McIlroy's game 'falling back into place'
RORY McILROY may have finished the first round of the BMW Masters trailing young American Luke Guthrie by six strokes, but it does not take a huge leap of the imagination to picture the former world No 1 holding this particular trophy aloft come Sunday.
If not this one, then another very soon indeed.
In brutal winds, Guthrie had his round of rounds at Lake Malaren; one of 65 that was made up of five birdies, a chip-in eagle and a barely believable 19 putts.
In contrast, McIlroy's round of one-under-par 71 looked, on paper at least, to have been a little pedestrian. Yet it was nothing of the sort after a masterful display by the world No 6 off the tee and some glorious shot-making from the fairway.
The golfing world had waited with bated breath for this opportunity to see how McIlroy and Graeme McDowell might react on their first public appearance together since the Holywood native launched his acrimonious lawsuit against Horizon.
Relations between the Ryder Cup team-mates were strained in May when McDowell, still a happy member of the Horizon fold, was caught up in the media fallout after news first broke of McIlroy's intention to break up with the Dublin firm and set up a management company of his own.
McIlroy didn't attend the Portrush man's marriage to Florida interior designer Kristin Stape last month. He did a Nike photoshoot with Wayne Rooney in the UK that weekend.
Meanwhile, his decision to take legal action against Horizon was announced on the eve of the wedding, as Conor Ridge and Colin Morrissey, the Dublin firm's principals and friends of McDowell, waited to board a flight to Bermuda for the ceremony.
So it was intriguing to read a quote attributed to McDowell in an Australian newspaper on Wednesday, presumably asked about McIlroy's form slump this season.
"I don't have any comment. It's been a long, complicated year for everyone, so I prefer not to talk about Rory McIlroy in this conversation," he politely replied.
Yet, the two Northern Irishmen appeared perfectly comfortable in each other's company yesterday.
"Obviously it wasn't a great one to miss," said McIlroy, when asked about his failure to make the wedding feast. "Kristin's a great girl. In fact, she did the interior design on my house in Florida."
Was it an expensive bash? "Well, it's not just G-Mac making the money in that relationship," he joked, looking towards his old friend and laughing.
Far from daggers, the only sharp item either brought to the course was his golf game, McDowell belying his life-altering five-week break with a hugely satisfying two-under-par 70.
Though at a serious length disadvantage to McIlroy and other playing companion Henrik Stenson, McDowell's approach play and, especially, his putting were razor keen, helping the canny 33-year-old make a string of par saves, two birdies and a spectacular eagle three at 13, where he holed a 100-foot monster from the fringe.
As for McIlroy, much of the talk in the locker-rooms these past nine months centred on the way he had lost the ability to drive the ball far and straight.
It had been his most potent weapon in his march to two Major titles and to the top of the world, but disappeared the moment he switched to Nike clubs and ball in January.
On current evidence, however, the big gun is no longer misfiring. "Rory off the tee looked very much as he did in 2011 and 2012," said McDowell. "It was a bit ominous, really. He drove it a lot more like the Rory of old. He was awesome."
"Everything is falling back into place," said McIlroy, whose majesty was apparent as he made the day's only birdie at the daunting par-four ninth.
"I'm swinging better than I have all year and it's good to feel so positive about my game, to keep giving myself chances. Once you find it again, it's great."
Though his bonhomie was sorely tested by three-putt bogeys at the par- three fourth and long 13th, the smile was broad as he two putted from distance for a decent par-save at the last.
Padraig Harrington was one of just 21 to play Lake Malaren in par or better, though the Dubliner dropped two shots in the final five holes of the first- round 72 which left him tied 14th.
Paul McGinley struggled with his putter as gusting winds set trouser legs a-snapping, the Ryder Cup captain taking 34 putts during his 77.
Typically, Shane Lowry still felt able to crack a joke on Twitter after a 78 that included back-to-back double-bogeys at 16 and 17. "Well, just 13 behind," the Clara man tweeted. "On the plus side, I broke 80 and have three rounds left!"
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