Tiger Woods started his 2013 season with an even-par round of 72 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It was an up-and-down march, with some solid ballstriking at the start but an inconsistent inward finish dropped him to even for the championship, five shots back. His playing partner, Rory McIlroy, could not find any rhythm and scuffled to a 3-over 75 in his 2013 debut.
Woods putter and short game were working well on the front nine, and he rolled in birdies on three of the final four holes as he made the turn. But Tiger struck what might be the worst drive of his career to start his second nine, smother-hooking a drive into the turf less than 200 yards off the tee on No. 1. Back-to-back bogeys on No. 1 and No. 2 promptly erased the work he had done on his first nine holes, as he played the second in 2-over 38. He had a bad three putt on his final hole of the day to drop to even, five shots back of Jamie Donaldson and Justin Rose.
Woods drained six long putts to salvage his round, but Rory had no such luck on the green. Like Woods' tee shot at No. 1, McIlroy had some similarly ugly shots rarely seen from the No. 1 player in the world. As he made the turn at No. 18, McIlroy pull-hooked his approach shot, yanking it far left towards the grandstand. He saved par in that instance, but shaky putting and driving with his new Nike equipment led to the 78. McIlroy's scoring average at Abu Dhabi is 68.5, but two double bogeys led to a round that set him back eight shots heading into the second day. He hit one drive out-of-bounds and had 31 putts in his opening round.
The European press is already questioning whether the new sticks are to blame for Rory's struggles, but he shrugged off that ridiculously early assessment. Overall, it was an unimpressive day for both superstars, who will now play together in the afternoon wave in the second round.