World No.1 Rory McIlroy was at his grinding best as he rode out a difficult first round on a very positive note to sign for a two-under par 70 at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio.
McIlroy made-up one third of the star three-ball, joining Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka out in the afternoon half of the draw; the group boasting a combined 23 majors between them.
At the end of a bright day made difficult by the swirling, windy conditions, it was Tony Finau in out front in posting a six-under par 66 for a one-shot lead on the Muirfield Village course.
Finau boldly tamed the testing conditions in playing his last 10 holes in six-under.
“I played nicely and pleased with how I played well in the tough conditions,” said Finau.
“When you play well in these conditions you have to get some good breaks and I managed a few breaks out there that was the key to my great round.
“This golf course can get you but I was happy to come out on top today.”
While McIlroy signed for 70, the five-time Memorial winning Woods also birdied the last in posting a 71 while Koepka followed his playing partners also with an 18th hole birdie for a 72.
“I am pretty happy with that round as the golf course this afternoon got very windy and that meant it got firmer while the greens especially were hard,” said McIlroy.
“It seemed strange out there that the downwind holes seemed to be playing harder than into the wind holes, so to shoot 70 I thought was a pretty good effort.
“There was a couple of good scores out there such as Tony and Gary going even lower but I am happy with my day’s work.”
McIlroy, who made his Memorial debut with a T10th finish in 2010, teed-off in the company of five-time Memorial winning Woods and fellow four-time Major champion, Koepka.
Though it was Woods who grabbed early bragging rights in racing to two-under thanks to birdies at his first and third holes.
Woods returned to the Tour in Dublin, Ohio boasting a remarkable statistic of 117-under par around ‘Jack’s Course’ and that’s 27 shots better than the next in Matt Kuchar at 90-under par.
And this week is a third attempt by Woods at breaking the Tour’s record for all-time victories since he tied Sam Snead’s mark of 82 wins last October at the ZOZO Championship in Japan.
It took McIlroy six holes for his first birdie in sinking an eight-footer at the par-3 sixth hole to get back to even par after dropping a shot at the fourth.
He moved into the red at one-under in two-putting the next hole, the par-5 seventh, from 40-feet before making the turn in bogeying the ninth.
The current World No. 1 salvaged a great par at the par-3 12th in finding deep rough back left and after managing to find the green, there was a fist pump in saving par from 20-feet.
McIlroy took the positives from 12 onto the par-4 13th in holing yet another ‘bomb’, this one of 21-feet, rewarding him with a birdie to move back to one-under.
He then muscled his way inside the top-10 in holing a three-footer at the par-5 15th to go to two-under par ahead of three closing pars.
Shane Lowry was out in the group ahead of fellow Open Champion McIlroy but the Offaly golfer had to wait until the par-5 seventh hole before his birdie where he chipped a third shot from behind the green to just two inches.
However, after starting his day with a bogey, Lowry also bogeyed the par- 3 eighth in finding a greenside bunker.
The Clara star sent a soaring second shot to the par-5 11th hole before narrowly missing his eagle attempt and added a routine birdie on 13 to draw level with McIlroy on the leaderboard at one-under.
Unfortunately he proceeded to drop shots at 16 and 17 to end his round with a one-over par 73 to be just inside the leading 50 but the nine footer he holed for par at the last could well spur him on in Friday’s second round.
Graeme McDowell was out in the very last group of the day with the last two groups featuring those to have been affected by the Coronavirus.
‘GMac’ looked pretty steady for his opening eight holes picking-up a birdie on five but sticking out like a sore thumb was a double-bogey ‘6’ at the ninth. He then birdied the 12th but posted a second double of his round at the 14th to slump to two-over.
However, it only got worse for the former US Open winner with McDowell taking a triple bogey ‘8’ at 15, a third double of his round at the 16th before posting closing two hole scores of a birdie and bogey for a horror seven-over par 79 opening.
It left McDowell trailing in a share of 120th place.
And the toughest conditions in the now 25 rounds since the June 11th Tour resumption certainly did not play into Bryson DeChambeau’s hands with the Rocket Mortgage champ producing a one-over par 73 to be just inside the top-50.
DeChambeau launched his longest drive all of 423-yards at his 10th hole but three bogeys and the lone birdie was not what the World No. 11 was seeking.
“It was very difficult out there with the wind playing tricks with us today,” he said.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve obviously got to get a lot better with my iron play and wedging.”
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