Defending champion Rory McIlroy was cruising on his opening nine, parading around the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club as if he owned the place.
Having started on the back nine, McIlroy carded four birdies, made zero bogeys, and made the turn at 4-under. He was in control and even held a share of the lead.
But then he quickly dropped a shot at the par-4 1st hole, making a bogey after air-mailing the green. He caught a flier-lie out of the rough, as missing the fairway proved costly.
And then, in true McIlroy fashion, he bounced back with a birdie at the par-4 2nd after driving the green.
That was his last birdie of the day, as his troubles began at the par-4 6th.
McIlroy smashed a drive down the middle of the fairway, then hit his second shot safely on the green of the tough 484-yard par-4. He proceeded to three-putt from 35 feet, dropping him back to 3-under.
At least his three-whack was not from two feet, which cost him dearly at last week’s Dubai Invitational.
McIlroy’s short game failed him again on the next hole, the par-3 7th. After missing his tee shot short of the green, the Northern Irishman hit a poor chip, thus leading to another bogey.
He could not get off the bogey train at the par-4 8th, as another lousy chip led to another dropped shot. Suddenly, McIlroy sat at 1-under, four shots off the lead.
The Northern Irishman finished his round with a par on the tricky par-4 9th, but he was lucky to avoid another bogey. After hitting his tee shot into the bunker to the right of the fairway, McIlroy hit his second shot to the right of the green.
He faced another tricky chip shot, but this time, the four-time major winner knocked it to four feet and tapped it in for a one-under 71.
Nevertheless, McIlroy will have his work cut out to get back into contention.
“I think it’s going to be tough the next few days,” said Nicholai Højgaard, McIlroy’s playing partner who carded a 4-under 68 Thursday.
“The greens still have a soft side in certain places, but the rough is up. It’s tricky. It gets a bit windy out there, and with a few doglegs, it’s tough to hold the fairways. It’s playing the way it should be.”