Thursday 8 December 2016

Rory McIlroy takes route 66 to Atlanta redemption

William S Callahan

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy (right) chats with his caddie JP Fitzgerald during the opening round of the Tour Championship at East Lake GC in Atlanta
Rory McIlroy (right) chats with his caddie JP Fitzgerald during the opening round of the Tour Championship at East Lake GC in Atlanta

He hasn't gone away, you know.

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We're talking Rory McIlroy, we're talking the player whose left ankle injury is still not fully healed, and we're talking the deposed World number one who still has a point to prove to his closest rivals in the rankings, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.

Prior to the start of The Tour Championship by Coca-Cola at East Lake, Atlanta, McIlroy cited a need to be sharper on the greens, as when the top guns are throwing 64s and 65s at the field, the putter is the area which bears most of the stress.

"I would say that for me anyway, it's the putting. Because, like you can hit 14 fairways and 18 greens in a round and still shoot even par.

"Around here you're going to miss fairways and greens so you've got to take advantage of the chances you're giving yourself," he said.

McIlroy is still not at full throttle but gave himself a morale-boosting start with a four-under par 66 opening round.

He got out and back in 33 on each nine, registering three birdies and a bogey on his outward and inward half.

McIlroy's last birdie, a three on the 498 yard, par-4 17th, featured a beautifully flighted 148 yard approach to within 15 inches of the cup.

Leader

Paul Casey has not played in the FedExCup finale since 2010, and missed the recent Deutsche Bank tournament with a back injury but the Englishman was the clubhouse leader with an opening 65, five under par.

His only negative was a bogey five on the par-4 13th hole. Otherwise it was a solid six-birdie display, culminating in his draining a 17 footer for his last birdie of the day on the 17th.

"I felt good about the putting. I left a couple short. They're so quick, you're just trying not to leave yourself too much work because there's an incredible amount of grain on these greens.

"Sometimes the three and four footers will grab your attention if you get on the wrong side of it.

"I feel very, very happy. I put a new driver in the bag this week. I'm always slightly nervous when I start changing stuff, especially at a key point of the season such as this but I'm very happy with that start," said Casey.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell has travelled in hope more than expectation through a moderate 2015 campaign and needs a serious confidence boost to finish the season on a high note.

Today his focus is on improving on a first-round three-under-par 68 on the Beckenbauer Course at Bad Griesbach, a score which left him just four shots adrift of joint leaders Bernd Wiesberger and Benjamin Herbert.

Starting at the 10th, McDowell was motoring nicely through his front nine at four under par and nicked a birdie two on the fourth hole, his 13th.

He had birdie chances on the next two holes, but failed to convert them, and on the par-five eighth hole, came a cropper with a double-bogey seven.

Afterwards, McDowell was only slightly frustrated. If he had been offered 68 at the start of the day he would have accepted it.

"After five weeks off, first time with a card in your pocket you'll always take a start like that," he said.

Peter Lawrie, who lies 111th in the Race to Dubai, got a late-call up due to withdrawals because of his place in the rankings list, and he opened with a solid 69.

Michael Hoey and Kevin Phelan each shot 70. Damien McGrane was on level par 71, and Simon Thornton had a disappointing 77.

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