McIlroy and McGinley drive for show
 Rory McIlroy tees off on the ninth in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Picture: Eoin Clarke

 Rory McIlroy tees off on the ninth in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Picture: Eoin Clarke

The world can start spinning on its axis again. Rory McIlroy is most definitely back, Paul McGinley continues to be a superb golfer and Pádraig Harrington, despite a frustrating miss on the final green, is still capable of holing six foot putts.

On top of that, it's clear that Michael Hoey could be in the mood to win again soon and that Damien McGrane, Simon Thornton and Kevin Phelan will give us plenty to cheer about in 2014.

It's also plain after the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship that Shane Lowry is rusty, that Gareth Maybin is streaky and that Peter Lawrie and Darren Clarke have some technical issues to resolve. 

Had it not been for McGinley's afternoon 68 - a score that left him just a stroke behind leaders Rafael Cabrera Bello, Romain Wattel and Matthew Baldwin - the story of the day might have been the way McIlroy launched one  thunderous, arrow-straight drive after another on a course with US Open style rough that is so deep that Sergio Garcia called it dangerous.

Granted, Garcia hit just four fairway as he struggled to a 76, two fewer than Phil Mickelson whose 73 was his first birdie-free round since the 2012 US Open.

McIlroy's round was notable in that it came on the same course where he hit just five fairways in a horrific 75 in his first competitive outing with his Nike clubs a year ago.

Twelve months on he's clearly found the correct driver-ball combination, hitting nine of 14 fairways according to the European Tour statistics though reporters on the ground said he missed just one.

Either way, he was pleased to start the year with an error-free round and when pressed on his driving he admitted that he hasn't hit the ball as well off the tee since he won the 2012 US PGA

“I drove it great today,” McIlroy said after a bogey-free, two under 70 that could have been several shots better. I’m definitely on to something with this driver-ball combination. I’m hitting it longer than I have before. If I drive it well, I play well and score well. It’s that simple.”

He added: “I played well and was very happy with how I hit the ball from tee to green.

Padraig Harrington and the Irish Independent's Karl MacGinty share a moment of levity on the 16th. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Padraig Harrington and the Irish Independent's Karl MacGinty share a moment of levity on the 16th. Picture: Eoin Clarke

"I hit it long and straight and just did not take advantage of some of the opportunities, especially on the last two holes. It definitely could have been a bit better but it is a solid start and I was pleased."

McIlroy found the rough thick and the course, especially the greens, softer and slower than in previous years.

Accuracy off the tee is crucial, as McGinley, Mickelson and Garcia all proved in their own way.

"No question, it's US Open rough or US PGA-style rough, and you have to keep it in the fairway," McGinley said after missing a six foot putt for a birdie at the 18th that would have given him a share of the lead.

Garcia suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-tournament pro-am and tweaked it again  hitting from the thick rough.

He needed treatment from a European Tour physio for three holes and warned other players could suffer similar issues.

"The problem is they have cut it from green to tee and the ball nestles down," said Garcia, who will receive further treatment before deciding whether to continue in the event. "Every single ball nestles down and you can't hit it 100 yards.

"I have tweaked a muscle and hitting from the rough is not helping. We will see how it feels tomorrow.

"Hopefully I am not the only one (who gets hurt), but unfortunately the way the course is set up it could happen to more people."

Asked if he felt the rough was dangerous, Garcia added: "I would say so."

Open champion Mickelson revealed he had also hurt his back playing from the rough on the ninth, his final hole, the left-hander carding his only bogey of the day there after 17 pars. 

"I kind of hurt myself going after one," said Mickelson, who was unable to remember the last round he had completed without a single birdie.

"I twinged my back on the last hole. You have to be careful and maybe just wedge it out and not risk any injury.

"It's a world-class course and there's nothing unfair about it – it's just difficult. Tomorrow I will have to be very conservative off the tee just to put it in play."

Paul McGinley was pleased with his 68. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Paul McGinley was pleased with his 68. Picture: Eoin Clarke

McGinley played to his strengths and missed just four fairways in a 68, having held a share of the lead at one stage.

A bogey at the 16th, where his approach sailed right into water, turned out to be almost as good as a birdie as he chipped through the green in four but then holed a chip from around 18 feet.

"I'm obviously pleased," the European Ryder Cup skipper said. "It was a good round of golf. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and only had one bogey so all in all, a good day's work.

"I didn't expect to shoot that low [on a course this long]. I'd expect to be around par or maybe shoot 71 but I a managed a few better than that. 

"The 16th was a great bogey. I was surprised to see myself in the water but anyway, I left myself on the wrong side of the green with a tough chip and the chip for five was one of those where you walk up and really fancy it and luckily it went in."

Asked if it was pleasing just to think about golf and put the captaincy on the back burner, he gave a response that was typical of his immaculate captaincy so far.

"[The captaincy] is never on the back burner," he told European Tour Radio's Nick Dye. "It is always at the forefront of your mind when you are put in as captain and it's very exciting. 

"It is an exciting time of my life and I am really enjoying it. And I am keen to play well too because it's an important part of my captaincy to stay competitive on tour."

Shane Lowry took his first round 76 on the chin. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Shane Lowry took his first round 76 on the chin. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Having outscored his young playing partners Thorbjorn Olesen (74) and Tommy Fleetwood (73), he added: "I've played with them quite a bit in the past and Tommy Fleetwood is a young kid just coming on tour and I've played with him three or four times now and that's great. 

"Should he make the team, I feel like I am better prepared to manage him and the same with Thorbjorn (Olesen).

Hoey was again in his element on a ball-striker's course, dropping just one shot in a three under par 69 that was worth a share of 11th spot. The Ulsterman was solid all round and dropped just one shot late in the day. 

Harrington hit just four fairways in his one under 71 but scrambled for pars five times out of six with his only mistake coming at the ninth, his final hole.

In deep greenside rough in two, his chip took an unlucky hop away from the cup, leaving him a six footer for par that he looked appalled to see slink past the edge of the cup.

His one under effort left him tied for 35th with Thornton, who hit the ball arrow straight, while McGrane was almost perfect off the tee and around the greens as he posted a 70 to share 19th with McIlroy on two under.

Playing with Thornton, rookie Phelan came back from two early bogeys with birdies the 17th and 18th to turn in level par before reeling off nine straight pars for a 72 that left him tied for 52nd.

Lawrie, playing in his first event without coach Brendan McDaid, continued with his recent struggles off the tee as he hit just four fairways and posted a 73.

Maybin had six birdies and a triple bogey eight in his first 10 holes before four bogeys in a five hole stretch from the 13th forced him to birdie the last to join Lawrie in 63rd place on one-over.

As for Clarke  and Lowry, it was a day when little went right. The Ulsterman finished bogey-bogey for a 74 as Lowry had six bogeys in a 76.

The bearded Clara man hit just three fairways and missed 10 greens but scrambled for par just five times in his first outing of 2014.

Still, he was upbeat and pleased to see McGinley near the top of the leaderboard.

"Not what I was looking for today folks but sure that's golf," he tweeted. "Tomorrow's a new day. Great to see captain mc on the leaderboard. #uptheirish"