Fleetwood, Tanihara lead in Abu Dhabi as McIlroy returns

Tommy Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara lead Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after Round 1

World No 1 Dustin Johnson, runner-up to Fleetwood on his Abu Dhabi debut previous year, struggled for consistency in his level-par 72, while a host of Ryder Cup hopefuls were in excellent form in near-perfect conditions.

Heading out early on Thursday morning alongside world No 1 Dustin Johnson and the returning Rory McIlroy, Fleetwood opened with a birdie, at the 10th, then reeled off five more before departing the National Course on 6-under par.

Fox is tied with 17 other players at two-under, four strokes off the pace of Japan's Hideto Tanihara and England's Tommy Fleetwood, who both shot six birdies in their rounds of 66, with Fleetwood the defending Abu Dhabi champion and last year's European Tour money-list victor.

Fleetwood hit six birdies to card a six-under-par 66 and was matched by Tanihara.

Four-time major champion McIlroy, making his first competitive appearance since ending his 2017 season prematurely in October to recover from a rib problem, shot a three-under 69 to sit tied 17th, having also avoided dropping a shot. "I sort of knew what I was expecting out there but at the same time, you never really know".

Another five players are one stroke back, including Fabrizio Zanotti, Ross Fisher, Thomas Pieters, Sam Brazel and Bernd Wiesberger.

"Really pleased, actually. I played very solid".

American Johnson made four birdies but also an equal number of bogeys, including one on his last hole where he pushed his tee shot into the water, for an even-par 72 start.

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"(It's my) first competitive round in over a hundred days, so it's a little bit different.

"I think after the first day, seeing where my game's at and playing alongside two of the most in-form players in the world right now, I feel like I'm not that far away". A bogey-free 69, I can't really complain.

"I was excited to get going".

"So I feel like I'm almost the most prepared for a season that I've ever been, so those couple of months were nice".

"At one point, I was trying to figure it out", Fleetwood said.

"Doesn't matter how long I play".

"I started off with 11 pars and could have been a lot better than that".


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