Rory McIlroy’s first round in his 30s was just as painful as his last scoring effort as a 29-year old on day one of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Park on New York’s Long Island.
McIlroy went without a birdie till the very last hole in posting a disappointing two-over par 72 leaving him trailing a massive nine shots behind defending PGA champ, Brooks Koepka who smashed the course record with a bogey-free 63.
Graeme McDowell is the best of the four Irish after signing for a well-earned level par 70 with McIlroy next best to be just inside the top-80 while Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry are each outside the leading 110 after a pair of 75s.
For 17 holes of McIlroy’s 42nd Major he had everyone guessing when’s the last time he did not manage a birdie but fortunately there was something to smile about when he holed a six-footer on 18.
“I can’t remember the last time I played a round of golf without a birdie. I was like, I better birdie this last hole. Thankfully I did. It was nice to finish that way,” said McIlroy.
“Around this golf course, the margins are fine. And if you miss the fairway by a yard or two, it can make the difference between hitting a shot into 10 feet and having a birdie chance or having to get up-and-down from 100 yards for par. But I did that well. Hit enough fairways, felt like I hit enough greens, and, you know, hit good putts, and some days they just find a way to not go in,” he added.
Regardless, it was still the shortest club in McIlroy’s bag producing the biggest headache. Prior to the last hole birdie he was ranked 130th in putting among the now 155 competitors. In contrast, Koepka was first in driving, first in strokes gained and tops in the least number of putts.
McIlroy was on the Black course back foot from the outset in finding the right rough off the first tee and taking a bogey ‘5’, and it wasn’t till the fifth hole, the World No. 4 four a first fairway.
He dipped to two-over in three-putting from some 40-feet at the par-3 eighth hole and then produced six straight pars before a third bogey of his round at 15 when he was nearly 20-yards long with his second shot into the par-4 and took another three shots in a bogey ‘5’. The four-time Major winner ended his round just prior to 6pm local time parring 17 and a birdie ‘3’ on 18.
Paul McGinley, again commentating for SKY Sports TV, suggested McIlroy’s game remained in good stead despite trailing well adrift of Koepka.
“Outside of Koepka and Lee, Rory’s not a million miles away from those in third place on three-under,” said McGinley.
“His game is pretty good and the thing is Rory will be out early in the morning so he should be able to take full advantage of the course as we saw from the guys out in the morning.
“Rory’s well capable of posting something in the mid-60s and getting him well-back into this tournament.”
Harrington, who like McIlroy, will be out earlier today (US time) in round two, did well to be just one-over at the turn and dropping a further four shots over his next six holes for his five-over total.
And 2017 Irish Open winner, Jon Rahm has ignored the luxury of staying the week in one of the many 5-star hotels in the nearby Big Apple instead electing to spend the week in an on-course motor home.
“It (motorhome) has many advantages and few disadvantages and, in addition, reminds me of my childhood when I was traveling in a caravan across Europe,” said Rahm after his round of 70.
“Another positive aspect is that, although the kitchen is not the best, it allows you to make your own food. Kelley (fiancée) loves to cook and we can take better control of nutrition, something she knows a lot since she studied Biology.”