Lucas Herbert opened 2020 by earning his maiden European Tour victory in the Middle East – and now the Australian has launched his 2021 campaign in Abu Dhabi in similarly positive fashion.
As Rory McIlroy took the headlines on the opening day of the season on Thursday with his brilliant eight-under par 64 in the Abu Dhabi Championship, Herbert made a fine start too with a four-under 68.
Herbert, who won the Dubai Desert Classic in a playoff on Australia Day last year, was never really able to capitalise on his breakthrough in what was to be a virus-decimated season.
Yet the 25-year-old from Bendigo, who recorded five birdies and just the one bogey in his opening round at the Abu Dhabi GC, once again demonstrated why he is recognised as a considerable talent on the Tour.
He lies in joint-sixth place in the Stg5.8 million ($A10.3 million) event after an opening round in which Northern Ireland superstar McIlroy dominated.
The four-time major winner, who endured a winless 2020, shrugged off a fog delay of almost three hours to record a flawless round and hold a one-shot advantage over Ryder Cup teammate Tyrrell Hatton.
“It feels good,” McIlroy told Sky Sports after surpassing his previous best score in Abu Dhabi. “I actually thought that to myself after I turned four-under.
“I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I’ve shot it a few times, so I thought let’s try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that.”
McIlroy did end 2020 with a tie for fifth in the Masters, despite an opening 75 at Augusta National.
“It was getting better as the year went on and honestly it was sort of disappointing that it finished when it did because I felt like I was getting right back into it,” he said.
“I didn’t really take much time off after Augusta. I sat at home for maybe three or four days and was like I just need to get out there and sort of keep this going.
“Played quite a bit over the Christmas break and practiced quite a bit. Felt maybe as sharp as I’ve ever done coming into the start of the season. It’s paid off early.”
As well as Herbert, there was a strong contingent of Australians in action.
Wade Ormsby, the Adelaide veteran, shot a 69 to put himself in the top 10 while Jason Scrivener was three-under after eight holes before his round had to be truncated following an earlier delay for fog.