Sunday 20 January 2019

McIlroy hits birdie trail at Travelers

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Travelers Championship. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Travelers Championship. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy banished his US Open blues with a birdie bonanza at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.

The world No 7 hit every green until his foot slipped as he was hitting his approach to the 18th at TPC River Highlands and he closed with a bogey.

But he could only be pleased to make seven birdies in a super 64 to lie just one stroke behind leaders Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson on six-under par. He started like a train, rattling in birdies at four of his first six holes before knocking in three more in a row from the 13th.

"It's good," said McIlroy, who ended the day tied for third with Peter Malnati and Brian Harman. "I had the weekend to practice and work on a few things and got here early on Monday, not just to work on my swing but to see the course.

"It was nice to see what happened out there today."

It was also a good day for Pádraig Harrington (46), who fired his first bogey-free round for three months after an impressive tee-to-green performance, en route to a four-under 66.

"I think I only missed one fairway and it's easier to play golf hitting fairways - a lot easier than where I am normally playing from," said Harrington, who is keen to be ready for The Open at Carnoustie, where he won in 2007.

"I have four weeks into Carnoustie and it's all about getting my head in the right place. The goal is to tee it up at Carnoustie and not feel like I needed another week or have any regrets about being ready.

"Regardless of how I play, I want to feel I am getting my preparation right for the Majors, especially now at this stage of my career where I am running out of chances.

"Every time I turn up that I am not ready is a disappointment. If I play well, that's circumstantial, but not doing the right preparation, that hurts."

Early leader Johnson was critical of last week's third round set-up at the US Open. But he was beaming from ear to ear after making eight birdies, including six in a row on the back nine, in his 63.

"We all as competitors and golfers, we want to have really, really difficult tests that make you push it physically and mentally," Johnson said.

"You know, we want that for everybody across the board in a fair manner. I think the PGA Tour, specifically this tournament, does a great job in that."

US Open champion Brooks Koepka took up where he left off on Sunday, drilling home four birdies in his first five holes before the adrenaline finally wore off late in the day.

He dropped three shots in his last six holes, three-putting the ninth from nine feet for bogey and a 68 but was still pleased that his game is still there.

"I just ran out of gas," said Koepka, whose efforts to get some rest back in Florida on Monday weren't helped by an early morning visit from pal Dustin Johnson. "I'm exhausted mentally. I tried to get some rest when I was back home, but we got home at about 4.30, fell asleep by 4.45, and I woke up, Dustin was in my living room at 8.00.

"He came over on the boat to say 'hi'. So it was not as much rest as I would have liked."

Seamus Power three-putted three times in his first 10 holes before holing twice from off the green in his last five to card a level par 70.

Graeme McDowell struggled to hit fairways and opened with a two-over 72 and it was also a testing day for The Island's Paul McBride at the BMW International Open in Germany.

Making his first appearance in a full European Tour event as a professional, the Malahide star (22) made just one birdie against five bogeys in an opening 76 at Golf Club Gut Laerchenhof.

Battling a three-club wind at times, he's eight strokes adrift of Frenchman Sebastien Gros, who shot a four-under 68.

BMW International Open

Live, Sky Sports Golf, 10.30am

Travelers Championship

Live, Sky Sports Golf, 8.30pm

Irish Independent

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