Brooks Koepka back with a bang as he plans to rule golfing world for five years

World No 1 Brooks Koepka carded a six-under-par 66 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on his return after a three-month injury lay-off
World No 1 Brooks Koepka carded a six-under-par 66 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on his return after a three-month injury lay-off
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Talk about making a statement at the start of a five-year plan to keep ruling the golfing world. In his first outing in three months due to a knee injury, world No 1 Brooks Koepka was back with a bang.

Six birdies and no bogeys represented a splendid day's work on the demanding Peter Harradine-designed course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The effort left the four-time major winner sitting handily-placed in joint-third, just two shots behind the pacestters, Italian Renato Paratore and South African Shaun Norris, in the first Rolex Series event on the European Tour in 2020.

"I played really solid," reported Koepka afterwards. "Controlled distances. Controlled flights. Controlled spin. Everything you want to do. Felt good to be back out playing, just feeling the competition again. I'm pretty pleased with it."

And rightly so. The 29-year-old hadn't played competitively, after all, since landing heavily and re-injuring his left knee after slipping on a wet piece of concrete during the CJ Cup in South Korea in October and being left in "excruciating" pain.

As a result of that, Koepka was forced to withdraw from the Presidents Cup in Australia in December and, though he'd been given the green light to start hitting balls again just before Christmas, this was his first test in the heat of battle.

"It feels fine," he said of the knee. "It was a little sore last night. Just did some treatment on it. That's expected. This is the first week I've walked 18 holes and I've done it three times already. It's a little tired."

A double winner of both the US Open and US PGA Championship, Koepka has more major triumphs in his sights. One swallow doesn't make a summer, of course, but this was certainly an impressive way to start a new year.

"I mean, I don't know if it is," replied the 2013 Scottish Hydro Challenge champion to being asked if he'd sent out a message to the likes of second-ranked Rory McIlroy that he is indeed back to firing on all cylinders again following a problem that hindered him for most of last year.

"As I told my team, though, I want to re-dedicate myself for the next five years and really put my stamp on the game in these next few years."

On a day when a new four-point plan to tackle slow play was implemented for the first time by European Tour rules officials, renowned speedster Paratore signed off with four birdies to set the clubhouse target, which was matched by Norris in the afternoon as he carded nine birdies in a career-best effort on the circuit.

Australian Jason Scrivener sits alongside Koepka, with a group on 67 including Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello. Garcia's effort came in his first outing with a new set of clubs after an amicable split from Callaway.

More of the same over the coming months and the 40-year-old should get into Padraig Harrington's Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits in September under his own steam rather than having to rely on a wildcard, as was the case for the last match in France, where he vindicated Thomas Bjorn's pick by becoming the record points-scorer in the event.

"That's one of the goals for the year, and I definitely want to have some good momentum throughout the year, some good tournaments where I put myself on a great spot to get my own spot," said Garcia. "Pádraig has told me already that he would love me to play really great, so that would make things a little bit easier for him."

In his first event since linking up for a third stint with caddie Craig Connelly, three-time winner Martin Kaymer opened with a 68 to sit alongside newly-crowned South African Open champion Branden Grace. Playing in the same group as Koepka, defending champion Shane Lowry signed for a 70 along with Dane Soren Kjeldsen on his 600th European Tour appearance.

Viktor Hovland, the young Norwegian who is on Harrington's Ryder Cup radar, had to settle for a 73, which included a one-shot penalty after an incorrect drop from near a sponsor's board at the back of the tenth green. The mistake was brought to Hovland's attention by one his playing partners, Ryder Cup vice captain Robert Karlsson.