Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

McIlroy passes emotional test to stay in hunt for PGA win

By admin May25,2024


Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland fired a five-under par 66 in the opening round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla (DAVID CANNON)

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland fired a five-under par 66 in the opening round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla (DAVID CANNON)

Rory McIlroy passed an emotional test of personal resilience with birdies on three of his last five holes for a “scrappy” five-under-par 66 in Thursday’s first round of the PGA Championship.

Less than 48 hours after news of his shock Monday divorce filing from wife Erica became public, McIlroy shook off mid-round struggles to stay among the leaders at Valhalla, where he won his most recent of his four major titles a decade ago.

“Felt like it was pretty scrappy for the most part,” McIlroy said. “I don’t really feel like I left many out there. I thought I got a lot out of my game, some good up-and-downs.

“Not really happy with how I played but at least happy with the score.”

The challenge to keep the decision to end his seven-year marriage from impacting his chances to end a 10-year major win drought was well met, although McIlroy was fielding no questions about whether being inside the gallery ropes was an escape.

“It’s always nice to be inside the ropes,” McIlroy said.

Asked if he would rely more upon his compartmentalization skills this week, McIlroy replied, “Happy to be here.”

World number two McIlroy, a back-nine starter, sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 10th and a 10-foot par putt at 13.

The 35-year-old from Northern Ireland got up-and-down from a bunker from just inside seven feet at 16 for par, then made bogey at 17 after finding sand on his first two shots.

At 18, McIlroy found water off the tee but sank a par putt from just inside seven feet.

“Made a great up-and-down from about 120 yards to make par, which was important after making bogey on 17. That kept any momentum that I had going into the next nine,” McIlroy said.

The momentum boost helped at the next hole, the first, when his approach hit the flagstick and set up a five-foot birdie putt.

“It was huge,” McIlroy said. “I could have easily bogeyed 18 and been back to even par, and then again, that ball on one could have hit the flagstick and went anywhere. I could have made bogey from that.

“Potentially being 1-over par through 10, I’m 2-under. So it’s a three-shot difference. It’s a big swing.”

It set the stage for three McIlroy birdies in a row from five through seven — a five-foot putt at the ninth, a 27-footer at the sixth and a tap-in at the par-5 seventh after landing his approach inches from the hole.

– Greens are really soft –

McIlroy expects a low-scoring week but at this rate, the 72-hole PGA Championship record of 264 by Brooks Koepka in 2018 at Bellerive is in jeopardy.

And, McIlroy says there’s an extra edge for players like himself and leader Xander Schauffele who played on firm greens last week at Quail Hollow, where McIlroy rallied to overtake Schauffele.

“It’s soft. Greens are really soft,” McIlroy said. “Especially for the guys that played last week at Quail Hollow, where the greens were particularly firm, you come to greens like this, second shots are easier. Chip shots are easier if you do miss the greens.

“It’s just a little less challenging at the minute around the greens.”

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