Justin Rose emerged from the shadows of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy again during the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to underline what a force he too is now on the global golf stage.
As McIlroy toiled to a 75 with his new Nike equipment and stablemate Woods began his season with a real mixed bag of a 72 – a swoosh on his first hole ended with a topped drive – Rose marked his debut in the championship with a sparkling five-under-par 67.
The world No.5 finished in a share of the lead with Welshman Jamie Donaldson, both of them having holed bunker shots, as they established a one-stroke lead over Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal. On a trying day for the 12-strong Scottish contingent, Stirling's Craig Lee was the pick of an average bunch with a 72.
Richie Ramsay and Peter Whiteford both opened with 73s while Paul Lawrie, who will defend his Qatar Masters title next week, had to settle for a 74. Scott Jamieson, who leads the Race to Dubai after a win, a third and a second in the first three events of the new season, bogeyed his first two holes en route to a 75.
Rose and Donaldson, meanwhile, would have been pleased with their position of power at the top regardless of who was in the field, but to have McIlroy and Woods, the game's top two ranked players, eight and five strokes back respectively made it even more enjoyable.
It must have tasted sweeter for Rose given that he did not manage a single birdie during the pre-tournament pro-am that was played out in 35mph winds –"a lot of fun," he joked.
"It's the perfect start to get up on the leaderboard," he added. "I knew it was going to be a tough afternoon [he had watched some of the earlier television coverage of McIlroy and Woods] and I felt very good about that score."
Donaldson beat McIlroy when he won his only European Tour title at the Irish Open last July, but Rose knows what it is like to beat them both. He did that twice last year, first in the world championship title in Miami in March – Woods already was way out of contention when he withdrew injured on the final day – and then in the unofficial World Golf Final in Turkey in October.
What he most wants that they both have, of course, is a major title, but by finishing last season with a course-record 62 in Dubai – McIlroy beat him with five closing birdies – hopes are high for 2013.
He actually set off with a bogey, but by the time he made it from the sand beside the ninth green, he was four under and getting up and down from another bunker at the next took him alongside Donaldson. After that it was pars all the way.
McIlroy double-bogeyed the 15th and third and said: "I guess when you're going out with new stuff you're always going to be a little anxious. I feel I was a little bit rusty, not having played any competitive golf for eight weeks.
Woods will try to draw the positives, too, and blamed what happened on the first tee – his 10th – on not keeping to his game plan. Going with driver rather than the three-iron or five-wood he planned, the ball went less than 150 yards and with it not even making the fairway he was furious with himself and let those within earshot know it. "I had a strategy but I didn't keep to it," he said.
Donaldson's maiden triumph, at Royal Portrush six months ago in his 255th Tour start, helped propel him into the sport's top 50 and the biggest reward for that is he will make his Masters debut in April.,He has been engaged in some banter with this week's defending champion Robert Rock by sending him a picture of his Augusta invitation and asking if the Englishman had got his.
Rock is back outside the top 100 as he was when he beat Woods a year ago and he will be able to join hisfriend if he makes it into the top 50 by the end of March. His chances were not helped yesterday when he signed for a 76, the same as new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and Europe's last two leaders, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie.