|Tiger Woods walks after putting at the sixth green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Joseph J. Capellan)
ABU DHABI, UAE - Rory McIlroy and Robert Karlsson both fired rounds of five-under 67 on Thursday to share the opening-round lead of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Tiger Woods made his 2012 debut and played decently enough with a two-under 70. Woods, who ended his 2011 campaign with an unofficial win at the Chevron World Challenge, his first anywhere in two years, hit the ball well on Thursday, but the flat stick let him down.
Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways and 17 greens in regulation, but needed 35 putts in round one.
"I just had a hard time getting a feel for these greens. It was difficult and my speed was off," said Woods, who is tied for ninth place.
Woods, despite a fall in the world rankings to 25th, still made headlines with his season debut, but he was not the only big star to open his season in the Gulf.
World No. 1 Luke Donald had a one-under 71 in his first outing of the year. Donald played with McIlroy, also making his first start of 2012, and Woods in round one and will again on Friday.
World No. 2 Lee Westwood managed an even-par 72.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Thursday's first round was the poor performance of the fourth-ranked player in the world.
Martin Kaymer, the two-time defending champion and three-time winner, struggled badly on Thursday. He went out in 39, came back in 38 and signed for a five-over 77.
The German has won this event three times with a runner-up finish in the last four years.
That's an amazing record, but McIlroy is no slouch at Abu Dhabi. He's tied for fifth, took third and finished second in his last three appearances at this event.
"I feel it suits me really well. Just one problem -- it suits Martin Kaymer even better," said McIlroy.
The reigning U.S. Open champion started on the 10th tee Thursday and went on a great run almost immediately after teeing off. McIlroy ran home a nine-footer for birdie at 11, a 12-footer for birdie at 12 and capped off his run with a three-foot birdie putt at the 13th.
McIlroy dropped a shot at the 14th, then again at No. 17, but rebounded at the par-five 18th, despite hitting a tent with his second shot. The Northern Irishman got back to three-under par thanks to a short birdie putt at the par- five second.
McIlroy inched up the leaderboard late in his second nine. He knocked his tee ball inside four feet to set up a birdie at the par-three seventh, then chipped in for a birdie at the par-five eighth.
It was not a statistically beautiful round for the world No. 3. He missed eight fairways and six greens in regulation, but he scrambled well and is atop the leaderboard.
"It was a good score and a great way to start 2012, but I don't feel I drove the ball particularly well and it's something I've got to work on," said McIlroy. "It was nothing that a good practice session won't fix."
Karlsson also began on the 10th tee in round one, but he endured an up-and- down start. He traded two birdies and two bogeys over his first four holes, then parred his next three.
The tall Swede birdied 17 and 18 to make the turn at two-under par. Karlsson parred his first three holes on his second side, then rattled off three birdies in five holes to join McIlroy in the lead.
Gareth Maybin, Richard Finch and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet are knotted in third place at four-under 68.
Nicolas Colsaerts, Robert Rock and Richie Ramsay share sixth at 69.
Woods was joined in ninth by a large group highlighted by reigning Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and former British Open champion Paul Lawrie.
NOTES: Sergio Garcia recorded his first ace on the European Tour Thursday at the 12th. The Spaniard shot a one-under 71...Branden Grace, who won the last two European Tour events, shot a three-over 75 and shares 89th.