Tommy Fleetwood starts defence in style at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

ABU DHABI, The 2017 Championship winner Tommy Fleetwood showed no signs of loosening his grip on the Falcon Trophy today, as the Brit shot a clinical, bogey-free round of 66 to lead the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA on day one at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

The Englishman was happy with his competitive return to Abu Dhabi, as he cruised around the sun-kissed course this morning. Playing in the company of World Number One Dustin Johnson and four time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Fleetwood finished comfortably ahead of both titans.

“It was very good, very stress-free,” said the 27-year-old. “I played really well from start to finish, and felt like I did what you need to do well around this golf course which is drive it well, hit your irons � but you can’t really be too greedy all the time. My pace of putting was also really good. Just basically did what you need to do to get a good score around the golf course.”

Japan’s Hideto Tanihara, had the honour of joining the defending champion at the top of the star-studded leader-board at the end of day one. Tanihara put on a faultless performance for his first competitive outing in Abu Dhabi: “It’s a tough course here. I didn’t hit the fairways so much but I’m thinking more about playing smart golf and making good putts. I’m just trying to focus on winning on The European Tour. I didn’t make any bogeys. That’s the key today.”

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters joined four other players, who sat just one shot off Fleetwood’s lead, to finish on 5-under. These included England’s Ross Fisher, Australia’s Sam Brazel, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti. Both Pieters and Zanotti finished their rounds on soaring highs, both claiming Eagles on the par-5 18th hole.

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who was grouped with fellow Olympic medallists Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar, got the better of both his partners with an encouraging round of 2-under par. Rose and Kuchar opened with steady rounds of 71 and 72 respectively.

Following on from his EurAsia Cup victory, Stenson, just a Falcon Trophy away from completing the ‘Desert Swing’ sweep of all Middle Eastern titles, was encouraged by today’s performance to kick-start his season after the winter break: “It was a good fight in there to keep it together. There was a lot of scrambling, the odd chip-in and a couple of good putts. I felt like I left one or two maybe on the greens, but all in all, I was pretty pleased with the score despite not having our best day.”

Fellow European Rory McIlroy was clearly buoyant to be back out on the golf course after having over 100 days out of the professional game: “Yeah, it was nice,” said McIlroy. “I sort of knew what I was expecting out there but at the same time, you never really know. But I did well. I stayed patient. I gave myself loads of chances and started the day with 11 straight pars, so I was trying to stay as patient as possible, so it was nice to birdie three of the last seven there and get in under 70.”

Meanwhile, the Championship invitees got their campaigns underway, flying the flag high for the UAE. Professional qualifier Tom Buchanan, who is based in Al Ain, brought an army of supporters with him, including family and friends, who cheered him on all afternoon. Proving to be his lucky charms, Buchanan shot a commendable two-over par.

UAE-based player Dan Kirkwood, a 32-year-old amateur in the field, posted a solid two-over round in the biggest start of his career to date, to put the Englishman in with a chance of making the weekend’s action. Kirkwood said, “Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the Championship’s 27-year-old Emirati qualifier struggled with the national course in round one, particularly with his short game. But the home-favourite was widely cheered off the 18th tee.”

Source: Emirates News Agency