Sport Golf

Saturday 25 January 2020

'It was strange for the first couple of holes' - Rory McIlroy off to fine start in life after JP Fitzgerald

Rory McIlroy (right) and caddie Harry Diamond (left) on the 12th tee
Rory McIlroy (right) and caddie Harry Diamond (left) on the 12th tee
Rory McIlroy hits his tee-shot off the 15th hole at Firestone CC. Photo: Getty Images

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy admitted that playing a tournament round without long-serving caddie JP Fitzgerald on the bag felt "strange" after the nine years they spent working together.

The four-time Major champion and Fitzgerald ended their partnership last week when McIlroy told him in a telephone call that he wanted to make a change.

New caddie: Harry Diamond
New caddie: Harry Diamond

Yesterday's opening round of the elite-field WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio marked the start of the post-JP era for McIlroy, who had his friend Harry Diamond, a former Irish amateur international, on the bag.

As a debut venture it went well, as an opening three-under-par 67 left McIlroy just two shots behind leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium.

It should have been at least one better as McIlroy, who started on the 10th tee, bogeyed his last hole, the ninth, despite leaving himself just 120 yards from the flagstick after a monster 377-yard drive.

The Northern Irishman pulled his wedge shot and left himself 50 feet from the hole, and three-putted.

Scotland's Russell Knox had set the clubhouse mark at four-under before Pieters birdied the ninth, his 18th hole, to take a one-shot lead.

The Bridgestone Invitational is one of the big events on the PGA/European Tour calendar, but much of the build-up was overshadowed by the furore over McIlroy's split with his caddie.

"Yeah, it was strange for the first couple of holes," said McIlroy. "You're hearing a different voice. If you've been with someone for a while and you change it up, it is a little different but I stuck to it today. I played pretty well. It's the start of the next chapter in my career and we'll go from here."

McIlroy took responsibility for clubbing and identifying yardages, duties previously carried out by Fitzgerald.

"It's been a long time since I've been writing stuff in a yardage book, but it's good," he said.

"I'm taking a little bit more responsibility on myself. There was a couple of times where I probably should have hit another club, but that's on me, that's not on anyone else.

"As I said yesterday, I'd much rather be frustrated at my own decision than maybe at someone else's. It was fine. It's great to have my best mate on the bag out there today and we're just having a good time."

McIlroy's driving was strong, and his putting was mostly on song, enabling him to make five birdies and a couple of crucial par saves.

"I'm struggling with my wedges a little bit so I'm going to work on them a little bit this afternoon before the storm comes," he said.

The threat of afternoon storms caused an earlier than scheduled start, and will do so again today. Open champion Jordan Spieth, the joined McIlroy in a group on three under, With world No 1 Dustin Johnson - the defending champion - at two-under par.

Spieth has not had much time to celebrate his Claret Jug victory but that can wait.

"Winning an Open, and wanting to take the time to celebrate winning the Open, that's the only downside, but I'm happy to be back in form," he said.

"There's plenty of time to celebrate in the off season. Good start today."

Ireland's Leona Maguire, the world No 1 amateur, performed admirably in round one of the Ricoh Women's British Open, the fourth of five ladies major championships at Kingsbarns Links yesterday.

The Duke University student filed an opening 69, three under par, to lie five shots off the lead held by Michelle Wie.

Maguire crafted a round of five birdies and two bogeys.

Olivia Mehaffey, No 10 in the rankings, and the only other Irish player in the field, shot 72.

Padraig Harrington and Seamus Power were late starters in the PGA Tour's Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada. The tournament is played on a modified stableford format.

  • WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 2.30pm
  • Women's British Open, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 11.0am

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