Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson move in opposite directions in 2018 season debuts

Europeans shine with hat-trick of victories

England's Tommy Fleetwood played flawless golf in gusting winds to successfully defended his title at the $3 million Abu Dhabi Championship yesterday.

Fisher, 37, made an eagle from 45 feet on the second hole and added two more birdies in his front nine, but a bogey on the par-5 10th stalled his progress.

Fleetwood produced a sensational back nine, making six birdies to come home in 30 shots. He caught up with Fisher on 20-under with a 25-feet birdie putt on the 15th hole, and then powered ahead with a putt twice as long on the next hole.

In total, he has won four times across the city's two tournaments, which accounts for almost a third of all his European Tour wins to date.

Rory McIlroy, playing his first tournament in over three months, shot a 70 to tie for third place at 18-under par alongside Matthew Fitzpatrick (69).

The European number one had started the day two behind overnight leaders Fisher and Thomas Pieters.

"I wanted to prepare for this year like I didn't win the Race to Dubai", said Fleetwood. "We traded birdies, good shots, and just thoroughly enjoyed the guys' company and look forward to doing it again tomorrow".

"It was pretty good on that back nine", said Fleetwood with smiling understatement.

"This week, defending champion, to put that round of golf together out there today, I mean, 65 in those conditions is seriously impressive. That score on this golf course is very, very good". I did everything really well.

Fisher, who came close to winning two big tournaments late past year (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open) before finishing second, complimented Fleetwood on his strong finish.

"It was important to come out and make sure I'm hungry".

Rory McIlroy may have been something of a forgotten man during his injury-riddled 2017 season, but the fit and self-assured golfer who kicked off his 2018 season with a robust T3 finish in the Middle East has a message for his peers: I'm back, baby. "Hats off to Tommy".

"To hole all those putts and keep me in the top five is great".

"But to see how I've played over the past three days and how comfortable I've been out there hitting certain shots and scoring and getting up-and-down, and just really getting my golf head back on".

"I'm really happy with how I played", he said after a closing 70.

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