Sport Golf

Monday 26 September 2016

McIlroy starts countdown to Masters with sizzling 67

William S Callahan

Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from the 17th fairway during the first round of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club Photo: USA Today Sports
Rory McIlroy plays a shot from the 17th fairway during the first round of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club Photo: USA Today Sports

Rory McIlroy shot a four-under-par 67 in his opening round and revealed the value of watching golf on television after his debut in the $6.8 million Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California yesterday.

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Riviera, famously nicknamed 'Hogan's Alley' due to Ben Hogan's performances there in the late Forties when he won the LA Open in 1947 and '48 and the 1948 US Open, features the intriguing and potentially disastrous par-4, 315-yard 10th hole.

Last year it was rated as 'the toughest par-4 measuring 350 yards or less' on the PGA Tour with a scoring average of 4.087.

McIlroy started on the 10th and had made his plan - hit it left off the tee.

"It's tough to start there. Even watching this tournament over the years, that's all I knew, just hit it left and try and get it somewhere green-high, and at least you can chip all the way up the green.

"I'll be trying to do the same thing all week. I hit 3-wood off the tee today and hit a good shot pin-high left and got up and down," he said.

That birdie three was followed by another on the 11th, his second hole, where McIlroy got down in two from over 70 feet for a birdie four on the 583-yard par-five.

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Three more birdies and a bogey plus some good par saves, notably on the ninth, his last hole, where he had to chip and putt from the fringe, left McIlroy reasonably satisfied with his opening gambit.

"It was a solid round of golf. It's my first time here competitively and I just wanted to get off to a decent start.

"There's a few opportunities on the back nine which was our first nine. I took advantage of a couple of them and turned in a couple under and I played a solid front nine.

"The front nine, I feel, is the harder of the two nines but the course played a lot different today than I experienced on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It was a lot softer. You just have to adjust for that a little bit, but I feel that helped me somewhat, being able to control my irons going into greens and the ball not going that far when it landed," he said.

Performance

The course is notoriously difficult for holing putts from five to eight feet, but McIlroy was satisfied with his performance on the greens.

He took 27 putts for the round, and having hit only 11 of 18 greens in regulation, he did well to register just one bogey on his card.

"I felt like for the most part I did OK today with my putting.

"On the eighth hole it hit something. The ball was right in the middle of the hole with three feet to go and it hit something and bounced to the right, but apart from that, I felt like I putted pretty well.

"My pace was good which I was happy with. The ball can get away from you on these greens, especially putting back towards the ocean.

"It felt like my lag putting was good. I left myself a lot of putts from 40-50 feet that I got close and made some good two-putts, and I took advantage of a few chances I gave myself - 67 is a decent score," said McIlroy.

This tournament effectively signals the start of the world number three's countdown to the Masters in Augusta next April, but he also has an eye on chasing down Jordan Spieth and regaining the top spot in the world rankings.

"It's still a big deal. Look, even if you're a player or a fan, anyone who wants to know who is the best golfer in the world, that's what they go and check.

"Yeah, it's important. It's important to me. I want to try and get back there.

"As we were saying, I'm not really competitive in much other things, but about this I'm very competitive, and want to try and get back there as fast as I can," said McIlroy.

Pádraig Harrington, the only other Irish player in the field, also started at the 10th hole, and played steadily. A birdie and bogey on each nine left the three-time Major champion on level-par 71 for the day. Bubba Watson, twice a Masters champion and 2014 winner of the Northern Trust Open, was joined for the early clubhouse lead by fellow Americans Chez Reavie and Luke List.

Each of them shot a 66, with McIlroy Ricky Barnes, and Charles Howell a shot behind the leading group.

"I held it together. Just took my time, and somehow it just worked out in the end. The last few weeks I hit some good putts and they just didn't go in, so it was nice to see them go in today," said Watson.

Maybank Championship Malaysia
Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

Northern Trust Open
Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.0pm

Irish Independent

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