Rory McIlroy admitted to a frustrating day with the putter in producing a three-under par 69 on day one of the Workday WGC at The Concession in Florida.
Twice, McIlroy was tied for the lead over the outward half of the Jack Nicklaus/Tony Jacklin designed Concession course, designed in honour of the duo’s sporting concession at the 1969 Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale.
The effort, going back to the ‘blade’ putter the day after missing the halfway cut at the Genesis Invitational, left McIlroy trailing only three shots behind the leading duo of American Webb Simpson and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick. Four players – the American trio of Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel and Spaniard Sergio Garcia – share third place after five-under par 67s.
Double Irish Open winner, Jon Rahm was tied at five-under with a hole to play but found the trees down the left side of the 18th in taking a bogey in a round of a four-under par 68 that sees him tied with five others including Genesis Invitational runner-up Tony Finau and Aussie Wade Ormsby, the double Hong Kong Open winner and reigning Asian Tour No. 1.
Not for a first time it was McIlroy’s shortest club in the now World No. 8’s bag that produced the biggest worry with McIlroy needing 31 putts in ideal scoring conditions but on ‘unknown’ greens at Bradenton on the Florida west coast.
“It is frustrating as you come off the course thinking you could be three or four shots lower than you were,” he said. “I just have to keep putting the work in. I have to keep doing the same stuff and hopefully it finds its way in there and that’s really it. I held some good putts out there today and it’s not as though I didn’t hole anything but I just missed a few I should have held.”
McIlroy got his round off to a great start with a birdie on his opening hole, the par-4 10th in holing a four-footer and then two-putting the par-5 13th to move to two-under par. He launched a 347-yard missile over the water at the dog-left par-4 16th and sank a seven-foot to jump into a then share of the lead at three-under.
McIlroy saw his par putt on his 10th hole, from just four-feet, horse-shoe on him but he put that aside to birdie both the second and third holes, or the 11th and 12th of his round, to be back into a share of the lead. He gave the two shots back with back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14 before picking up a shot at his 16th hole ahead of two pars to be just inside the top-10.
“I had three putts that broke a different way to what I thought they would and on another hole that was right-to-left, I gave it a little left break as a sort of reaction to the other putts that I missed a little high and that one went a little left,” he said.
“So, it was hard as even the putts that I hit like on the eighth hole, or my 17th for the day, I hit mine on the right edge and if I moved a little bit, it was going to drop in the hole but it didn’t budge. So, I am going to the range to hit some balls. I felt like I got a good feeling with what I am doing with my long game, so I am going to hit a few balls and try and groove that in and then I will go to the putting green and try and figure it out.”
It was much the same story for Shane Lowry who was brilliant for the most part tee-to-green but failed to capitalise on an abundance of opportunities with the putter. Lowry, who began and ended his round with bogeys, had just two birdies in between to show for his efforts in signing for a level par 72. Lowry will head to day two of the no-cut event sharing 36th place, hoping to turn up the heat on his putter after missing six birdie chances inside 12 feet on day one.
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