McIlroy feeling 'a little different' but happy with injury return
Rory McIlroy was satisfied with his first outing after an injury-enforced absence, having carded a bogey-free three-under 69 in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy last played at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October last year, where he finished tied 63rd. Falling to 11th in the world and failing to win a major since 2014, McIlroy knows this is a big year for his career.
Despite his long layoff from competitive golf, McIlroy appeared relatively comfortable on the course Thursday, playing alongside first-round co-leader and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood (-6) and world number one Dustin Johnson (Par).
"I sort of knew what I was expecting out there, but at the same time, you never really know," McIlroy said after his round. "First competitive round in over a hundred days, so it's a little bit different.
"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."
Rust can become a factor after extended time off, but McIlroy said he felt comfortable mentally and physically during the first round.
"Really pleased, actually. I played very solid," McIlroy said. "I think only missed one or two greens, so gave myself plenty of chances.
"Drove the ball well. Iron play was pretty good. So I just need to keep doing that over the next three days and I should have a chance. I was proud of myself the way I hung in there."
Just three shots off the pace after the first round, McIlroy's goal to win remained intact.
"My expectation coming into this week was that I could win, but 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."