ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods struggling to shake off rust, Justin Rose and unheralded Jamie Donaldson took the spotlight at the Abu Dhabi Championship in opening rounds of 5-under 67 to share a one-shot lead on Thursday.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain were a shot behind. Five others including Henrik Stenson of Sweden were a further shot back in a tie for fifth.
McIlroy, opening his season with new clubs following his multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, finished with a 3-over 75 and risks missing the cut. He repeatedly missed fairways including a shot on his 12th that hit a tree and ended up in a car park that led to one of his two double bogeys. His other double bogey came when he muffed a chip in thick rough on his par-3 6th. He also putted poorly, missing a par putt on his 17th and a birdie putt on the 18th.
The top-ranked Mclroy insisted his difficulties had more to do with rusty strokes than the new equipment that he hyped only a few days ago. While he repeatedly slumped after a bad shot or frowned following a missed putt, the 2012 European Tour and U.S. PGA Tour money winner seemed resigned to the fact that it would take time for him to adjust to the new clubs.
"When you go out and you've got new stuff, you are going to be a little anxious and hopefully you play well," McIlroy said.
"Feel like I was a little bit rusty. Didn't drive the ball particularly well which you sort of need to around here because the rough is very thick. Actually hit my irons pretty well but just didn't hole any putts."
It was the first time McIlroy had two double bogeys in a round since he missed the cut at the Memorial in May. It was also the highest score the two-time major champion had shot on the National course.
Woods, meanwhile, finished a rollercoaster round at even par after "grinding it out." The 14-time major winner had four birdies to go along with four bogeys and ended his round by three-putting his 18th for a bogey when he hit the second putt too hard.
"I'm still right there," said the second-ranked Woods, who was five shots behind the leaders. "There's not a lot of guys going low out there. These fairways are tiny to begin with, but there are a lot of crosswinds."
Woods can thank his short game and putter for salvaging the round, saving par on several occasions and sinking several long birdie putts. He carded three birdies on the last four holes of his front nine. But he lost that momentum on the back nine, when he mishit a tee shot that led to a bogey on 10, and couldn't hole a short par putt on his 11th.
"I put something up there and lost it," Woods said of his bogeys on the back. "I had another chance at 3 to make another bogey in row and made a good save there. That kind of got it going a little bit. But it was tough out there. I didn't hit it that well. On top of that, this wind just magnifies it. You really have to control your ball today."
Rose came into the tournament saying he felt he was closing the gap on McIlroy and Woods. He had five of his six birdies on the front nine, sinking a 50-foot birdie putt on 5 and holing a bunker shot on 9 for birdie. He cooled down considerably after that as conditions worsened, saving par on 17 and then just missing a birdie putt on 18 that would have given him the lead.
"That was definitely a great start, shooting 5 under," Rose said. "I knew it was going to be a tough afternoon, and certainly the wind picked up even more on the back nine. I could see that no one else in the afternoon had made any sort of run, so I felt very good about that score."
The 47th-ranked Donaldson also showed how to master the course's narrow fairways and overcome the windy conditions. He had six birdies — including holing a bunker shot on his 12th — to go along with a bogey.
"Solid start," said Donaldson, who's looking for his second European Tour victory. "There were times when it wasn't quite on, we made some good up and downs. It was a matter of scoring well and keeping the momentum going."
The conditions were less kind to last year's winner Robert Rock, who finished with a 4-over 76. He was joined by Europe's new Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley (76), who also is in danger of missing the cut.