Rory McIlroy, with a 66, looks good in return to action

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot at No. 17 during the first round of the HSBC Golf Championship.

(Martin Dokoupil / Associated Press)

Jordan Spieth was aggrieved at being given a warning for slow play, and complained that his tee shots were “short and crooked.”

But after his opening round of the Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, the top-ranked Spieth’s biggest concern might just be the sublime form of his playing partner.

Rory McIlroy got the better of Spieth in their first head-to-head matchup of 2016, using his power and accuracy with the driver to set up a six-under 66 that put him two shots off the lead held by American amateur Bryson DeChambeau.

Spieth, who scrambled well to shoot a 68, made an early-season statement two weeks ago by winning by eight strokes in Hawaii to back up his stellar 2015. McIlroy laid down a marker of his own in his first event of the year after a two-month break and laser eye surgery.


“It was the Rory that I have seen win majors,” Spieth said. “It was spectacular. It was a pretty unbelievable round on a very challenging golf course.”

McIlroy says his eye operation in December will improve his ability to read greens and that seemed to be the case, the No. 3-ranked Northern Irishman making eight birdies — beginning on his first hole with a 20-footer. But it was his driving that set him apart on a warm, wind-free morning in the gulf emirate.

DeChambeau, 22, was making only his seventh start in a professional event but showed no nerves in shooting seven birdies and an eagle for a 64 to lead a stellar field. Henrik Stenson (65) was a shot behind, with McIlroy and Branden Grace another stroke back.

Durant takes lead in Champions Tour event


Joe Durant shot a seven-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead in the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii.

The 51-year-old Durant had nine birdies and two bogeys at Hualalai Golf Course. Defending champion Miguel Angel JimenezDavis Love III and Tom Pernice Jr. were a stroke back in the event for major champions from the last five years, tournament winners in the last two seasons and sponsor invitees.