Friday 25 May 2018

McIlroy lets chance slip with costly late lapses

One-over-par opening round leaves Rory with work to do as Dane Olesen sets early pace

Rory McIlroy reacts as his birdie putt on the seventh green rolls towards the cup. Photo: AP
Rory McIlroy reacts as his birdie putt on the seventh green rolls towards the cup. Photo: AP

Brian Keogh at Quail Hollow

Rory McIlroy stormed out of the blocks only to trip up near the finishing line in the opening round of the US PGA.

The world No 4 raced to within two shots of leader Thorbjorn Olesen on two-under par with eight holes to play but dropped three shots coming home and signed for a 72 that leaves him tied with arch rival Jordan Spieth on one-over par.

Dane Olesen (27) holed a 30-footer for birdie at the 18th for 67 at a punishing Quail Hollow to lead by a shot from US Open champion Brooks Koepka, Texans Gary Woodland and Chris Stroud and Web.com Tour graduate Grayson Murray on four-under par.

With Spieth forced to finish birdie-birdie-par for a 72, it was an ultimately disappointing day for McIlroy, who bogeyed the 13th and double-bogeyed the 14th before missing three birdie chances inside 20 feet at the 15th, 17th and 18th.

On a day when Shane Lowry battled to a 74 and Pádraig Harrington made four double-bogeys in a 79, McIlroy made it all look so easy early on before letting a good start slip away.

Flubbing

He opened his account by chipping in for birdie at the third but then bogeyed two par threes in a row, airmailing the 181-yard fourth before flubbing a chip from greenside rough at the sixth.

Despite that, he still looked comfortable and used his driver brilliantly to move back into the red, two-putting the par-five seventh before chipping to three feet at the 349-yard eighth for back-to-back birdies

After getting up and down for another birdie the par-five 10th, he was within two shots of Olesen before finding the firm and fast Quail Hollow greens a handful on the way home.

Forced to hole a slick nine-footer for par at the 11th after spinning his 100-yard approach off the green, he made a six-footer for another par at the 12th but missed from 10 feet for par at the 13th before running up a disastrous double-bogey six at the 344-yard 14th.

The world No 4 tried to drive the green but pulled his tee-shot into the lake, then fluffed his pitch after a penalty drop and missed from inside five feet to slip back to one-over.

After missing birdie chances from 10 feet at the 15th and 12 feet at the 17th, he parred the last to finish the day alongside Spieth.

The American (24) showed his trademark grinding qualities to finish birdie-birdie-par for his one-over-par 72 after a rare off-day on the greens.

Pace putting was Spieth's downfall yesterday as he went out in level-par but slipped to three-over par after back-to-back three-putts at the fifth and sixth.

His recovery began at the 543-yard, par-four seventh, where he floated a hybrid to 33 feet and made the putt before pitching dead for another birdie at the next.

"It was just the putter," said Spieth, who was relieved to make those late birdies. "Everything else was fine. I needed those from short range because it seemed like the lid was on today. I burned a lot of edges."

The Texan insisted he must make a move today if he's to have any chance of winning.

"I've got to make up ground," Spieth said. "If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win."

When it comes to winning Majors, the young Texan has never had to battle his way back from a poor start.

He opened with a 64 when he won the 2015 Masters, shot 68 to trail by just three at that year's US Open and opened with a 65 to share first round lead at Royal Birkdale two weeks ago.

"It was pretty impressive," said Koepka of Spieth's finish. "He's a grinder. It's impressive to watch him play. He picks apart a golf course really, really well."

Shane Lowry was one-under par with eight to play and while he wasn't doing cartwheels after dropping four shots in his last eight holes, he was pleased that the battled well.

"God help anyone who doesn't drive the ball well out there today, it is just so difficult," said Lowry said, who was frustrated to be put on the clock on his 11th. "I feel like I played nicely. The golf course is so difficult and the greens are so firm that if you put yourself out of position it is just so hard to make pars.

"What pleased me most was how hard I fought out there."

As Tony Finau, Jim Herman, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey posted two-under 69s and world No 2 Hideki Matsuyama shot a one-under 70 matched by Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Day, Bud Cauley and Louis Oosthuizen, the field averaged close to 75 with lightning-fast greens, tight pins and punishing rough taking a toll.

Had Lowry not single-putted ten times, holing eight putts of between six and nine feet, the 30-year-old Clara man might have shot in the 80s.

"I did a great job, holed some great putts for pars," Lowry said after a 26-putt round featuring three birdies and six bogeys. Four of those dropped shots came on his back nine and he confessed that he got angry with the officials and lost focus when his group was put on the clock on the second when they were a hole ahead of the group behind.

"I was about to hit my second shot on the second hole, and it really annoyed me," he said.

"There are guys making bogeys, doubles in the group and it's like, 'Give us a break.' That I let that get to me was the most disappointing thing."

Graeme McDowell was one-under after six holes but bogeyed the 17th, first and third before a birdie at the sixth left him alongside McIlroy and Spieth with three holes to play last night.

  • US PGA Championship, live, BBC 2 11.05pm/eir Sport 1 6.0pm

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