ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – A new course brought an element of the unknown to the Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday.
Viktor Hovland still felt right at home.
Seeking a third win in his last four events, the Norwegian produced an impressive display of putting over the undulating greens of Yas Links – a first-time host of the event – to shoot 8-under 64 and lie one stroke off the first-round lead held by Scott Jamieson.
Hovland might be the world’s form player, having won back-to-back tournaments – in Mexico and the Bahamas – at the end of last year to climb to No. 7.
Those events were held on seaside courses with paspalum grass on the greens – just like at Yas Links, which is staging the Abu Dhabi Championship in place of the nearby Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
No wonder Hovland took to the conditions, like when he rolled in a putt for birdie from 37 feet at No. 3 and another from 30 feet at No. 15.
“There are some tricky pins out there, and obviously the greens are very severe,” he said. “I don’t know, this grass, I just feel really comfortable putting on the paspalum grass, and I read the greens perfectly.
“This is a day where those putts go in, and I was able to take advantage of it.”
The opposite was true of Collin Morikawa, Hovland’s playing competitor and another of golf’s rising stars.
The Open champion was playing the first event in his defense of the Race to Dubai title and almost holed an approach from the fairway at his first hole on the way to making birdie. That was one of the few highlights in his round of 1-over 73 that left him 10 shots back already and shaking his head as he walked off the 18th green.
Setting the No. 2-ranked Morikawa back was a double-bogey 5 at No. 8, where he pushed his tee shot into the water and then had to return all the way to the tee box to hit another.
His only other dropped shot came at the 17th, where he missed a par putt from three feet.
Jamieson, a Scot ranked No. 336, hadn’t played competitively in eight weeks and decided against doing any deep analysis of his game in his extended winter break. He quickly settled into the 2022 season with a bogey-free 63 that contained nine birdies – four of them coming in a five-hole span at the start of his back nine and the final one coming from 12 feet at the par-5 18th.
“This is the first offseason I haven’t actually peeled the skin back and tried to figure out how to get better,” said Jamieson, whose only DP World Tour win came in 2012.
“I was driving it a lot better the last few events of the year, so I was pretty comfortable where my game was. I just had to hope that it turned up again eight weeks later.”
Thomas Pieters was alone in third place after a 65, while defending champion Tyrrell Hatton was in a five-way tie for fourth place after 66.
Rory McIlroy played alongside Hatton in what was the first event of 2022 for both players and got off to a poor start, bogeying his final two holes for an even-par 72.
Six groups failed to complete the first round because of fading light and will return early Friday to Yas Links, where winds are expected to reach 35 mph for parts of the second round.