Rory McIlroy backs ball rollback after winning Match Play opener in Texas

Rory McIlroy had a winning start at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas. Photo: Eric Gay/AP

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy gave his new driver and putter the thumbs up for the Masters – and backed the proposed ball rollback after making a winning start in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The number-three seed McIlroy made six birdies in a 3&1 win over Scott Stallings, with a shorter shaft in his driver and a new putter in his bag.

“It was a good first outing for both those clubs, and they performed pretty well,” said McIlroy, who felt he’d lost accuracy with his new driver and went for a 44-inch shaft instead.

“It was good to put it in play today and have it perform pretty well. Drove it well, especially on the back nine.”

Shane Lowry didn’t fare as well as McIlroy when Taylor Montgomery enjoyed 2&1 victory over the Offaly man.

As for swapping his mallet putter for a Scotty Cameron replica, McIlroy did not deny he had just 19 putts with it during a practice round with Tom Brady at Augusta National last week.

“Yeah, look, I had two good days,” he said to media chuckles. “We played 54 holes in two days and it was good. I was really happy with where my game was. It was sort of good to see that after struggling at The Players.”

As for the ball, McIlroy is backing plans by the R&A and USGA to reduce the distance the ball travels by 15-20 yards by January 2026.

“I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer,” he told No Laying Up. “But for elite level play, I really like it. I really do. I know that’s a really unpopular opinion amongst my peers, but I think it’s going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier.”

He added: “Honestly, for me, the Major championships are the biggest deal, so if the PGA Tour doesn’t implement it, I might still play the Model Local Rule ball because I know that that’ll give me the best chance and the best preparation leading into the Major championships. I know that I’m gonna be defined by the amount of Major championships that I hopefully will win from now until the end of my career.”

The Masters is next up and while he said he now faces a five-iron “with the ball way above my feet” at the lengthened, par-five 13th instead of an eight-iron from a flat lie, he doesn’t believe a ball rollback would be a big upheaval for him at Augusta.

“I’ve gained 15 yards in the last six or seven years, and they’re saying it’s basically a 15- to 20-yard reduction in distance if you hit the ball the speeds that I hit it. It would just be like me playing golf again in 2015, and I seemed to do okay then.”

The first series of matches produced some surprises with Rickie Fowler coming back from two-down to beat number-two seed Jon Rahm 2&1, as J.J. Spaun beat US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick 5&3 and Ben Griffin beat Tyrrell Hatton 3&1.

On the LPGA Tour, Leona Maguire defends the LPGA Drive On Championship at a new venue in Arizona, looking to build momentum for the first women’s Major of the season.

“That’s where the focus is, and just trying to get a few solid weeks of momentum,” said Maguire, who will play next week’s LA Open and then have two weeks off to get ready for The Chevron Championship in Texas from April 12-15.

Tom McKibbin plays the DP World Tour’s Jonsson Workwear Open in Johannesburg while Dermot McElroy and Niall Kearney join Rúaidhrí McGee, Conor Purcell and amateur Robert Moran in the Challenge Tour’s Duncan Taylor Black Bull Challenge in Bangalore in India.

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