Rory McIlroy battled a stomach bug and a lack of sleep to score a moral victory over World No. 1 Dustin Johnson in posting a 68 under par on the day one of the WGC – Mexico Championship in Mexico City.
Whether it was a tacky taco or bad burrito, the illness didn’t deter McIlroy taking an aggressive approach in cloudless conditions in the $US 9.75m event to finish two shots fewer than his playing partner on the Chapultepec course.
It is McIlroy’s first official tournament in 45-days since losing out in a play-off for the South African Open and the standout highlight of McIlroy’s round was an eagle ‘3’ at the par five sixth that the current World No. 2 was playing as his 15th.
McIlroy’s drive was on a downslope left of the hole, and near trees but if there was any doubt of any lingering ill-effects of a stress fracture of the rib, he dispelled that by drilling a 256-yard second shot over water guarding the green to 28 feet just left of the flag. He then stepped-up and duly rolled in the putt to move from just inside the top-10 to a then share of fourth place.
McIlroy followed with three closing pars for a three under par 68 on the par 71 lay out in the suburbs of the world’s eighth-highest capital city.
“The rib is fine and it’s great actually how I have responded over the last few weeks as I’ve been able to rev-up the practice and feel great in my first competitive round out there today,” he said.
“So, I didn’t feel any pain at all and it’s all positive in that regard but I didn’t really sleep as I was up all night worshipping the porcelain bowl.” And what did he eat to get an upset stomach? “The local stuff actually, which is what you’re supposed to do, I think,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. I ate with Erica [Stoll, his fiancée] and my parents and they seemed fine this morning.”
“But I haven’t eaten today so I’m a little weak and as I said the positive news is that I didn’t feel the rib at all. It’s great how it’s responded over the last few weeks.”
“The thing is that I could have played the Honda last week but the thing was that I was not going to know how my body was going to react if I had of played four rounds in a row. This is the good thing about being here in Mexico as everyone is guaranteed four rounds and then I have next week to see how everything reacts and how I respond.”
The Ulsterman had picked-up the first birdie of his round when he drained a 14-footer at his second hole before a series of two-putt pars except at the very tight tree-lined 18th he was playing at his ninth when he drilled a drive 350-yards but took three to get down from 50-yards for a par.
McIlroy drove a greenside bunker at 313-yards at the first (his 10th) but then splashed out to near eight-feet and holed the birdie. Then after a loose second shot at this 14th he three-putted from near 60-feet for a bogey.
McIlroy can this week return to World No.1 with victory but then Johnson needs to finish no worse than a share of third. Johnson produced a real roller-coaster display starting with a pair of birdies, dropping shots at his fourth and fifth hole then picking up a birdie at six and also his ninth. He then made a complete mess of his 10th, and like McIlroy finding bushed behind the green and then sticking his second into a bunker ahead of taking a further four shots to get down from 18-yards for a double bogey ‘6’.
‘DJ’ was back to one over with a bogey at his 14th but did birdie his 15th and 17th holes.
McIlroy spoke of the challenge facing all players competing in officially the world’s highest either on the PGA, European, Australasian, Asian or Sunshine Tour’s.
“Distance control and the greens this week are going to be very important. I was hitting 8-irons in practice 210 yards. It’s so hard to get used to and trust in your mind that that club is going to hit the ball that far. It’s tough, sometimes you need to trust that a little bit. And then the greens, the greens are small but they’re quite fast, they’re undulating. I really think you need to be below the hole. If you’re below hole and you can leave your approach shots below the hole, you’ll have much better chance at holing putts and making birdies.”