Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry struggled to rounds of 74 and 76 respectively in testing conditions at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale while Seamus Power managed only ten holes before darkness halted play and he will resume today from level par.
Making their first appearances on US soil in 2023, both McIlroy and Lowry had to wait an additional two hours to get underway as early-morning frost delayed the start of the first round, and shortly before play began, the desert winds picked up and played havoc with the early starters.
The world number one was uncharacteristically out of sorts off the tee, hitting just four of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens, carding just two birdies enroute to a two-over round of 74.
After a decent par at the first, the troubles began on two when he pulled his drive into the hazard left of the 11th – his second – eventually holing from eight feet for bogey. Three pars followed before a beautifully flighted wedge into the par-5 15th set up his first birdie of the day, and he got into red figures after a tasty chip from a short-sided position to the right of the short par-4 17th produced another.
Back-to-back bogeys on the 18th and first holes took the wind out of his sails, somewhat, and another wild tee shot on the par-4 second hole was fortunate to remain in bounds, coming to rest just inside the metal fencing. From here, he produced a miraculous escape, threading a punched iron though a narrow gap and somehow onto the putting surface and two-putted for an excellent par.
Any hopes that this might spark a resurgence were quickly dashed when he failed to convert makeable birdie putts on the third and fifth holes – the latter from six feet – and then bogeyed the par-3 seventh after flying the green and leaving a near-impossible up-and-down.
He closed with two pars, hitting the dead-centre of the pin with a chip from just off the green on the closing hole, and though a little unfortunate not to see it drop, can also consider himself lucky because it was coming in hot and the green fed away beyond the hole.
Speaking afterwards, McIlroy was understandably disappointed with the end result, but acknowledged the difficult playing conditions. “I thought I did well to birdie 15 and 17 to get to under par for the day,” he said, “sort of a sloppy bogey on 18 to go back to even par.
“But the back-to-back bogeys on 18 and 1 sort of halted the momentum that I had, and then it was just sort of a struggle after that. The wind was tricky, a ton of crosswinds, and then there would be times where it would feel into and then it would go slightly down.
When you’ve got that 90-degree wind the whole time, if it changes just slightly one way or another, it’s a completely different shot, completely different club, and I got caught out by that a couple of times coming in, which wasn’t ideal. I actually felt the best swing I made of the day was the par-3, 7th, and hit it 20 yards over the green.
Tricky day. Hopefully the wind keeps up this afternoon for the guys out there, and we’ll get back at it tomorrow.”
Asked about the shot from next to the fence on the second – McIlroy confirmed that it was a pitching wedge, and added: “Actually the way I was walking up to my ball, it looked like I didn’t have a backswing, but I didn’t realise the angle, like how far right the green actually was.
“So I got over it, I was like, okay, I needed to take it a little bit more on the inside than I usually would and sort of just toe it in a little bit, but I sort of got lucky because the wind was hard off the left and I needed to hit that hard draw against the wind, and it was the only way to stop it on — that green I feel like is the firmest green on the course, so it was the only way to stop it.
“I got lucky with the tee shot that I had a swing, but I hit a great shot and was delighted to walk away with a par.”
Lowry, on the other hand, was making light of the wind at the start of his day, making a comfortable two-putt par on the first and then missing very makeable birdie putts on two and three. He then bogeyed the fourth and added another at the ninth to make the turn at +2.
Like McIlroy earlier in the day, he pulled his tee shot into the hazard on the 11th, and again like McIlroy, had to make a decent putt for bogey.
His only birdie of the day came on the par-5 15th, holing a 10-footer – his longest regulation putt of the day – after reaching the greenside bunker in two, but two more bogeys came on the closing two holes, the Offaly man missing par putts from inside 10 feet on both.
Power, out in the afternoon wave, was on the 11th green with a lengthy birdie putt when play was called for the day, and he’s best placed of the trio after matching one birdie and one bogey and sits at level par.
Canadians Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin set the clubhouse target from the early starters, the former carding six birdies and an eagle on his way to a five-under 67, with his countryman joining him shortly after. They are one ahead of Xander Schauffele who had just a single bogey on his way to a 68.
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