A plethora of wayward shots and general sloppiness plagued the top-ranked golfers Thursday in their first official rounds of the year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a European Tour event.
McIlroy was especially out of sorts as the Northern Irishman made two double-bogeys and hit a tee shot out of bounds on his way to a 3-over-par 75 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Woods struggled off the tee and was saved by his short game, although he three putted his final green to squander an opportunity to finish under par. He shot 72.
Martin Kaymer, Europe's Ryder Cup hero last September at Medinah and the third member of the group shot 71, meaning the illustrious threesome, all of whom have been No. 1, combined to shoot 2 over par.
Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who won last year's Irish Open, was tied for the clubhouse lead with Justin Rose after carding matching 5-under-par 67s. He was followed by Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Spain's Pablo Larrazabal. They shot 68.
Considering all the pre-tournament hype surrounding No. 1 McIlroy and No. 2 Woods, it was a disappointing day, one filled with limited banter.
"We didn't really talk a lot out there because we were grinding so hard to put up a score,'' Woods said. "You look at the scoreboard and not a lot of guys are going low. This is a very difficult golf course with this type of wind.
"At least I survived it today; this was a day certainly you could have lost a score.''
That was certainly the case for McIlroy, who made his much-discussed debut using Nike clubs and struggled for much of the day. Twice McIlroy made double bogeys where he hit wayward tee shots, including the par-4 third where an errant drive was discovered out of bounds, leading to trip back to the tee.
He also pull-hooked his second shot to the par-5 18th green so much that he hit it behind the grandstand that borders the hole; he got a free drop however and gave himself a birdie putt that he missed.
"Feel like I was a bit rusty,'' he said. "Didn't drive the ball particularly well which you sort of need to around here because the rough is very thick. Actually hit my irons pretty well but just didn't hole any putts. So didn't drive it well and didn't put well.
"I'm disappointed. I felt like I could have played better. I could have shot a better score. I just need to go and work this afternoon on the range and hopefully go out there tomorrow and shoot something a little better.''
Both players hit just five fairways, with Woods finding only 10 greens in regulation but requiring only 29 putts. McIlroy hit two more greens but also required two more putts.
The week began with a good deal of fanfare as McIlroy was introduced as Nike's newest spokesman, with 14 Nike clubs going in his bag along with headwear, footwear, glove and clothing. He joined Woods as Nike's two biggest golf headliners.
It was the first official event for McIlroy since he captured the European Tour's season-ending event in late November about an hour away in Dubai, capping a five-victory season worldwide and giving him a firm grasp on the No. 1 ranking.
Woods last played at the tournament he hosts in Southern California, the World Challenge, where he tied for fourth in early December. This week he moved up to No. 2 in the world behind McIlroy.
Starting on the 10th hole, Woods overcame an early bogey at the 13th by birdieing three of the last four holes on the back side to turn in 34, 2 under par. McIlory's surprising double bogey at the relatively easy par-3 15th -- where he hit a iron some 40 yards right of the green -- led to a 1-over 37.
Woods could not carry his momentum to the front side, where he promptly smothered his tee shot barely 150 yards at the first hole, not even getting to the fairway. He couldn't reach the green from there and settled for a bogey.
"I hit two beautiful drives at 17 and 18 and I really wanted to go (with a driver at No. 1). And I didn't feel comfortable going," he said. "I fought my gameplan; I fought my number. I wasn't committed and I made a terrible golf swing.''
Woods then bogeyed the par-5 second when he pulled his approach and failed to get up and down and needed a good par saving putt at the third to avoid a third straight bogey. His only front-side birdie came at the par-5 eighth, but he gave the stroke back with a three-putt bogey at No. 9.
It was the seventh time in nine official rounds grouped together going back to last year's Abu Dhabi tournament that Woods shot a lower score than McIlroy, who managed just two birdies.
As expected, there is going to be an adjustment period for the new clubs.
"But I'm really happy with the way the ball is in the wind,'' McIlroy said. "Really happy with the irons, the wedge play. I wasn't very comfortable off the tee but just because I didn't feel like I was swinging it that well. For the most part, I was very happy with everything. I just have to work on a couple of things.''
Donaldson, 37, who captured his lone European Tour title last year, made six birdies and a bogey and said playing last week's tournament in South Africa proved to be beneficial.
"It takes a little bit of the rust off if you like,'' he said. "It was nice to play four rounds, get the season going and on a great golf course last week, as well.
"To come here having played one tournament and having played half-decent, it gets you up to this place. To come here a little dry is very difficult. It's a tough test and you have to be on; if you're slightly off, you can be severely punished.''