Rory McIlroy safely negotiated the famed ‘Snake Pit’ but it was the back-nine of the Copperhead course that took the sting from his game on day one of the Valspar Championship.
McIlroy commenced his first round from the 10th and posted 10 straight pars before playing his closing eight holes in a three-over for a round of 74 which left him trailing seven shots behind little-known Canadian Corey Connors, with the 26-year opening up an early two shot lead with his four-under 67.
McIlroy had dined out the night before with his wife, Erica and coach, Michael Bannon at the famed Mystic Seafood restaurant close to the Innisbrook Resort. He then had the two for support on day one of the $6.5m event but there wasn’t much substance to McIlroy’s game, managing one birdie but also posting two bogeys and a double-bogey.
McIlroy hit just six of 13 fairways in the bright but windy and continuing heavy pollen-laden air but there was some good news on the greens with the current World No. 11 needing just 26 putts.
The highlight of McIlroy’s round was his 65-foot chip-in for birdie on the seventh or the 16th of his round and if there was a lowlight it was his bogey at the last. Playing partner, Gary Woodland, winner of the event in 2011, had virtually shown McIlroy the line in chipping from rough just close to where McIlroy’s second shot lay at the last.
It prompted McIlroy to ‘knuckle’ Woodland via way of congratulations but then when McIlroy putted his third from just off the fringe he left his 12-foot putt some four-foot short of the cup ahead of sending his fourth two-foot by the hole.
McIlroy had been approached after his round for comment but politely declined.
Justin Rose, the third member of the group, showed McIlroy what to do at their last hole in stepping-up to rattle the cup with his 13-foot birdie in a round of 70.
But unlike McIlroy, Rose was suffering big-time with the pollen. “My nose is like a tap in these conditions and it’s really affecting me (stopping to sneeze), so this has been the story of my day,” he said.
“It was nice to finish with a birdie as I struggled off the tee and my irons were not all that well, so to get it around this golf course in under par and given the way I am trying to cope with the pollen, is pleasing.”
“In general, I am pretty happy where I am at with my game and sometimes it is good not to be completely on song while everyone has Augusta in mind right now, so part of me is thinking that if you are firing on all cylinders right now it is still a long way before we get to the Masters.”
Seamus Power joined McIlroy in the morning half of the draw but the West Waterford player had a round he’d also rather forget posting a five-over par 76.
Power is contesting the Florida event for a second year running but could manage just two birdies and also posted seven bogeys.