Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: Hot putter helps Viktor Hovland shoot 64 in Yas Links opener

The Norwegian fired a superb round of 8-under par to finish the first day of the DP World Tour Rolex Series event just one back from leader Scott Jamieson.

World No.7 Viktor Hovland hit the ground running on day one of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links, his afternoon lap of 8-under 64 putting him in solo second place.

Hovland racked up nine birdies, eight pars and just a single bogey to put himself on target to make it three wins from his last four worldwide starts.

The Norwegian went out in just 31 thanks to gains at 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 and then traded another birdie with a bogey at 11 and 12.

With his putter hot, Hovland drained a 30-footer for birdie at 15 and nailed a 20-footer to pick up another shot at 16.

A closing par-breaker lifted him to within one of leader Jamieson after the Scot had set the target with a brilliant morning 9-under 63.

Thomas Pieters is in solo third on 6-under while defending champion Tyrrell Hatton, who won this event at Abu Dhabi GC last year, is tied fourth with four others.

That bunch includes England's Ian Poulter and Frenchman Victor Perez.

Shane Lowry, the winner of this event in 2019, also started brightly and ended Thursday in the top 10 via a 5-under 67.

Hovland, who won the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and the Hero World Challenge on his two starts of 2021, said a hot putter was the key.

"That was nice. I didn't hit the best of shots early on but I managed to get away with it and I holed a bunch of putts today and that certainly woke me up from the jet-lag," said Hovland, who played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago.

"There are some tricky pins out there and obviously the greens are very severe. I dunno, this grass, I just feel really comfortable putting on the Paspalum grass (same surface he won on at Mayakoba).

"I read the greens perfectly and just started on my line and it's a day when those putts go in and I was able to take advantage of it."

Frenchman Perez produced a flying start with five birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes. He eventually calmed down to finish with a 6-under 66.

He said: "I had as good of a start as anybody could have expected, really flying, holed out a shot - obviously a bit of fortune - but playing really nicely.

"Then you're in a situation that is a bit odd and I think every golfer knows, when you're really low through eight or nine holes, it's a weird balance because it's hard to keep going in a sense. I think you get a little bit outside your comfort zone.

"I just tried to make good swings and the back nine plays harder with the wind picking up a little bit, obviously nothing compared to what it's been and what it probably will be the rest of the week, but I'm still very pleased."

The forecast suggests high winds for Friday's second round which isn't good news for those looking to make up ground.

That includes pre-tournament favourite Collin Morikawa, who could only manage a disappointing 1-over 73 after two birdies, a bogey and a double bogey.

Rory McIlroy also suffered a low-key start after handing in an even-par 72.

The Northern Irishman has been runner-up in this tournament four times while he's finished outside the top five just twice in 11 appearances.

All those were at Abu Dhabi GC and he didn't seem to take to Yas Links as well in his opener.

The four-time Major winner started from the 10th tee and was cruising along with birdies at 13 and 14.

But he took a six at the 18th and dropped shots at his final two holes.

Fading light meant not everyone was able to complete all 18 holes. The best placed of those was Sweden's Marcus Kinhult: he was -5 after 17.

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