Sergio Garcia believes Rory McIlroy will go down as one of golf's all time greats after matching Europe's latest young turk with a sparkling, six under 66 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

“It was awesome,” Garcia enthused after a threeball that also included Henrik Stenson (70).

Garcia was once Europe's fresh faced superstar in the making. But he's ten years older than the 20 year old from Holywood and knows just how good the Irish lad can become.

“It's good to have a chance to play with Rory," added the Spaniard, who finished the day alongside McIlroy in a four way share of fourth place, one stroke behind co-leaders Ian Poulter, Richard Bland and South Africa's Keith Horne. "He's an unreal player, one whose name is going to be remembered in golf throughout the ages."

McIlroy again proved he has more gears than a Tour de France bike.

He was four-under par when he took a double-bogey six at the 11th but got those shots back with birdies at the 12th and 13th before rattling off birdies at the 15th and 17th. Not bad for his first competitive round of the year.

“Yeah, I'm very happy,” said McIlroy, whose only regret the decision making that led to the double bogey.

“Apart from that loose tee shot at 11, it was really good. I made a mental error on the tee there, probably didn't hit the right club and I then tried to take too much on with the second shot.

“To drop two shots like that and then get them back on the next two holes, it's huge.

“That's the thing I've learned a lot of great players do.

"Once they make a mistake, they try to rectify it as soon as they can and I was able to do that today, which really helped me get to six-under par.”

If he avoid those mistakes, McIlroy reckons he can get it round in nine under, adding: “I made a lot of birdies and converted a lot of chances. If I can play like that and cut out the mistakes, I could score and 63 or 64 out there."

Shane Lowry posted a four under par 68 as Ulstermen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell fired matching 70s.

Peter Lawrie hit a 71 and Michael Hoey an enev par 72. But Gareth Maybin had to settle for a three over 75 and Damien McGrane a disappointing, seven over par 79.