McIlroy posted a level par 71 on day one of the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston and then praised his switch from the TaylorMade TP5X to the TP5 golf ball.
His opening score left him trailing six shots behind Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose who headed the event by shot in shooting a bogey-free 65.
And while McIlroy didn’t set the TPC Boston course on fire as he did in winning the event in 2012 and then in 2016, there was enough good in his game to suggest a switch in golf balls could see a second Tour title not too far off.
“I played with Tiger and JT (Thomas) at Bellerive last month and I watched how they both hit their wedges and short irons, and just how low they were flighting their golf ball,” said McIlroy.
“I felt like if I did switch to the TP5 it would just help me achieve more with my ball flight.
“So, I’ve been using the TP5 TaylorMade ball which was designed to launch high but with not a lot of spin and while it’s a great golf ball and I’ve had some success with it but I feel what my golf game needs right now is a little more spin, a little more control and a little more flight.
“So, I switched to it last week and that was after a lot of testing and after it performed so well I’ve gone with it in the bag this week.”
McIlroy singled out one shot in his round where he was delighted with the golf ball switch and that was hitting a 153-yard 8-iron over water into the par-5 second hole.
“The ball came off the 8-iron so good and so low that I turned to Harry (Diamond – caddy) saying: ‘That’s different and that’s what I’ve been looking for in my game
It was still a tough day for most including McIlroy who was just one-under par, and thanks to a fourth hole birdie, when he stepped onto the 13thtee and then proceeded to bogey both the 13th and 15th holes ahead of getting back to level with the birdie on 18.
“It was a hard day’s golf as there was a lot of crosswinds along with downwind holes and into-the-wind holes so I had to back off few shots,” he said.
“The rough isn’t that long but you do lose a lot of control as I got a flyer on 12 along with one on 12 but overall, I thought I held it together well.
“It was also nice hitting that 4-iron into the last and making birdie.
McIlroy had spent some 10 days of a 16-day break working hard on his game in the company of long-time coach, Michael Bannon.
And seemed delighted to get a scorecard into his back pocket for a first time since a disappointing showing in St. Louis.
“The goal coming back to Boston was to just feel a lot more comfortable with my game though there is still a couple of iron shots like the one on 16 I missed left as that’s the bad shot, as I was trying to hit a draw and I just smothered that one and it went left.
“But I felt like I hit a lot of decent shots today using a new golf ball and it was a good test for me in the wind.”
Woods, and off the 10th tee, had been three-over after seven holes but regrouped to finish at one-over.
And there was a light moment after Woods exited the scorer’s room in the basement of the clubhouse when he came-up and leaned on the back of McIlroy’s shoulders whispering something in the Ulsterman’s ear that drew laughter from both.