Bogey-free McIlroy gets rewarded for patience
Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30
Rory McIlroy didn't appear to slide out of second gear as he found his putting touch and cruised to a bogey-free 67 in the first round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
While he ended the day six strokes adrift of South Africa's Jaco Van Zyl, who took advantage of soft greens, preferred lies and a zephyr breeze to post an 11-under-par 61 for a three-shot lead over world No 46 Lee Westwood, McIlroy looked ominously close to his best once more.
The world No 3 trailed playing partner Shane Lowry, one of his closest pursuers in the Race to Dubai, for most of the round as he played for position and took few risks.
But as Lowry lost focus and finished with back-to-back bogeys for a somewhat frustrating 68 and a share of 11th, McIlroy's game improved as the day progressed and he executed a conservative game to perfection in just his second look at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal layout.
The former world No 1 has struggled with the putter since returning from his ankle injury in August but, after taking just 28 putts and draining a 25-footer at his 12th hole, the Holywood star sounded bullish about his chances of finishing 2015 with another win.
"I thought it was good," said McIlroy, who chipped in for birdie at his second hole and then saved his par five from 10 feet at his ninth, having been forced to chip left-handed out of the trees.
A four-under-par back nine of 31 left him tied for fourth at day's end and, while two of his birdies were two-putt efforts at the par-five first and fourth holes, he also holed a 25-footer for birdie at the third and a 15-footer for another at the seventh
"I hit a lot of quality shots on the front nine and gave myself a lot of looks and held some putts," McIlroy said. "I feel like I've been hitting the ball well in practice and I've been putting a bit better.
"It's just a matter of trying to take what I've been seeing in practice out on to the course and for the most part today I did that.
"I said to [my caddie] JP after I holed the putt on three that it was probably the longest putt I've holed in about four months.
"So it was nice to see a few putts go in like that. It definitely gives me some confidence going into the next three days."
McIlroy is determined to finish off a Major-less, injury-hit season by snatching what would be a fourth victory in one of his last three events.
"I guess coming into these three weeks, it's about trying to win the Race to Dubai," he said.
"It would be nice to go to Dubai with another win under my belt, so whether it's this week or in China next week, I feel like I've set myself up for a good three days to have a run at it this week."
Lowry, who is 550,000 points behind McIlroy at fifth in the Race to Dubai, laid the foundations for a low opening round when he birdied the 13th, 15th and 18th, then chipped in for a two at the second and holed seven-footers for birdies at the fourth and sixth to get to six-under par with three holes to go.
But while the Clara man finished bogey-bogey for a 68, three-putting the eighth (his 17th) from 30 feet before bunkering his approach to the ninth off a poor tee shot, he refused to get upset.
Looking at his last four events of the European Tour season as a 16-round tournament, he said: "It was a disappointing finish but it's grand. I'd have taken four-under at the start of the day. I'm sitting nicely.
"It would have been nice to pick one or two more shots up but I just had a lapse of concentration on the eighth and a sloppy tee-shot on nine left me with a lot of work.
"I've 15 more rounds to go. I played good, kept going and I was driving it well and hitting some nice irons shots."
Surveying the low scores on the leaderboard, Lowry added: "Someone always goes mad on the first day but it is more of a marathon than a sprint . I'll just keep picking off birdies and keep doing what I am doing.
Graeme McDowell was disappointed to bogey his final hole for a two-under 70 and a share of 28th, while Michael Hoey is tied 53rd after a 72 and Darren Clarke 72nd in the 78-man field after a 75.
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