he He fights his swing, a mysterious illness, and a golf course without any sympathy for those in need. In short, if Rory McIlroy wants to get anything from the second tier this season, it’s going to have to be done the hard way.
That he opened the US PGA Championship with one over par of 71 would at the very least indicate that he’s in the mood to fight his way up to better quarters.
But that’s the best we can say about the first round in which the world No. 3 jersey struggled with both his tallest team and his shortest team. Due to his recent habit of changing gear, the driver and batter may find themselves in a cobweb corner of the garage before long.
Not to be mistaken, his finishing balance was far better than anything that seemed possible after nine holes, when he stood with three par and headed in all the wrong directions. As with many of his days in the past 10 weeks, a period that included missed cuts at the Players Championship and Masters, he was battling again that terrifying two-way miss from the tee and a string of bad reads on the greens.
None of these components improved much on the inside nine—McIlroy ended up hitting just two of his 14 fairways—but he did manage to undo two shots through the pure gravel, leaving him just five behind early club leader Bryson DeChambeau. Scotty Scheffler and Corey Conners were two strokes back, and the exits at the other end were Masters champion John Rahm and world number 7 Matt Fitzpatrick, who were quickly sinking in at six.
Rory McIlroy has a creditable 71 card in the first round at the US PGA Championship
McIlroy finished five shots behind early club leader Bryson DeChambeau
In every field, they served as a perspective for McIlroy and proof that the finisher is far from a bad score at Oak Hill, where the roughs are so dense and the fairways so narrow they can crack almost any game. In this vein, McIlroy knew his numbers looked much nicer than the way they were achieved, though his struggles were such that his mood remained calm Thursday night, just as it had been all week. It was later revealed that he suffers from the weather.
He said, “I’m fighting something.” “I thought I had a great night’s sleep last night, looked at my Whip (sleep monitor), I had a 22 percent recovery, and my skin temperature was 3.5 degrees higher than it was.” I’m fighting something. But I actually feel better today than I did yesterday, so I just relax a bit and I’ll be fine.
Among the highlights of his run was a moment in the second, his 11th of the day, when he was starring in a potential double-bogey but saved the par with a 36-foot putt from the green. This proved to be a catalyst for the improvement of the species.
“I’m not at my best,” McIlroy said. “I’m just having my swing, so yeah, it’s very messy in there. I’m just trying to make pars.”
The second hole was huge for me. Depending on what happens over the next three days and what I’m going to do, you know, I might look at that shot as the turning point of the week.
From there, McIlroy retreated to the driving range to fix the glaring deficiency in his arsenal, thus extending what had been an already long day. It was scheduled to kick off at 10 at 8 am local but a heavy sleet delayed play by nearly two hours.
When he started, he was initially steady with five pars, but dropped three putts in four holes of the 15th. His slices on the right at the 17th and 18th made for particularly bleak viewing.
He began to recover in the second, pulling left, fouling the pitch across the green with his third, then nailing a hit from an unpleasant spot.
Masters champion John Rahm struggled in the first round and knocked out six players on 76
He hit back-to-back birdies from the third—his first of the day—before running back a four-foot putt at five. He added gloss to the score with a third birdie in the eighth.
To compare his struggles, look no further than Scheffler. He never looks as striking as McIlroy, but the absence of frills is more than offset by the absence of catastrophe. His age of less than 70 was exceptional, not least because he wasn’t a single ghost.
DeChambeau was better, which was surprising given how poor his form was at LIV. Having lost a significant amount of weight in the past year, he’s almost unrecognizable now, but his 66 knots are back to when he was briefly threatening to take over the game with his massive jab. Somehow that power survived his downsizing.
The frost meant that a number of later starters, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood and Terrell Hatton, had little chance of finishing before sunset.