Rory McIlroy got one back on Brooks Koepka finishing five shots clear of the World No. 1 and FedEx Cup leader on day one of the Northern Trust in New Jersey.
McIlroy produced an eagle and four birdies in a bogey-free six-under par 65 in hot and humid conditions on a very overnight rain-softened Liberty National course overlooking the Statue of Liberty.
Koepka, who had humbled McIlroy going head-to-head a fortnight ago in capturing the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational, struggled in McIlroy’s company posting a no-frills one-under 70.
McIlroy produced an opening New Jersey putting display that was poles apart from day four in Memphis that included 11 one-putts in a round of just 24 putts to head to lunch trailing three shots adrift of American Troy Merritt who signed for a nine-under par 62.
Former World No. 1 Dustin Johnson reminded everyone of his talents in signing for a 63.
The four-time Major winning McIlroy got off to an indifferent start in three-putting the 10th hole, the first of his round for bogey but from there on it was McIlroy at his best.
He holed a five-footer for birdie on his third ahead of sinking a 16-footer for an eagle ‘3’ on his fourth ahead of McIlroy’s shot of the round at the almost all-water carry, short 303-yard par-4 16th.
McIlroy hit his drive 304-yards to the right of the flag before two-putting for birdie.
The World No. 3 then one-putted his 10th and 11th holes for birdies to move to five-under par before picking up another in two-putting the par-5 sixth hole ahead of a trio of closing pars.
“I’m very pleased with the start even though I didn’t get off to a great start at my first hole but I played really well after that,” said McIlroy.
“I was seven-under from there on in with no bogeys. I saw some better iron shots than I did in Memphis. I drove it just as good. I putted nicely.
“You are going to need to shoot low scores this week to have a chance – being three shots behind the lead at this point and there are some pretty good players that have shot good scores, so I’m just going to try to have to keep the foot down and stay aggressive.”
Shane Lowry, in his first competitive round since capturing The Open, regrouped from being two-over par after just five holes to eventually post a respectable two-under par 69.
Lowry got his round off to a great start in holing a 14-footer for birdie at the first but after a bogey on three, he found the water off the tee at the par-4 sixth hole in taking a’6’.
The Offaly star then birdied his eight, 12th and 13th holes before producing a super chip shot from around 80-feet short of the pin at the par-4 16th to just a ball width for a fifth birdie of the day.
“I feel like I didn’t play great today and now after the round I am not going to do anything else as I need as much rest as I can and hopefully I can go out there tomorrow and drive it better,” said Lowry.
“If I can drive the ball better tomorrow then with the rest of my game okay, I can score a lot better.
“So, we’ll just see and have a nice evening and then come back here in the morning, and try get up the boards as far as I can.”
Graeme McDowell, the third of the Irish competing along the Hudson River shoreline, was out in the afternoon half of the draw.
He began with a first hole bogey and then brilliantly holed a 32-foot putt for an eagle ‘3’ at the par-5 sixth hole and then moved to two-under par in sinking a 12-footer for birdie at the par-4 eighth hole.
G Mac bogeyed the ninth but managed to get back to two-under in sinking a six-footer at the par-5 13th but gave two shots back with bogeys at 14 and 15 to finish at even par.
And Tiger Woods continued to struggle with on-going back concerns in posting a mistake-laden four-over par 75 that included three birdies, five bogeys and a double-bogey.
“I just didn’t play well and it was just one of those things where I just didn’t hit any good shots and didn’t make any putts,” said Woods.
“Other than that, it added up to a round that broke 80.”
Today’s tee times (Irish times)
12.32 – Graeme McDowell
17.55 – Shane Lowry
18.06 – Rory McIlroy