Rory McIlroy revived his chances at the PGA Championship by sinking a 36-foot par putt, rallying to shoot a one-over par 71 in Thursday’s opening round at Oak Hill.
The four-time major champion from Northern Ireland, chasing his first major victory since 2014, reached only two of 14 fairways but escaped dense rough with timely shotmaking to grind out a decent score.
“Just not at my best. I’m just struggling with my swing,” he said. “I can definitely hit it better than that.
“I started to see a couple of better golf shots coming down the last few holes. There was a couple of glimmers of hope in there coming in.”
Back-nine starter McIlroy opened with five pars but found bunkers at the par-3 15th and par-4 17th and couldn’t get up and down either time. Finding a fairway bunker led to another bogey at 18.
World number three McIlroy appeared set to drop another stroke when he went over the green at the second on his third shot, but he rolled a putt up a slope and into the hole from 36 feet to salvage par and turn his round around.
“It was massive. I was just hoping to get done in two and make bogey,” McIlroy said.
Then he hit his tee shot at the par-3 third inches from the hole to set up his first birdie.
“When you walk off the green 3-over and then you hit a tee shot like that, and all of a sudden, the pendulum swings or momentum goes the other way, and all of a sudden you make a couple of birdies in a row, you feel like you’re sort of right back in the tournament,” McIlroy said.
“I may look back at that shot as being the sort of turning point of the week.”
McIlroy drove the green for a tap-in birdie at the par-5 fourth and answered a bogey at the par-3 fifth with a birdie at the eighth.
– Tough in the rough –
And he feels confident even when he finds himself in Oak Hill’s thick rough.
“I’m getting pretty good at getting out of the rough. Getting pretty used to it,” McIlroy said.
“I’ve always been able to get steep on it and have a bit of speed and maybe hit a couple extra clubs out of lies that some guys can’t, so that’s a little bit of an advantage to me this week.
“You’re in for a tough day when you keep hitting it out of the rough like I was.”
McIlroy’s struggles were magnified by crosswinds, he said, but he likes his chances if he can find the short grass off the tee.
“I actually expected the scoring to be a little bit better than what it is, he said. “If you can get the ball in the fairways you have options.
“Once you’re in this rough, it’s just a matter of trying to hit up somewhere near the green and make par.”
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