Sport Golf

Friday 15 December 2017

McIlroy gets back in groove

Rory McIlroy takes a drink during the first round of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy takes a drink during the first round of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Tom Cary

There were no camellias or cabins but for a moment it looked like the 10th might catch out Rory McIlroy again. Striking his tee-shot at the long par-five, the Ulsterman winced as the ball veered left.

Then it held its line and settled on a cart path. The 21-year-old managed to reach a greenside bunker from there, whereupon he chipped out and almost holed the putt for birdie. Different days, different outcomes.

McIlroy had said he wanted to use the Malaysian Open to get "back in the saddle" and yesterday's three-under-par first-round 69 achieved that.

Wearing an all-white outfit, the man from Holywood, Co Down, walked off the course after nearly five hours in muggy 30C heat, and declared himself cleansed of his Masters meltdown.

"What happened last week is completely behind me now," he said. "There are people more upset about that round than I am. I'm fine. It's one bad round. I'm going to have so many more chances to win Majors. That's not being big-headed or cocky. I just believe in myself."

McIlroy, unable to practise after his clubs had been mislaid during the 30-hour journey from the United States, said he had been so motivated to get back on track that he had been in the hotel gym at 7.0 and had come in three hours before yesterday's 1.0 tee time armed with a change of clothes.

"I needed to hit a lot of balls to get the swing back and spend some time on the putting green," he said. "I'm glad to get this round under my belt and shoot under 70."

Had his putter been hot he might have been challenging at the top of the leaderboard. Countless birdie opportunities went abegging, although he also profited from some outrageous fortune at the par-five fifth. Sending his drive left and out of sight, McIlroy played a provisional ball, only to find that his first effort had bounced off a path and back on to the fairway 400 yards from the tee.


"It's probably the longest drive I've ever hit," McIlroy said with a laugh later. The resulting birdie was one of four on the day, with the one bogey.

It probably helped that McIlroy was not even the main draw in his group.

That honour went to Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee. And what of Masters champion Charl Schwartzel? Following his blistering 66 on Sunday to grab the Green Jacket, the South African could shoot only a one-over-par 73.

Like McIlroy, Peter Lawrie's looking forward to a good run on fresh greens this morning after opening with a two-under-par 70 yesterday.

The Dubliner forced his way into the top-six on four-under when he holed-out from 10 feet at 14 for his fourth birdie of the day... yet the shine went off Lawrie's game as the rain swept in and he dropped a couple of shots on his way to the finish.

He failed to get up-and-down to save par after missing the green at the 199-yard 15th and, as rain made the heavily grained putting surfaces even more difficult, Lawrie racked up a three-putt bogey six at the tight and treacherous 634-yard final hole.

"Obviously I was disappointed with the way I finished," Lawrie said, "but my play gave me confidence that I could go lower in the second round."

McIlroy's fellow Ulstermen Gareth Maybin (73) and Michael Hoey (75) did not fare so well behind overnight leader Alexander Noren of Sweden. He dropped just one shot as he secured a two-shot lead with an eight-under-par round of 64.

The Swede, who started at the 10th, birdied his first three holes before bogeying the 14th. But he picked up further shots at the 16th, 17th, first, third, fifth and ninth to leave him two shots clear of Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, who posted a six-under-par 66.

"My putter was great," Noren said. "I holed a lot of putts from six or seven metres." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The Malaysian Open,

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