ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Phil Mickelson didn't have much success with his new driver in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, failing to make a single birdie in a 1-over 73 to sit six shots behind the leaders.
Mickelson made 17 straight pars in his first round of the year before a bogey on his last hole, joining a number of big names who struggled on the opening day of this star-studded European Tour event that marks the beginning of the European Tour’s swing through the Middle East.
"I can't recall the last time I had a round without a birdie," Mickelson said. "But didn't make a bogey there until the last."
Matthew Baldwin of England was tied for the lead with Romain Wattel of France and Rafa Cabrera-Bello after a 67. Seven players, including European Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley, were one shot behind.
Mickelson's playing partner Rory McIlroy carded a 70 while Henrik Stenson had four bogeys in a 74 and Sergio Garcia complained about the rough being "dangerous" after a 76.
Mickelson said before the event that he was driving better than ever after getting a new driver from Callaway Golf that he said could turn one of his weaknesses into a strength. However, he only hit five of 14 fairways on the Peter Harradine-designed course.
"This first round, I was a little tentative, played a little cautious, didn't trust my swing too much," said Mickelson, who was playing his first competitive round in several months. "I haven't been out in competition for a while, but then it was good to get my feet wet."
McIlroy was upbeat after showing signs of the same form he displayed at the end of the 2013 season, which earned him the victory in last month's Australian Open in Sydney.
"I feel the benefit of ending last year well and then starting off this year with a lot of hard work, it's sort of showed off," McIlroy said. "Today was my first competitive round since the start of December, and I drove the ball as well as I have done in a long time."
Martin Kaymer, a three-time winner in Abu Dhabi had a costly double bogey on the 14th and also finished with a 70.
Garcia said he hurt his shoulder while playing the Pro-Am on Wednesday, and said he was troubled by the thick rough – needing treatment on his 13th hole.
Garcia said the rough is "very, very thick," and that "they have cut it from green back to the tee, and by doing that the ball nestles down quite a bit."
"You just have to hit it so hard into the ground to get it out and when you're not 100 percent it doesn't help at all," Garcia said. "I would say that it's dangerous and hopefully nobody else will get injured because it could happen to several guys this week."