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Saturday, June 12, 2021

McIlroy reflects on tricky start as Sam Burns up Riviera

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Rory McIlroy will have to overcome a two-over par opening round of 73 and a nine shot deficit on Sam Burns if he’s to make an impact over the weekend rounds of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club.

The world number 7 enjoyed a tap-in birdie at the par-5 first but that’s as good as it got for McIlroy on a difficult afternoon in LA. He dropped shots at the third and fifth holes before stitching his wedge to a little over two feet for an easy birdie at the eighth.

Rounding the turn at even par, McIlroy found trouble left off the reachable par-4 tenth, failing to recover before starting his homeward half with a bogey. He was wayward again off the 11th tee, unable to birdie the par-5 while another shot went at the 15th when again McIlroy found trouble left off the tee. You couldn’t say he missed many obvious chances for birdie either. In many respects two-over par in the clubhouse to be sharing 85th seemed a fair reflection of his play, but how did McIlroy assess it?

“A little bit [frustrated]. It’s tricky,” he said. “The wind was up a touch, greens were getting a little firm. I think it was one of those days where it’s sort of just as easy to shoot 2 or 3 under as it is to shoot 2 or 3 over. It’s just sort of one of those and you can see that by the leaderboard, that so many guys are 1 over, even, 1 under. Yeah, just one of those days where obviously there was a couple of good scores out there, but you didn’t have to do too much wrong to sort of be hovering around even par and be on the other side of it.”

McIlroy will hope to come out and take advantage of early morning conditions on Friday to play his way into the weekend but expects few favours from a Riviera course set to firm up with more wind forecast as the tournament goes on and players already reporting the greens to be as quick as they’ve ever been.

“Even in the pro-am yesterday morning [Wednesday], the wind was up quite a lot there, it was really noticeable yesterday morning,” said McIlroy. “Yeah, they’re quick. If you get on the wrong side of the hole, even some putts that you feel like you’re on the right side of the hole you’re being somewhat defensive because late in the day you don’t want to be leaving yourself too many three- and four-footers out here. So yeah, tough to sort of do everything today, but especially hole putts because the greens are so tricky and so fast.”

Sam Burns had no such worries atop the board, carding seven birdies and an eagle in a seven-under par round of 64 to lead Max Homa and Matt Fitzpatrick by two strokes ahead of day two. Burns eagled the first and never looked back, making light of the afternoon conditions where many of the game’s best, including McIlroy, really struggled.

“Yeah, off to a hot start there at 1 with eagle on the first hole,” said Burns. “I think we were just pretty consistent throughout the round. We knew we were going to have a tough stretch there to kind of start the back nine. I think just being patient out here. This golf course at times doesn’t offer you a lot of opportunities, so I think just with that mindset going in we were just going to kind of take what we could get.”

“I think Travis, my caddie, did a great job of putting us in the right spots. I think a lot of this good play goes to him. He’s been really good out there and he’s kind of kept me calm and amps me up a little bit when I need it. I think he just did a good job today.”

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington was slow out of the blocks, as many expected he would be given he was only cleared to make the move to Riviera on the eve of the tournament. Having completed his self-isolation and passed the mandatory tests to re-enter the PGA Tour “bubble”, Harrington carded six bogeys and two birdies in a four-over par round of 75.

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