Rory McIlroy singled out his round of 68 on day one of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as his best Major Championship individual round showing in four years.
McIlroy, despite kick-starting his day with a bogey, signed for a three-under par 68 to head to the clubhouse just two strokes behind the American duo of Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele along with former Open winner, Louis Oosthuizen who signed for five-under par 66s in the cool and overcast conditions along the Pacific Ocean course near Carmel.
At the end of play Justin Rose had eclipsed those at the head of proceedings following a 6-under par 65 in the more difficult afternoon conditions and he was delighted to close out his round with birdies on 16, 17 and 18.
“It was amazing. Obviously I had good numbers. I hit my favorite shot of the day was my 7-iron into the 16th hole. The pin was up on the right side. If I was going to hit 7-iron I had to take something off and cut it in there. That was my favourite shot of the day,” commented Rose.
“17 was a good, solid 4-iron. If I drew it up it was a perfect number. You had to hit left of the hole. The putt rolled in.
“18, great tee shot. The 5-wood, I was right between clubs. The way I have my bag set up this week, I have a 5-wood that goes 245, occasionally 250, and my 4-iron, it goes like 217, 218. It’s the one part of my bag where there’s quite a big gap. I was right in between clubs on 18, so I was trying to feather up a little 5-wood.
“But I left it in the right spot. You can’t go left. I left it short right. Thought I hit a great bunker shot, it trickled out but made the putt.
“I think tomorrow the wind might pick up in the afternoon. I was aware of that. I was aware of being patient today if it got tougher this afternoon, and the guys tomorrow afternoon might get something similar. The wind almost laid down coming in, not picking up.”
For McIlroy, his performance is the first occasion he’s broken 70 in a U.S. Open since a closing day 66 in the 2015 championship at Chambers Bay, also laid-out along the Pacific Ocean in Washington State.
“I am really pleased with a 68 as it’s a tough start off the 10th tee and after taking a bogey there I came back well and didn’t make a bogey after that,” said McIlroy.
“So, to play my last 17 holes in four-under par was good. We had benign conditions and the golf course is very, very soft for a U.S. Open right now but you needed to get out there and shoot something in 60s today as I can see the course getting a little bit harder as the week goes on.
“I missed every fairway at the three par-5s, so I need to do some work in playing the par 5s better.
“It’s been a while since I have felt so good about every aspect of my game and the last time I shot in the 60s in a U.S. Open was at Chambers Bay in 2015, and I would have to go back to that point when I felt as comfortable playing great golf on the biggest stages.
“Also, with two wins this year and a lot of other good performances, I feel comfortable. So, overall happy with my day’s work.”
Six weeks after turning the ripe old age of 30 and McIlroy teed-up in his 12th U.S. Open and his 43rd Major Championship.
And while McIlroy broke through to capture a first Major with his U.S. Open success at Congressional in suburban Washington D.C., the U.S. Open has been far-and-away the unkindest to the Ulsterman in recent years.
Indeed, McIlroy arrived at Pebble Beach having missed the cut in his past three U.S. Open appearances and that is something McIlroy has not done in either of the other three Majors.
McIlroy’s missed the cut just once in the Masters (2010), played all four rounds in every Open Championship and also in each of his 10 PGA Championship showings, a Major he’s won twice in 2012 and 2014.
He’s performed the poorest in a U.S. Open and has, in fact, missed the cut in five of 10 U.S. Open’s.
However, McIlroy teed-up along the Pacific Ocean shoreline coming off a brilliant seven-shot success in last Sunday’s RBC Canadian Open, in a tournament that again showed to the sports world how McIlroy can turn it on when he gets into the zone.
McIlroy was seeing the hole on that final day last Sunday as big as a bucket and finally burying any late Sunday night horror viewing show in producing his lowest score on the PGA Tour. And the new World No. 3 picked-up from where he left off in over 4,300 klms away in Ontario, Canada.
Commentating on McIlroy’s first round performance was Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host, Paul McGinley.
“What we saw last Sunday in Canada, was Rory at his best and it’s that consistency that’s been lacking in this game,” said McGinley on SKY TV.
“Winning the Players in March and now the Canadian Open is the form we all know Rory is capable of, and he’s back to the best of his career.
“He will be thrilled with three-under and especially after commenting in his press conference yesterday that he hasn’t got off to a good start in the majors this year.”
Graeme McDowell, clearly buoyed after securing a place into next month’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush, ended his round minutes behind McIlroy with a very eye-catching and bogey-free two-under par 69.
GMac, the defending Pebble Beach U.S. Open champion from 2010, parred his opening 12 holes before finally getting one to drop at the par-4 fourth hole he was playing as his 13th where he landed a 106-yard wedge to just under five-feet for a birdie ‘3’.
“I wasn’t coming here to focus on 2010. I was coming here to try and compete this week,” commented McDowell.
“I feel like my game is trying to get in the right direction. I was looking for an under-the-radar grouping this week, but I didn’t really get it. But in a funny way I felt nearly under the radar because, you know, Phil and Dustin – I felt like it was all eyes on those two guys out there today, and I was just kind of plodding around, doing my thing. So that felt okay to me.
“I executed really well today, tee-to-green. Made very few mistakes. Wedge play was a little off. But apart from that, I felt really comfortable on the golf course, and like I say, felt like I executed my game plan really well.”
The effort handed the new World No. 101, McDowell a very encouraging share of 10th place, one shot behind McIlroy and only four strokes off Rose’s lead.
Sadly, Shane Lowry will now be fighting to make the cut having slumped from one-over through 13 holes but to end in the proverbial golfing ambulance in doubling his 15th, making birdie on 16 but then finding deep rough left of the green at his last and also taking a double-bogey ‘6’.
Lowry’s score of a four-over par 75 sees him sitting in T116 position.
Full scoring HERE.