Monday 18 March 2019

'I love where my attitude is at' - Sparkling Rory McIlroy leads WGC-Mexico Championship

Rory McIlroy reacts after a putt on the eleventh green during the first round of the WGC - Mexico Championship
Rory McIlroy reacts after a putt on the eleventh green during the first round of the WGC - Mexico Championship
Rory McIlory hits his second shot to the 11th hole in Mexico, where he carded one of his seven birdies yesterday. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Phil Casey

On the day Rory McIlroy confirmed he will miss the Irish Open, the four-time Major winner made another statement on the course as he set the early pace at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship with an eight-under-par 63.

McIlroy carded seven birdies, an eagle and one bogey in his first round as he mixed power and accuracy off the tee with conviction on the greens, leaving him one short clear of Dustin Johnson.

Shane Lowry birdied the 18th to card a one-under-par 70.

McIlroy made it look easy as he converted 15 out of 15 putts from inside 10 feet and his only significant misstep came on the par-five sixth, his 15th hole, when he found the trees off the tee and failed to recover with his second shot before slotting home a seven-foot putt for bogey.

The Northern Irishman hit 17 of 18 greens to get round Club de Golf Chapultepec in 63 - eight under par and his level-best for the season.

His near-spotless round put him a shot ahead of Dustin Johnson in second and three ahead of Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar, who are tied for third.

The former world number one, whose last PGA title was at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, suggested victory at the WGC would be a happy by-product of his current focus on the fundamentals.

"It felt pretty stress free," McIlroy told Sky Sports. "I'm managing my game well."

"I love where my attitude is at. My attitude on the golf course is fantastic and my putting is good. I've seen some really good signs in my putting over the last few weeks.

"If I'm excited about anything with my game, it's my putting and my attitude. It's probably the best they've been in a long time."

"Practising the right way, thinking well, training well, eating well, all the stuff that I try to do," he added in comments published by the Golf Channel.

"Winning is a by-product of doing all the little things well and I feel like I'm on a really good journey of doing that. I think it's just a matter of time.

"I can't put pressure on myself, I can't push it. I'm off to a great start this week but I literally have taken each and every day this year one day at a time and that's the way I'm going to treat it. Not just this week, but going forward."

Setting off down the back nine, two-time WGC winner McIlroy picked up shots on the 11th, 12th, 15th and 17th.

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He nearly pulled off a remarkable feat after the turn, coming close to acing the 305-yard first hole with a two iron.

Picking up an eagle, he notched up more birdies on the second and fourth and, after dropping a shot on the par-five sixth, he hit another birdie on the eighth and parred the ninth.

His decision to skip this year's Irish Open in Lahinch was described as a "big blow" by tournament host Paul McGinley last night, but the Holywood star said it was the best way to prepare for the British Open which takes place at Royal Portrush. "If there is ever a year when I feel I can miss this Irish Open, it's this year," said McIlroy, who will play the Scottish Open immediately before the Open, told the BBC.

"If I was to play the Irish Open, the Open Championship would be my third event in a row.

"For me, that's not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life."

McIlroy had hosted the Irish Open since 2015 and won it at The K Club in 2016, but McGinley will take over hosting duties at Lahinch this year.

Critical

The Dubliner was critical of McIlroy's suggestion that he might only play two regular European Tour events this season, a decision which would mean losing his membership and the right to be Ryder Cup captain in the future.

However, McIlroy says he will play the minimum number of four events to maintain his membership and believes his critics "don't see the bigger picture".

"I wouldn't miss that (the Ryder Cup) for the world. I'm still going to be a member of the team," McIlroy added.

"I'm just going to sort of play as little as I can (on the European Tour) to save myself for the golf that I'm playing everywhere else also. I love the Irish Open.

"I've supported it in my whole career. The people of Ireland are still going to see me playing golf because I'm going to play the Open Championship and I'm sure a lot of people will travel from down south to see me play.

"My main focus is the major championships, the WGCs.... the biggest events in the world wherever they may be.

"I'm sure people are going to be upset but at the same time, if it means that it gives me a better chance to win The Open, and prepare well for Portrush, I'm going to do it."

McGinley described his decision as a "big blow to all of us. He's always been a big attraction coming back to Ireland," said the Dubliner.

"It's really turned into one of the elite tournaments on the European Tour but we knew it was coming, he talked about it in Dubai at the end of last year and announced it officially yesterday.

"It is a big disappointment, there's no doubt about that, and he wants to change his schedule going into the Open championship, which is in Portrush this year, and he wants to play in Scotland instead and doesn't want to play three in a row."

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