Rory McIlroy is back and looks to be in Masters form already

Posted January 20, 2018

"Those two played great, but I was very happy to get in today, sort of from the turn, I didn't play that great and so I was kind of hanging on".

An early start suited Pieters, as he claimed two birdies in his first four holes. Johnson, already a victor on the PGA Tour this year, had four birdies and four bogeys Thursday.

European number one Fleetwood was certainly impressed, adding: "He hit this little fade into that pin and I haven't got that shot!"

In the biggest test by far in his golfing career, the 38-year-old produced a very respectable performance in one of the European Tour's top events that is played on a really tough course.

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Defending Abu Dhabi champion Tommy Fleetwood celebrated his 27th birthday and stayed within two shots of the lead while winning his threeball with Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.

Former world No.1 Rory McIlroy, playing alongside Fleetwood and top-ranked Dustin Johnson, made an excellent return to competition golf with a three-birdie round of 69. He was making his season debut after coping with a rib injury most of a year ago in which he slipped to No. 11 in the world ranking.

"It's massive. Five shots to make up over the weekend is quite a lot, especially with a bunched leaderboard, so to cut that deficit to three, I feel so much closer to the lead".

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm eagled the par-5 fifth — hitting a 5-iron from 215 yards to 5 feet — and played the first six holes in 6 under. I always struggle to read these greens. "But I'm obviously delighted with the two days' work, all safely through to the weekend". "It seems like I've got good memories of every hole so it's about drawing from those past experiences".

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"Tommy had one of the best years out of anyone last year".

"The size of the crowd seemed to get more and more as the day went on". I feel like I really like the golf course. "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 health-wise".

"Today felt marginally better and was another solid day".

Johnson is paired with McIlroy and Fleetwood for the opening rounds, while Rose goes out with Olympic silver medalist Stenson and bronze victor Kuchar.

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