After recovering from a wild drive on his opening hole, Rory McIlroy believes backing his driver will help him in his CJ Cup defence after a strong first round.
The Holywood man opened with a five-under 66 at Congaree Country Club in South Carolina as five birdies and no bogeys left him one shot off the early lead held by Trey Mullinax and Gary Woodland.
McIlroy could go back to World No.1 if he successfully defends his title and incumbent Scottie Scheffler finishes lower than solo second, which is possible after the latter opened with a 71.
And the 33-year-old is hoping that his accuracy with the driver will lead him to a third win of the season and back to the top of the world rankings.
“After the first hole where I hit it 50 yards right off the tee, it started to get going after that,” said McIlroy.
“Look, it’s a golf course where you can hit driver a lot, the fairways are quite generous, but obviously if you go off the fairways, you can get in some trouble. But I drove the ball well today.
“I took advantage of the par-fives, the drivable par-four on the back nine there, 15. Yeah, if I can keep driving it like that over the next few days, I’ll be in a good spot.”
It was also an encouraging opening round for Seamus Power as he finished the day inside the top-10 thanks to a four-under 67, although he had to endure an up-and-down performance.
The Waterford man carded an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys in his first round, but will be frustrated to drop a shot on his final hole that would have had him alongside McIlroy.
“It was kind of a funny round, I played nicely on the front and not so great on the back and ended up with the same score either way. So a few things to kind of tidy up, but yeah, overall not a bad start, get myself right in the tournament,” said Power.
“(My game) actually feels in good shape. I played a couple, Jackson and Vegas, and then had last week off. It feels good. I’m going to have a nice little stretch coming up, nice to get off on a good note here.”
Meanwhile, Shane Lowry was pleased with his opening round despite his lack of experience at Congaree as he posted three birdies in a bogey-free three-under 68 to hold a share of 15th.
“I played good. I missed a lot of chances coming in, but my first round around here, you know. I obviously played a practice, 18 holes in practice in the pro-am and nine on Tuesday, but it was nice to get off to a good start and bogey free is all good, too,” he said.
“It’s all about second shots, so my iron play’s pretty good. You hit it in the fairway, which the fairways are pretty wide, and you need to be precise with your iron shots. The greens are going to firm up as the week goes on and it will be good.”
Mullinax rode a hot front nine in which he picked up five birdies to set the target at the top of the leaderboard with a six-under 65, a score matched by former US Open champion Woodland, who birdied his last two holes to match him.
McIlroy is joined by Korean phenom Tom Kim – one of his playing partners in the opening two rounds – tied for third after a 66, with Aaron Wise, Wyndham Clark, Cam Davis and Kurt Kitayama also on that score.