From Brian Keogh in Dubai
Graeme McDowell and Gary Murphy finished in an 11-man log jam for second place after five under par 67s as six of Ireland's seven participants broke par on the opening day of the Dubai Desert Classic.
But while Murphy and McDowell were pleased with their starts, it was the contrast in moods between Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke that captured the imagination.
While the youngster was displeased with his technique after a three under par 69, Clarke was philosophical and surprisingly upbeat after a 74 that featured a quadruple bogey nine at his ninth hole.
One under par for his round as the approached the par-five 18th, the Dungannon man put two balls in the water to turn in 40 before coming home in one under.
"I’ve missed three fairways and three greens and shot two over and that was the story of the round," he said, clipping the end off a handsome looking cuban cigar, which was one of a selection that had been left in readiness for playing partner Miguel Angel Jimenez’s hole-in-one celebrations.
"Technically, I hit a couple of poor shots at the wrong time but that's just me at the moment,” he added, as Jimenez uncorked a bottle of bubbly to celebrate his “slam dunk” ace at the seventh a round of 67. “I felt that overall I hit it lovely. I had a lot of chances and just didn’t make them. We’ll just keep going.”
McIlroy birdied the eighth, tenth and 11th to get to three under par but bogeyed the par five 13th and then failed to chip and putt for his birdie at the last.
“It is the same score as I started with last year, a 69,” said McIlroy, before heading to the range. “But I am not very happy with the way I did it. It could have been a lot better but I didn't hit it very well and I am not really trusting my swing.
“It feels to me that when I shape the ball, I can trust it better. When I have a straightforward 170 yard shot with an eight iron, I'd rather work the ball in there rather than fly it in.”
Coming off back to back missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, Murphy had five back nine birdies in a 67 with the highlight a raking, three-iron to four feet at his 17th after a poor drive.
“I kept the ball in play and putted nicely,” said Murphy. “It is always good to start with a low round but there is a long way to go. I see God is seven under!”
While most the of field continues to sigh in awe at the brilliance of Woods, McDowell only has eyes for what he believes will be at least a 20 under par winning total after carding seven birdies and two bogeys in his 67.
“I thought four under was a good score but it was nice to finish birdie-birdie,” said McDowell, who finished his day by holing from 15 feet at the eighth and 20 feet at the last. “But it is going to be a low scoring week and you know that two or three under par is going to be no good.
“It was perfect scoring conditions out there. The par fives are there for the taking and there are plenty of birdies to be made. I left a few out there but I couldn’t have putted much better.
“It’s tough to miss Tiger’s name at the top of the leaderboard there. Awesome after coming over from the west coast. We will be keeping an eye on him but it is going to be low scoring and you will need to shoot five or six under every day.”
Damien McGrane also birdied his last two holes for a four under par 68 that left him tied for 13th, explaining: "Four under par is a good start as I played nicely all day and it's a more realistic score really because if I had of shot two-under I would have been really disappointed.
"The course was there for the taking this morning but you have to hit it close to make the birdies as the greens are very fast.
"So if someone had of handed me a 68 on the first tee I would have snapped their hand off as four under was a decent number if you played well and I played well."
Peter Lawrie also birdied the last to be well placed for a 69 but Paul McGinley was unhappy after three-putting twice in a one under par 71.