Sunday 25 June 2017

Rory relief at trouble-free comeback

Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the 12th tee during the first round of the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec. Photo credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the 12th tee during the first round of the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec. Photo credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

William S Callahan

The fans flocked to see him, his fellow competitors welcomed him back, and for Rory McIlroy it was an impressive return to action after almost seven weeks' absence from tournament golf.

McIlroy enjoyed his day in the sun, literally and metaphorically, on the opening day of the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in ideal golfing conditions.

He shot 68, three-under par - just one shot off the lead - and it could have been better but for a couple of putts that slipped past the hole on his back nine.

Overall, the outcome was satisfactory, particularly as McIlroy had little sleep the previous night due to a stomach bug, but his main concern was making sure he had no reaction from the rib injury he suffered in South Africa in January.

"I probably could have played Honda last week," he said. "It would have been great to play four rounds there but I wasn't going to know how my body would react after playing four days in a row.

"I thought this was great, you get to play four guaranteed rounds. I'm taking next week off just to see how the body responds. I stayed patient and I think the week longer will pay off."

At least McIlroy got to play and complete 18 holes. Open champion Henrik Stenson suffered a stomach upset that caused him to withdraw.

The venue is over 7,000 feet above sea level, putting a premium on mental arithmetic by caddies and players as they had to make allowances for the changes in elevation.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson, for example, outlined the challenges in dialing the right numbers.

"A normal pitching wedge for me goes 144 yards, but here I can fly it 180. So it's going a lot further," he said.

Accuracy

Accuracy was demanded as well, with 6,000 trees spread around the course, and players had to be prepared to take irons off tees on some of the narrow approaches to the fairways.

All in all, a good test for McIlroy who showed no sign of any hangover from his rib injury as he swung powerfully and without inhibition.

His high point came on the 615-yard par-five sixth hole, which was his 15th as he had started on the 10th tee.

Up to McIlroy's arrival at the sixth, nobody had done better than birdie, but he needed only three shots to tame the beast, holing from 28 feet for his eagle.

McIlroy had covered the previous 14 holes in one under par. He birdied the 11th and first holes, before his first blemish, a bogey five on the fifth. The eagle was a welcome boost to confidence.

McIlroy should have added a birdie on the next hole, the 203-yard par-three seventh, where he struck his tee shot to three feet, only to see the ball slip past the edge of the hole.

Lee Westwood led for a long time but bogeyed his final two holes to rejoin a large contingent on four-under (67), including Phil Mickelson and US PGA champion Jimmy Walker.

While McIlroy, and the elite of the game were competing for a prize fund of $9.75m with $1.66m to the winner, Ireland's Paul Dunne and Darren Clarke were struggling to make the cut in the Tshwane Open in Pretoria. This event has a total prize fund of €1.1m.

Dunne and Clarke had survival rather than profit on their mind after opening with 73, two over par, and 74 respectively.

Sweden's Alexander Bjork, Gregory Havret of France and Haydn Porteous (South Africa) all posted 65, six under par, to share the lead by a shot from the chasing pack.

Tshwane Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.30am/12.30pm

WGC-Mexico Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0pm

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