Shane Lowry of Ireland recovered from two early bogeys Thursday by hitting enough good shots for a 2-under 70, giving him a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Louis Oosthuizen and Richard Sterne of South Africa each shot 68 and were one shot behind.
Lowry, who began the first European Tour event of the year with a 62, made bogey on the par-5 second hole and was happy to escape with a bogey on the next one. That settled him down, and while he played the par 5s in 1 over for the round, he had three birdies on the par 3s for the second straight day.
“I hit some really rocky shots, didn't feel too confident, but I made a great up-and-down on the third hole for bogey, and I think that kind of kick-started me,” Lowry said. “I pretty much was hitting the ball decent after that for the rest of the day. Gave myself a lot of chances. I didn't convert as many as I would have liked, but I'm pretty happy to shoot 70, and to be in the lead going into the weekend is always nice.”
Lowry was at 12-under 132.
Lee Westwood, who ended a four-year victory drought on the European Tour in November, had a 68 and was two shots back.
Three-time major champion Brooks Koepka, who has a chance to return to No. 1 in the world this week, bogeyed the 18th hole for a 70 and was five shots behind. Dustin Johnson had a 71 and was eight shots behind. Another shot back was Tommy Fleetwood, who is going for a third straight title in Abu Dhabi. Fleetwood had to make an 8-foot birdie on his last hole for a 72 to make the cut on the number.
Oosthuizen's second shot on the par-5 10th hit a cart path, a bad break that led to a drop on the 11th tee box and a bogey. He followed with another bogey, but recovered to make a pair of birdies and then caught a pair of breaks on the par-5 18th, including a second shot that skirted out of the bunker and allowed him to hit his approach to tap-in range for birdie.
“I got very lucky, and got lucky on the second shot, as well,” Oosthuizen said. “Some weeks you have those breaks going your way and other weeks you don't.”
Sterne, meanwhile, has yet to make a bogey for the opening 36 holes.
Ian Poulter played in the morning and had four birdies in six holes to tie for the lead before Lowry teed off. Poulter missed a birdie on No. 8, his 17th hole, and then hit in the water on the ninth and made bogey. He still managed a 69 and was three shots behind, remarkable considering his travels.
Poulter played the opening two weeks of the U.S. tour in Hawaii. He left Honolulu on Sunday night for Los Angeles, had a nine-hour layover before his flight to the United Arab Emirates and arrived at his hotel on Tuesday night. He shot 66 the next morning, and followed that with more good golf.
He attributed the bogey on his last hole to a mental error.
“Obviously slightly tired, allowing that kind of nonsense to get in there, because pretty much the rest of the day was flawless,” Poulter said. “It's a bit of a frustrating way to finish, but if you'd have offered me that stepping off the plane a couple nights ago, I would have taken it.”
Lewis one behind in first event as a mother on LPGA Tour
No one was entirely sure what to expect from the first LPGA Tour event of the year — least of all Stacy Lewis.
Nearly three months after Lewis became a mother, and six months after she last played on tour, she opened with seven birdies on Thursday for a 5-under 66 that left her one shot behind Brooke Henderson and Eun-Hee Ji at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
“Pleasantly surprised,” Lewis said. “Had pretty low expectations going into the day. Just really made a lot of putts. I had some weird shots, which I knew was going to happen having not played in a while. I don't know where it came from, but I'm going to take it.”
Henderson overcame a slow start with a bogey on the second hole and a par save on No. 3 at the Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons. She birdied five of her last eight holes for a 65 to tie Ji, who had a bogey-free round.
The tournament — the first season-opener in Florida for the LPGA since 2015 — is only for LPGA winners each of the last two years.
Ariya Jutanugarn, coming off a year in which she claimed every major award, opened with a 67.
The event had the feel of a pro-am because of all the celebrities and athletes, although it wasn't all hits and giggles. Along with the 26-player field from the LPGA Tour competing for a $1.2 million purse, 49 entertainers are competing for a $500,000 prize fund using the modified Stableford scoring system.
Tennis player Mardy Fish led that field with 39 points for a two-point lead over a group that included retired pitcher Mark Mulder.
But it was a different vibe from most LPGA events.
“I had to remind myself it wasn't Wednesday afternoon, it was Thursday, and I had to get a good score together,” Henderson said. “I think that's when things kicked in on the front nine. I started getting a couple of birdies to recover from that bogey, and then from there I was ready to go and made a lot of birdies.”
Lydia Ko joined Lewis at 66. Both formerly were No. 1 in the world.
Another shot back were Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson and Mirim Lee.
Jutanugarn started the year with a new caddie, who previously worked for his fiancee, ANA Inspiration winner Pernilla Lindeberg. She opened with a 77, the highest score among LPGA players.
The Thai said she had some nerves from not having played in two months. And not being used to celebrities in her group also required an adjustment.
“Because I didn't play for so long — especially playing with them — I feel upset. He hit like 60 yards past me,” said Jutanugarn, who played in the same group with retired baseball players Josh Beckett and Kevin Millar. “Every hole he has a chance to make eagle, so I thought, `Maybe I'm not that good.“’
She was referring to Beckett on the long tee shots. She didn't know much about either, though she figured one thing one quickly.
“I know they are baseball players. I know both of them are really famous,” she said. “And nobody asked me for an autograph. They all asked them.”
Lewis had not played on the LPGA Tour since a 66 to tie for 39th on July 12 at the Marathon Classic in Ohio. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter they named Chesnee, on Oct. 25.
The biggest difference was her routine.
She now has to remember where to find daycare, to get out the door a little earlier and making sure she has all the bags for her game and her daughter.
“You've got to take three trips to the care to get out the door every morning,” she said. “So it's a new normal.”