US open Champion Rory McIlroy has won his first battle of the New Year with Tiger Woods.
McIlroy was fast out of the blocks at the Abu Dhabi Championships in the Middle East on Thursday morning.
Playing alongside Woods and current world number one, Luke Donald, McIlroy raced into a share of the early lead at the prestigious event.
The 22-year-old from County Down shot an impressive 67 as he set the standards on the first leg of the European Tour’s desert swing.
The Ulsterman was three shots clear of Woods after their first round and four better than Donald.
Playing his first event of the year, McIlroy threw down the gauntlet with a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th, holing from nine, twelve, and three feet.
McIlroy said: “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. It was nothing that a good practice session won’t fix.
“I feel the course suits me really well. Just one problem — it suits Martin Kaymer even better.”
Woods said: “I just had a hard time getting a feel for these greens. It was difficult and my speed was off.”
Donald said: “It was fun to be part of that threesome. Tiger and Rory are huge names in the world of sport. Rory took advantage of a few more opportunities. I didn’t make too many putts.”