Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (SportsNetwork.com) - Martin Kaymer overcame a pair of bogeys in his opening round Thursday as he fired an 8-under 64 to grab a one-shot lead at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Kaymer, a three-time winner of this event, birdied three of his last four holes to earn the first-round lead. He owns both the 36- and 72-hole scoring record at this event.
Thomas Pieters opened with a 7-under 65 on the National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and is alone in second place. Branden Grace carded a 6-under 66 and was joined in third place by Gregory Bourdy, Tyrell Hatton, Alexander Levy and Mikko Ilonen.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was tied for eighth place after he shot 67. Among those tied with McIlroy was Rickie Fowler, who finished inside the top five at all four majors last year.
"It was good. To shoot 67 the first round of the year is nice. How I got to that 67 wasn't quite as glamorous at times," admitted McIlroy. "There's a couple of things I need to work on if I want to have a chance to win this tournament. I need to drive the ball better for sure and I missed a few opportunities on the greens as well."
Kaymer, the 2008, 2010 and 2011 winner, opened with a birdie at the first. After three pars in a row, he moved to 2-under as he birdied No. 5. He followed a birdie at the seventh with an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 eighth.
The German gave that stroke right back as he bogeyed the ninth, then erased that mistake with a 5-foot birdie effort at 10. After a long birdie putt on the 11th, he stumbled to another bogey at the 12th to dip back to minus-4.
Kaymer birdied the 13th and 15th, both from about 10 feet, to inch within one of Pieters, the early leader. Kaymer grabbed a piece of the lead with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
At the par-5 closing hole, Kaymer reached the green in two. His eagle effort missed short and right of the hole, but he tapped in for a closing birdie and the slim lead.
"I putted well. I made 10 birdies. I'm not sure if I have ever done (that before). I hit a lot of fairways, my irons were quite sharp and I putted well. It's very difficult to shoot a bad score when you play like this," said Kaymer. "Now, the goal is not to compare myself tomorrow to the round what happened today. Tomorrow will be a new start, but it's a brilliant start to a great tournament."
Pieters got on the board with birdies at the third and fifth. After a pair of pars, he kicked off a hot stretch with a birdie on the par-5 eighth.
The 2014 Open de Espana runner-up also birdied the ninth to make the turn at minus-4.
Pieters followed with birdies at 10 and 11 to make it four in a row. He climbed to minus-7 with a birdie on No. 13. However, Pieters stumbled to a bogey on the par-3 15th. He atoned for that mistake with a birdie at the last.
"It was nice to start out the season with a 7-under round, so I'm happy," Pieters stated. "I like the greens here."
NOTES: Along with winning this title three times in four years, Kaymer shared second place in 2009 ... Miguel Angel Jimenez had a hole-in-one on No. 15, while Tom Lewis aced the par-3 seventh ... Jimenez's ace was his eighth on the European Tour, which moved him within one of Colin Montgomerie's tour record ... Henrik Stenson, a two-time runner-up at this event, struggled to a 4-over 76, while former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose tripped to a 1-over 73 ... Defending champion Pablo Larrazabal managed a 1-under 71, which left him tied for 59th ... Alexander Noren, also tied at 5-under, is playing in just his third event in the last 14 months after battling tendinitis in both wrists.