Vintage McIlroy front nine propels him into US Open mix

Ronan MacNamara
Rory McIlroy strides out ahead of Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama in round one (Image; James Gilbert/USGA)

Rory McIlroy strides out ahead of Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama in round one (Image; James Gilbert/USGA)

Has there ever been such a plot twist to a Hollywood film?

For a while it looked as if the famous landmark on Mount Lee was going to have an L removed after Holywood star Rory McIlroy posted his lowest ever nine holes and made LA Country Club his own.

But this Hollywood film had an ending nobody envisaged. Having roared to the turn in five-under (30) in vintage McIlroy style it looked as if Rickie Fowler and Scottie Scheffler’s record low US Open rounds of 62 were going to be under serious threat.


The 2011 US Open champion slowed up on his way home, picking up just one birdie on the par-3 15th before a pulled approach shot to 18 left him in the thick juicy bermuda rough where he whiffed his third shot and in the end held an impressive 11-footer for a closing bogey to avoid a completely disastrous finish and sign for a 65.

For the most part however, McIlroy, under pressure already starting out at eight shots back, rolled back the years in scintillating fashion. The tone was set by a thunderous 382 yard drive on the opening par five which set up the easiest of birdies.

It was back-to-back gains on the second for the 34-year-old who added a third birdie of the day on five before a piercing four iron to the 258 yard par-3 7th set up a kick in birdie before he moved to five-under through eight holes at the next.

McIlroy romped to an eight shot victory in his only US Open win in 2011 at Congressional as he bullied the golf course into submission and his ball striking on Thursday was of a certain vintage as he hit 10 of 13 fairways and ranked third in strokes gained off the tee. Rankings of 10th in strokes gained approach and 12th in putting showed that all facets of his game were on song as he gave himself a good platform to spring from in his quest to end a nine-year major drought.

McIlroy shares fifth place alongside 2017 runner-up Brian Harman while the best of the afternoon scores were shot by Wyndham Clark and Dustin Johnson who carded six-under 64s.

2016 champion Johnson stood on the closing par-3 9th on seven-under knowing a birdie would etch his name into the record books as well but a pulled iron cost him a bogey.

That bogey brought an end to what had been a sumptuous back nine effort where DJ matched McIlroy with five birdies in eight holes.

‘I drove it really well and controlled the distance with the irons really good, other than the last hole was about the only — didn’t really hit a bad shot, just pulled it a little bit and it went a lot further than I thought.” said Johnson.

“Still was in an okay position to get it up-and-down and hit a nice putt. It was a little rude that that one didn’t go in, but obviously I swung it really nicely today and hit a lot of good shots.”

The former world number one admitted he did not see 62 out there despite coming close to matching Fowler and Scheffler.

“Obviously the guys went out this morning and you could tell the greens were a little bit more receptive than they have been. It seems like it was two 8-unders and then the next one was a 3.

“The course isn’t really that gettable, obviously. If you play well and hit it in the right spots and you can be aggressive, you get a few wedges in your hand, but you’ve still got to hit a really good golf shot if you want to get it close to the hole.

“Today obviously with the setup, it was definitely somewhat gettable if you drove it really well.

“I did not see 8-under. In the practice rounds, too, we’re playing on the back edge every tee box. I felt like the greens were a hair more receptive than they have been in the practice rounds.

“But the course was set up really nicely today, and then obviously the par-3s, I think they had all of them up a little bit today, which made those play quite a bit easier.

“Like I said, I would imagine the next few days you’re going to see the golf course — they can set it up as hard as they want to.”

Scoring HERE

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