ballooned to a 75 and Woods had to settle for a 72.
All three trailed early clubhouse leader Jamie Donaldson of Britain who plotted his way to a five-under 67.
McIlroy, Woods and Kaymer started on the 10th hole at 0740 local time and were introduced to an excited gallery by European Tour chief executive George O‘Grady.
The trio all found sand on their par-five first hole, McIlroy somehow managing to putt his way into a greenside bunker, but each saved par.
The world number one’s game began to unravel when he took a double-bogey five at the 15th. He hit back with a birdie at the long second before producing an errant tee shot at the third and slumping to his second double-bogey in seven holes.
Northern Irishman McIlroy looked on as Woods made a strong move by birdying the 15th, 17th and 18th but the world number two dropped back into the pack with successive bogeys at the first and second.
A birdie at the eighth cheered up the 14-times major winner before he made a mess of the ninth and final hole, three-putting from 30 feet.
Woods, however, was not displeased with his performance.
”I‘m right there,“ the 37-year-old American told reporters. ”If I had two-putted the last I’d have been 12th or 13th, something like that.
”There are not a lot of guys going low out there. You seem like you’re banking up against the wind pretty much all day.
”It’s tough - these fairways are tiny to begin with and there were a lot of crosswinds today,“ added Woods. ”I don’t think it’s supposed to blow as hard tomorrow, at least that’s the forecast.
“The rough is deep enough where it’s tough to get to the green. It’s imperative to get the ball in the fairway.”
Woods completely duffed his drive at the first hole, his 10th, when he struck the ground behind the tee peg and the ball only squirted out 120 yards.
“My game plan was to hit a three-iron or five-wood on that hole and then I changed my mind,” he said.
“I should have just backed off and followed my game plan. I had a strategy for the day and clubs I was going to use and what spot I was going to hit it too. I didn’t do that there, paid the price and made bogey.”
McIlroy, who rubber-stamped a massive sponsorship deal in Abu Dhabi on Monday and is using his new Nike clubs in competition for the first time this week, lamented his driving and putting.
”I feel like I was a little bit rusty having not played competitive golf for eight weeks,“ said the 23-year-old. ”I actually hit my irons pretty well but I just didn’t hole any putts.
“I didn’t drive it well and didn’t putt well so I’ll have to work on that. I‘m disappointed because I could have shot a better score.”
McIlroy refused to put his lacklustre display down to the new equipment.
”Of course, it takes time to get used to ... it’s a little bit of an experimental period,“ said the twice major winner. ”I guess when you’re going out with new stuff you’re always going to be a little anxious.
“I just felt like I wasn’t swinging that well. For the most part I was very happy with everything.”
Kaymer, also a former world number one, recorded his third bogey of the day at the last but his mistakes were offset by birdies at the 11th, 15th, 16th and fifth.
”My putting was very good,“ the German said. ”I made a few good saves and then a couple of really nice long birdie putts went in.
“I hit only three fairways today so I if I start to hit them later in the week I think I can go lower.”
Editing by Ed Osmond