There were around a dozen people about when Rory McIlroy walked onto the first tee on day one of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Fort Worth in Texas.
It had been 91-days since McIlroy and his PGA Tour colleagues had completed just one round of the Players Championship when they each received a late evening text to say the Tour’s flagship event had been cancelled.
Never before since taking up the game of golf had McIlroy had such an absence from the fairways and like all, he did his best to deal with the worldwide Covid-19 lockdown measures.
It was not until the first week in May that McIlroy could finally swap putting into a coffee cup on a rug in his Florida home and move outdoors for the close-by Bear’s Club practice range.
Then after a short warm-up session in the heatwave conditions on the Colonial Country Club range, with ‘Best Man’ and close friend Harry Diamond again by his side, McIlroy stood on the first tee ahead of using a new 9-degree driver to launch a booming drive of 332-yards to the right side of the opening fairway.
The World No. 1 ranked player was back at work.
Much earlier in the day, Colonial Club member Ryan Palmer had the honour of teeing off first and in ending his round with a two-over par 72, the American spoke of his excitement in being the first to welcome the return of the Tour.
“I was a little nervous, obviously, but very exciting,” he said.
“I’m honoured that they asked me to do it. I’m proud to be a member of this great club in Fort Worth, Colonial, and I’m pretty honoured to be asked to hit the first shot for the return to golf for sure.
“A 72 was not the day I wanted, but overall some good things happened out there today. Yeah, I was a little nervous obviously going to hit that first shot and hit it good, but it was a great feeling to be that person.”
McIlroy’s opening drive left him 223-yards with his second running into rough behind the green from where he chipped to two-feet for a tap-in birdie ‘4’ and when you take into account he had birdied his closing three holes at TPC Sawgrass, it was the Ulster golfer’s fourth straight birdie.
The now 31-year old had never before competed in Fort Worth and McIlroy was finding it difficult to build on his opening hole heroics as evident in three-putting the sixth hole from 27-feet for bogey.
To his credit, McIlroy regrouped to hole a 14-footer for birdie at the par-3 sixth and then moved to two-under in landing a 152-yard second shot over water to 12-feet before seeing the birdie putt drop.
It was all pars for the next six holes as McIlroy worked hard to be the first in his group that included World No.2 Jon Rahm and World No.3 Brooks Koepka get to three-under.
Rahm and Koepka had each birdied the opening two holes but Rahm proceeded to post nine straight pars from his ninth to 17th holes before a bogey at the last in his round of 69.
Koepka, who was two-under through 12 holes, ended with six pars in succession.
And there was McIlroy who made the turn at two-under par but he also stalled in posting nine inward half pars for his round of a two-under par 68.
“It was an uneventful day,” said McIlroy.
“I didn’t really — I made three birdies and one bogey. The one bogey on the 6th hole I three-putted from like 30 feet.
“It was just one of those days. I put myself in position to shoot a low score, I just didn’t capitalize on how I hit it off the tee. My distance control on my wedges was a little off, and then the putting right there got a little difficult at the end of the day.
“The greens were sort of slow, and they got pretty bumpy at the end, so hopefully there will be some better greens in the morning and hopefully shoot a lower score.”
Given it has been 91-days since McIlroy had last competed, he was asked his reaction to getting back to full-time Tour competition.
“It was good. It felt good to be back,” he said.
“I thought it was going to feel more different than it was. Like it’s a little strange not having anyone around, but at the same time we are so concentrated on what we’re doing and trying to shoot good scores and play good golf, so once I got into it, I didn’t feel like it was much different at all.”
Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry were out in the first half of the day with GMac producing the opposite to McIlroy in commencing his round with nine straight pars before signing for a one-under par 69.
McDowell, starting his round from the 10th, birdied his 11th, bogeyed 12 and then birdied 13, before birdie putts of 10-foot at his 15th and a six-footer at the par-3 eight hole saw him home in one-under.
Lowry also birdied the par-3 eighth hole but it was his only birdie in a round also that included two bogeys for his one-over par 71.
Full scoring HERE