Rory McIlroy gave the thumbs up to Belfast bar owner, best mate and now caddy, Harry Diamond with the duo combining for a three-under 67 on day one of the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.
McIlroy did have to study the yardage book more often than he has ever done in the last nine years but the Ulster-born best friends could be pleased with their efforts.
It left McIlroy in a six way tie in third that also includes Royal Birkdale winning hero, Jordan Spieth, and they trail just two shots behind Belgium’s Thomas Pieters who grabbed five birdies in his round to head the $US 9.5m event.
McIlroy could have ended sharing second at four under with Scot Russell Knox but for a sloppy three-putt bogey at his final hole. However, it failed to dampen McIlroy’s demeanour on a day where for the most part he looked rejuvenated after the headlines of earlier in the week.
“It was a good first day but it has been a long time since I had to write stuff in a yardage book and it means I am taking more responsibility myself”, he said. “There were a couple of times where I asked Harry what he thought about some shots but it was just great to have my best mate on the bag, and we are just having a great time.”
“The first couple of holes were a little different in hearing a different voice on the bag but given that, I felt I played pretty well in what, I guess, is the start of a new chapter in my career”.
McIlroy his first Firestone round since winning the event in 2014 off to a booming start with a 309-yard drive up the 10th and the first of his round ahead of settling for a par. But then after a 312-yard effort at his second McIlroy landed his 112-yard approach to 26-feet and much to the delight of Diamond he rolled in the first birdie of the new player and caddy partnership.
However, they got it wrong at the next, the 13th, taking three shots from just short of 70-yards from in front of the green for what would be the only bogey of the round.
McIlroy ended his opening nine at one under when, as he had done when he won the $US 9.5m event at his last appearance in 2014, with a birdie and from 15-feet. He headed to his back nine having hit four of seven fairways but only managing five of nine greens in regulation.
McIlroy burst into his back nine birding his 11th and 12th hole, or the second and third of the course, firstly getting up-and-down from some 60-yards from a greenside bunker and then after splitting the fairway with a booming 320-yard drive at the 12th he stuck his second to just four-feet for a fourth birdie of his day.
The World No. 4 parred the next two and then at the par four sixth, or the 15th of his round, McIlroy landed his second to 12-feet before sinking the fifth birdie of his round.
The lone Irishman in the field then parred his 16th and 17th holes before the three-putt on the last.
“I drove it well and put myself in some great positions down the fairways and while I hit a couple of lose wedge shots I felt good about the round today”, he said. “Look, the game is good and I felt I turned a corner with my game at the Open Championship.”
“Also, I am coming back to a place this week I love and where I have won before, and also had some other good finishes. So, I think a 67 is a fair reflection of how well I played today but then I am going to work on my wedges on the range this afternoon”.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson rewrote PGA Tour record books with a longest drive in four years. DJ took full advantage of the downhill par five 16th launching a 439-yard missile that caught TV commentators off guard as to its whereabouts.
Johnson ended his round with a two under par 68