Published: Jan 26, 2012 9:17 PM EST
Updated: Jan 27, 2012 7:31 AM EST

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - No momentous shots for Tiger Woods. No bogeys, either.

The 14-time major winner opened his 2012 season with a solid first round Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, shooting a 2-under 70 that left him three strokes behind co-leader Rory McIlroy, his playing partner.

"Hit the ball well all day today. It was a good ball-striking round," Woods said. "I had a hard time reading the greens out there. The greens were pretty grainy and I just had a hard time getting a feel for it. Toward the end I hit some pretty good putts but overall I got fooled a lot on my reads."

McIlroy shot a 67, as did Robert Karlsson. But the best shots of the day came from Sergio Garcia (71) and Jose Manuel Lara (70) - each had a hole-in-one on the par-3 12th hole.

Gareth Maybin, Richard Finch and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet were one shot behind the two leaders. Top-ranked Luke Donald, who played alongside Woods and McIlroy, shot a 71. Second-ranked Lee Westwood (72) and fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer (77) had poor starts and never challenged.

McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion from Northern Ireland, had three birdies on his first four holes but erratic driving led to two bogeys on the next four. He steadied himself with three birdies on his back nine, including a chip-in on No. 8 from just off the green.

"It's a nice way to start the competitive season, I suppose," McIlroy said. "I didn't feel like I played that good. I definitely didn't strike the ball as good as I have been the last couple of weeks. I think it's just because your first competitive round of the season, card in your hand, you can get a little bit tentative or a little apprehensive."

Woods missed several birdie chances, including a 6-footer on his ninth, the 18th hole. He also struggled with his approach shots on a course that was playing tougher than usual with its thick rough, resulting in many 25- and 30-footers coming up short.

McIlroy calls Woods a friend and chatted with him much of the day. He said he didn't take any satisfaction in beating him in the first round.

"If it was the last day of the tournament and you're both going in there with a chance to win, I would take a lot of pride from that, obviously," said McIlroy, who as a teenager followed Woods during a Dubai tournament when he played as an amateur in 2006 and 2007.

"But the first day of a tournament is a little different," McIlroy said. "You're just going out there and playing and seeing what you can do. But hopefully I can get myself into position where I do play with him on a Sunday and see how I get on."

Coming off a seven-week layoff, Woods has said he is fitter than he has been in years and brimming with confidence following his victory at the Chevron World Challenge last month. That ended a two-year run without a win. Before last month's win, Woods finished third at the Australian Open, and then delivered the clinching point for the American team in the Presidents Cup.

Since Chevron, Woods has moved up to a No. 25 ranking after briefly falling outside the top 50 last year.

"It felt the same as it had from Oz to the World Challenge to here," Woods said. "I controlled my ball all day and just had a hard time getting a feel for these greens. They are grainy enough where I just didn't quite read them right, and I hit them good, and then the grain would take it, not take it. It was just difficult."

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