A stroke of brilliance helped propel Rory McIlroy into a share of the early clubhouse lead on the opening day of the DS Automobiles Italian Open at Marco Simone where he ended the day a couple of strokes off overnight leader Matt Fitzpatrick.
McIlroy was 115-yards out in playing his second shot into the par-4 third hole that he was playing as his 12th, on next year’s Ryder Cup host venue on the north-eastern outskirts of Rome.
Long-time caddy Harry Diamond and ‘Best Man’ at his wedding, handed McIlroy a wedge that McIlroy landed just right of the pin and with his ball turning left and straight into the cup.
McIlroy raised both arms into the air in delight with the eagle ‘2’ just the injection the World No. 2 needed into his game as he then proceeded to birdie his 14th, 17th and his final holes in a ‘definitely take notice’ four-under-par 67.
He headed to a late lunch, just prior to 2pm local time tied with Spaniard Adri Arnaus and former Asian Tour No. 1 Gavin Green, after play was delayed for an hour at the start of the day due the presence of lightning and heavy rain.
“I felt like I was half asleep playing the front nine, so I probably shouldn’t have stayed-up so late last night,” he said smiling.
“The eagle sort of kick-started my round a little bit and I played some good golf on the way in. I can’t complain as I played the more difficult nine well today and the easier nine not so well.
“So, it probably evens out and I can now try and tidy-up a few things before going into tomorrow.
“Also, the rough is very tough. You have to keep it on the fairway here. Especially after the rain this morning, it just got even denser and even thicker. Yeah, if I can keep it on the fairway off the tee over the next three days, I should have a good chance.”
As he mentioned, it had been a slow start for McIlroy in bogeying his second hole, the 11th on the scorecard, and while he birdied his seventh he gave the shot back at the next to make the turn at one-over and was already six shots behind playing partner and defending champ, Nicolai Hogjaard who had raced to five-under.
However, three bogeys in the next four holes and completing his inward nine in two-over spoiled the young Dane’s first round defence of his title.
McIlroy has returned to Italy for a first time since 2006 in capturing the European Amateur Championship, and competing this week to gain valuable course experience ahead of next year’s 44th hosting of the Ryder Cup.
And he was asked post his round what he thought Europe needed to do to prepare the course ahead of hosting the visiting and reigning Americans.
“I think stats-wise, you look at the American Team, they are very good sort of from 150 in, so try to set the golf course up, it’s a challenge to get your tee shots within that range,” he said.
“You’ll see even this year compared to last year, some of the tee shots have been brought in and the rough has been brought in on either side. You’ve got bunkers that you can carry at 300 or 310 but the angle it’s created is very, very tight and you’re hitting into smaller windows.
“I think by forcing people to play more conservative off the tee, I think that helps the Europeans a little bit. So, I think that’s part of the strategy for next year.
“It is a great Ryder Cup host course. It is. I think it will be. Again, a Ryder Cup in Europe, it’s all about how do we set The European Team up to win and we lost pretty badly last time, so we maybe give ourselves the best chance.
“The way this golf course is designed, and then if we can set it up the right way, I think that sets us up to have the best chance possible.”
- Full scoring HERE