McGinley stays sharp

Paul McGinley made a superb start to the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and revealed he had been keeping his game sharp playing against Tim Henman over the winter.

The Ryder Cup captain lies just one off the lead after opening with a four-under 68 in the tougher afternoon conditions at the National Course.

The 47-year-old enjoyed a strong finish to last year after a difficult six months on the course following his appointment as European Ryder Cup skipper.

"I prefer to play rather than practice in the winter and the members at Sunningdale, including Tim Henman, have been keeping me sharp with their money games," said McGinley, who chipped in to rescue a bogey at 16 after finding water with his approach.

"I played well in the second half of last season, made all the cuts and didn't have any big finishes but I played a lot of good golf and obviously continued today."

McGinley appeared likely to end the day in a share of the lead when a superb bunker shot at the last left him four feet for birdie, but the putt failed to drop.

"I'm disappointed with the last," he added, comparing the situation to Bernhard Langer's infamous missed putt at Kiawah Island in the 1991 Ryder Cup.

"There was a scuff mark right in my line and I let it affect my stroke. I didn't hit a good stroke because of the scuff mark, a bit of a mental error."

McGinley will also be encouraged with the form of Rory McIlroy, who ended a turbulent 2013 with a superb victory over Adam Scott at the Australian Open and opened his 2014 campaign with a faultless, two-under 70.

"I played well and was very happy with how I hit the ball from tee to green," said McIlroy, who has reaped the benefits of twice-daily gym sessions in Dubai following his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki on New Year's Eve.

"I hit it long and straight and just did not take advantage of some of the opportunities, especially on the last two holes. It definitely could have been a bit better but it's a solid start and I was pleased.

"It's the best I've driven it in a long time. That's huge, it's the foundation of my game. If I drive the ball well, I play well and my results are good.

"If you miss fairways here you get penalised heavily, so if you're hitting it long and straight off the tee, it's a huge advantage. The rough is very thick and really penal and if you miss the fairways, you're making life very hard for yourself."