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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods struggling, fifth-ranked Justin Rose and unheralded Jamie Donaldson had 5-under 67s Thursday for a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
McIlroy, playing with new clubs following his multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, finished with a 75 and risks missing the cut. Woods shot an even-par 72.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain finished one stroke behind the leaders.
McIllroy repeatedly missed fairways, including a shot on his 12th that hit a tree and ended up in a parking lot, leading to one of his two double bogeys. His other 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 McIlroy 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 adjusting to the new Nike 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. "But I guess I can learn from it and move on and go into tomorrow and try and play a bit better. It's about playing yourself into the weekend."
Woods, who was paired with McIlroy, finished a rollercoaster round at par after "grinding it out." The 14-time major winner had four birdies and 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. "You know, if I two-putt that last hole I'm in I think 12th or 13th or something like that. 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."
McIlroy had two double bogeys in a round for the first time since missing the cut last year at the Memorial in May. The 75 is the highest score the two-time major champion had shot at the National course in Abu Dhabi.
Woods can thank his short game and putter for salvaging the round, saving par on several occasions and sinking several long birdie putts. He had 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 world's top two players and he showed it in the first round. 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. And I guess it was a good scoring day for me and obviously I could see that no one else in the afternoon had made any sort of run, so I felt very good about that score."
Rose said it was too early to make much of his lead, even if he did outplay the biggest names in golf.
"I'd be reticent to say I've looked at what they have done and what they have scored and take it and put any value to it really," Rose said. "It's the first round of the year. There's a lot of factors involved, certainly a lot of factors for Rory involved this week.
"That's not his normal preparation with what he's had to obviously encounter the last couple of weeks, I'm sure. What did Tiger shoot, 1 under? Level? That's well within the golf tournament. So for me there's really no surprises there, and from my point of view, just very, very happy with a good start."
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, played some pretty good golf out there," said Donaldson, who was looking for his second European Tour victory. "Obviously 5 under is a great start. I played pretty good in most of the round but 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 76. He was joined by Europe's new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley (76), who also is in danger of missing the cut.