Saturday 24 March 2018

Rory happy with new clubs in bright start to season

McIlroy: Had plenty to smile about after his opening round Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
McIlroy: Had plenty to smile about after his opening round Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy's 67 was a fine first tournament round of 2017, but all everyone was talking about at the BMW South African Open was his outrageous drive.

Having not played competitively in two months, McIlroy stepped on to the first tee (his 10th) and launched it 392 yards. As a mark of intent, it was eye-strainingly ominous, particularly as he is playing with new clubs following the withdrawal of his sponsors, Nike, from equipment making.

McIlroy failed to birdie that 445-yarder, despite leaving himself only a flick with a wedge, but he was not about to bemoan an opening day to the campaign that left him only one behind the leaders, the home pair of Keith Horne and Trevor Fisher Jr, at the Glendower Country Club, just outside Johannesburg.

"Yeah, it was good," McIlroy said. "The first competitive round of 2017 - I'm quite pleased. I felt like I gave myself a lot of chances and it could have been probably seven-under. It was a bit scrappy in places around the last few holes but five-under is a good way to start."

After a close season of testing in the company of his long-time coach, Michael Bannon, McIlroy chose to employ a Callaway Great Big Bertha Epic driver, Callaway Apex MB irons, Titleist Vokey wedges, an Odyssey putter and a Titleist ProV1x ball.

"It's nice to play my first competitive round with them and play like this but I'm sure, as I get accustomed to them, I'll get even more dialled in,' McIlroy said. "But I could still chop and change a bit."

What delighted McIlroy was that the work he put in on the range has paid dividends.

"I had some really good drives and so that was encouraging.

"I made a couple of sloppy swings coming in but that's something that hopefully I can work on and try to eradicate for tomorrow.

"I've been working hard on my putting - I feel like from August (when he first linked up with coach Phil Kenyon) to today it's come on leaps and bounds and I hope it can only improve."

Home favourites Fisher and Horne both carded seven birdies against a single dropped shots in their rounds of 66, while McIlroy was joined in a share of third by South Africans Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe Kruger and England's Jordan L Smith.

Tournament host Ernie Els carded a two-over 74, while six-time Major winner Nick Faldo - making a rare competitive appearance at the age of 59 - produced an excellent, two-under 70.

"It's hard work out there," he said. "I'm playing from way back to these guys, so I'm hitting four-irons in when these guys are hitting nine-irons."

Last year's European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke also made an encouraging opening with a 70 to lie alongside Faldo.

There was a minute's silence during the first round for South African golfer Wayne Westnerwho died tragically last week.

At the Sony Open in Hawaii Justin Thomas became just the seventh player in PGA Tour history to shoot a 59. The American, who won the Tournament of Champions last week, finished 11-under-par round to set the first round pace.

BMW South African Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0am

Irish Independent

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