Strong finish sees McIlroy card an opening 66 in Canada

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Rory McIlroy cut a rather frustrated figure as he walked off the green on the par-5 17th – his eighth hole – at Hamilton Country Club. He’d just made his eighth successive par, but the 28-footer he faced for birdie on 16 was arguably his best look at getting into red figures, and after a wayward drive on 17, a fortunate drop, an approach that left him short-sided, a heavy-handed pitch and a putt that came up shy, the two-time Canadian Open champion looked a little out of sorts.

The 18th hole was much better, but his 10-footer for birdie slid by and it looked like being one of those days, but a deft chip and tidy-up putt at the short par-4 first finally got him into red figures, and he repeated the feat at the fifth to double his tally. Two more birdies followed back-to-back on seven and eight – the first a par-4 and the second a par-3 – and he was suddenly -4 for the tournament and motoring nicely.

A wayward drive at the last was followed by an excellent recovery, but he couldn’t get the 16-footer to drop. The tap in par putt was good for a bogey-free 66, however, and saw the pre-tournament favourite move to third on the leaderboard with the afternoon wave getting their rounds underway.

“Yeah, so I played the back nine blind,” the four-time major champion explained afterwards. “Hadn’t seen the back nine. Only played the front nine in the Pro-Am. So I was sort of happy enough to get out of there in even par and not make a bogey. So, but once I got that nine holes out of the way I knew there were some chances on that front side and played probably much better on that front side. Four birdies there, no bogeys was a good day’s work.”

This is the first of three weeks in succession for the world number three, with the Memorial Tournament next week and the US Open at Pinehurst the week after, but he’s relishing the opportunity to spend time on the course and avoid the business and personal distractions of recent weeks and months.

“Yeah, I think when all of us are able to focus purely on the golf again that would be welcomed by everyone,” he said. “But, yeah, I’ve played a lot of golf this year. I was on a four-week stretch sort of through Augusta and then I had two weeks Quail Hollow and PGA and now I’m on another four-week stretch. So, yeah, I’ve played a lot, but it’s been good. It’s been, I’ve started to play my way into form and I’ve played well the last few weeks and hopefully I can just keep that going.”

The opening hole is one that’s been good to McIlroy in the past and it was here again that the round really kicked into gear.

“I think it’s the fact that I can carry that second bunker on left so I can get it up there close to the green,” he explained. “If the pin’s on that right side of the green I might lay back because I wouldn’t have — if the pin was on that right side today I wouldn’t have had a shot to it. It’s very hole location dependent, but today with the pin in the back left I knew even if the drive ran through in the rough I still had a good angle to try to get it close.”

Yeah, it’s been nice,” he said when asked about going bogey-free. “Thankfully, it’s something that I’m starting to do again. The start of the year or at least through like February, March, April, I was making some big numbers and it was, there was a lot of volatility on the scorecard. But to play bogey-free rounds is really nice again.”

An uncharacteristically wayward tee shot on the par-5 17th lead to a moment of levity with the fans.

“Yeah, I obviously hit it into the hospitality and some guy yelled out, ‘You need a wrist band to get in here’.  So that was pretty funny,” McIlroy laughed.

Playing alongside defending champion Nick Taylor and Taylor Pendrith, both Canadians, meant that the galleries following the marquee three-ball were enormous, and McIlroy showed his appreciation for the support each of the trio received.

“Yeah, it’s great,” he said. “The Canadian fans came out to support them. As I said, one of the main reasons I love coming back here is because of that atmosphere that’s created when we’re out there to play, and playing with two Canadians today was, it was exactly what I expected, but for a Thursday morning at 7:40 or whatever we teed off, there was a lot of people out there. It was great to see.”

Seamus Power made just the one birdie enroute to a two-over 72 that leaves him in 91st place early on and in need of a low round on Friday if he’s to see weekend action, while Shane Lowry is among the late starters.


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