Monday 25 September 2017

'Stress-free' McIlroy puts Open misery behind him as Padraig Harrington rolls back the years

Rory McIlroy lines up a putt during the opening round of the Travelers Championship. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy lines up a putt during the opening round of the Travelers Championship. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy made a good start to recovering from his US Open hangover with an opening 67 in the $6.8 million Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut.

McIlroy's three-under-par score left him four shots off the pace set by Jordan Spieth who got around in an impressive 63, for -7.

The four-time Major champion from Northern Ireland is enjoying the course and the tournament which he has never previously included on his schedule, and his performance was balm to the wounds of missing the cut at Erin Hills last week.

"You can give yourself plenty of chances around here if you hit it well off the tee. I alluded to it yesterday in the press conference. It's sort of stress-free golf.

"I shot three-under today but it could have been a whole lot better, so I'm looking forward to getting after it tomorrow and over the weekend," said McIlroy.

Earlier this week he said he was giving his mallet-head red TaylorMade Spider putter this week to prove itself, although he admitted: " It's nothing to do with the putter, it's mostly what I'm doing with it."

McIlroy's score could easily have been two or three shots better. He came really close to dropping birdie putts on the sixth and seventh holes, his 15th and 16th, as he started on the 10th tee.

"I hit some good putts today. I hit the hole five or six times, where I hit good putts and the ball didn't go in. A few of those go in and it's a different story.

"All of a sudden you're shooting in the low sixties, and you're feeling really good about yourself. I just have to stay patient, keep hitting good putts and hopefully they'll drop in," he said.

Pádraig Harrington went one better than McIlroy, registering a 66 for four-under and a very encouraging start.

Harrington admitted he did not know what to expect before the teed off after an unplanned break caused by an elbow injury he suffered on June 5.

'Coach' Harrington was trying to help an amateur sort out his swing problems, but it went badly wrong when the Dubliner found himself too close for comfort, and the golfer's club struck him on the elbow. The cut needed six stitches, resulting in more time off to add to his previous three-month lay-off to recover from neck surgery.

Harrington admitted he did not know what to expect, given this was only his 22nd competitive round of the year, and his short game was crucial to his round.

Four birdies and no bogeys over the 6,900-yard lay-out represented a very solid result but the key was his getting up and down eight times from eight attempts, as he only hit ten of the 18 greens in regulation.

Harrington made one sand save, and took just 24 putts.

Embarrassed

"My elbow is fine now - I had the stitches out on Sunday and there is only a small mark. In actual fact it is so small I'm almost embarrassed about it," he said.

Assessing his round, Harrington said: "I struggled. I've played just 21 games of golf this year. I'm not trusting my lines off the tee, not so much the shots, but just not trusting the right shot, so I struggled tee to green," he said.

Spieth got to six-under par after 14 holes, and nailed one final birdie on the 18th for his 63 and outright lead, despite it being his first competitive round on the course.

Elsewhere, Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, the title holder and 2016 Open champion, will take up the pursuit of BMW International Open leader Wade Ormsby who led the field with an eight-under-par 64 yesterday. Garcia was in a group on 66, and Stenson was among a dozen other players on 67.

"I felt like I hit a lot of good shots. I didn't put myself under a whole lot of stress, and you know, I'm very happy with the six-under," said Garcia.

Ireland's Gavin Moynihan and Neil O'Briain both shot level-par 72s in round one of the Made in Denmark tournament on the Challenge Tour.

BMW International

Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30am

Travelers Championship

Sky Sports 4, 8.30pm

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