McIlroy grinds his way into contention
Rory McIlroy took up out west where he left off in the Middle East when he scrambled his way to an opening four-under par 68 in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Spyglass Hill.
Despite hitting just 10 greens in regulation, the four-time Major winner showed plenty of grit in his quest for early-season confidence by producing an impressive short-game performance, ending the day tied with Shane Lowry, who birdied his final hole for a four-under 67 at Monterey Peninsula.
Playing alongside Phil Mickelson, who came home in 31 for a 69, McIlroy mixed six birdies with two bogeys to finish three shots behind early clubhouse leaders Kevin Streelman and Beau Hossler, scrambling for par six times out of eight.
The Ulsterman also got up and down from sand for a birdie at the first, then followed a bogey at the sixth with back-to-back birdies, chipping in at the seventh before slotting home a 20-footer at the eighth.
He then birdied the par-five 11th and 14th to move to four-under par and while he bogeyed the 16th he birdied the 18th and could take satisfaction after scrambling for pars at the second, seventh, 10th, 13th, 15th and 17th.
Graeme McDowell looked like getting off to a hot start at the venue where he won the 2010 US Open as Hossler shot a 65 that was matched by Streelman at Spyglass Hill.
But after birdies at the fourth, sixth and 14th at Pebble Beach, the Portrush man found sand at the iconic, 189-yard 17th, got caught in the collar of rough around the green and eventually two-putted for a double bogey and an opening 71.
"I feel a bit bitten," McDowell said after an otherwise excellent par-striking day. "It is tough to spoil the mood out there."
Lowry made a solitary birdie four at the 12th to go out in one-under at Monterey Peninsula's Shore Course before he sparked into life, holing his second for an eagle two at the 495-yard first before making two at the ninth en route to a bogey-free 67.
Seamus Power had two birdies and three bogeys in a 72 at Monterey Peninsula where Padraig Harrington recovered from a nightmare quadruple-bogey eight on his fourth hole to battle his way to a four-over-par 75.
The veteran (46) bogeyed the first two holes before reloading twice at the 426-yard fourth. But after going out in 41 after another penalty led to a bogey at the short seventh, he made four birdies in a three-under-par back nine to salvage something from his round.
World number 80 Paul Dunne, who is hoping to make the jump into the top 50 by the end of March to secure a Masters invitation, was one-over with five to play at Spyglass Hill but birdied the fifth and seventh to card a one-under 71 that leaves him just outside the top 60 and ties who will make the cut after tomorrrow's third round.
On the European Tour, The Island's Gavin Moynihan went into this morning's second round of the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 in Perth tied for 88th after a one-over 73, nine shots behind defending champion Brett Rumford, whose 64 at Lake Karrinyup gave him a two-shot lead over Lee Westwood and fellow Australian James Nitties.
In South Africa, Castle's Alex Gleeson made eight birdies in an immaculate 64 to move to tied seventh with a round to play in the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
As Tramore's Robin Dawson was frustrated on the greens and shot 71 to share 11th on 12-under, Gleeson's sensational eight-under effort still left him 10 strokes behind Sweden's Oliver Gillberg, who also shot 64 to lead by two shots on 23-under par 193.
There was little luck for the other Irish with Kilkenny's Mark Power (72) tied 36th in 209, Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty (70) 47th on 211 and Naas' Jonathan Yates (73) 52nd on three-under 213.