Thomas Pieters shoots superb 65 to lead HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi HSBC Power Rankings
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Power Rankings

20 January, 2018

One of the most popular groupings of the day was the headline trio of World Number One Dustin Johnson, four-time Major victor Rory McIlroy and reigning champion Tommy Fleetwood.

Thirty-one-year-old Spaniard Jorge Campillo tied the low round of the day with an impressive 64, a shot behind Pieters, to take him into second place on 11-under.

Fisher and Casey have not won on the European Tour since 2014 but looked in fine touch, with Casey firing five birdies and an eagle for a seven-under-par 65.

Fleetwood, the reigning Race to Dubai champion on the European Tour, agreed.

Playing his first event since calling an early end to his injury-plagued and winless season in October a year ago McIlroy said: "I felt like I gave myself tons of chances on the back nine and it was sort of hard to convert them", McIlroy said.

"I had control of my ball really from the get-go". He's been following me since the 2011 US PGA in Atlanta and every round I play here I feel like he's my little mascot. "Today was an improvement on yesterday just in terms of scoring".

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Dustin Johnson, who ranked second only to Rory McIlroy in driving distance in 2017, doesn't see the need for a reduced-flight golf ball.

"Personally, I know this course well and I think that's the thing - I know how to get around it". And he showed no signs of cooling off with his round on Thursday, which featured hitting all 18 greens in regulation. I hit it really well, had a lot of great looks, but I didn't really hole any putts until I made two nice putts on 17 and 18.

He said: "Today was really good".

"He's the No. 1 player in the world and Tommy's playing so well", McIlroy said.

Brazel started fast with a birdie at the 10th hole, his first, but gave the shot back immediately. "It would have been nice to go bogey-free again, but it was kind of coming and I hit a bad tee shot. It's another season, a season that I feel like I'm as prepared for as any season I've started as a professional".

Belgian Thomas Pieters, who forged an excellent alliance with McIlroy at the last Ryder Cup, reminded onlookers that he wants to remain part of such a fold by charging to the top of the leaderboard.

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