Rory McIlroy finds form as he deals with backlash over 'don't care' slight
Rory McIlroy threw more fuel on the fire when he reiterated his belief that the US Open and the Open are now playing second fiddle to the Masters.
The Holywood ace shocked traditionalists on the eve of the Wells Fargo Championship when he said "the Masters has now become THE biggest golf tournament in the world".
He casually added: "I don't care about the US Open or the Open Championship. It is the biggest golf tournament in the world; the most amount of eyeballs; the most amount of hype; the most everything is at Augusta."
But when asked to clarify his "don't care" remark at Quail Hollow last night, where he opened with a three-under 68 to lie a three behind early clubhouse leader John Peterson, he did little to win more friends at the USGA or the R&A, claiming his "don't care" comment was taken out of context.
"When I said, 'I don't care', of course I care," protested McIlroy.
"I am a very proud winner of both those tournaments. I just think the Open and the US Open were the biggest tournaments in the world."
Trying to explain why he feels the Masters is now a bigger event than the game's two oldest championships, he said: "I've always felt there is just a different feeling there.
"It might be to do with the fact that we go back to the same place every year; they keep making improvements every year...
"There is a lot of hype around it. There is a lot going on. It is the most anticipated of the year and that's what I was trying to say.
"It's nothing to do with, 'I don't care'. Of course, I care. I would take one of those tournaments right now if you gave them to me. I was just trying to say, from where those two tournaments stood, maybe 50 years ago, the Masters (first played in 1934) wasn't quite at that point.
"But I think over the last five or 10 years, even since I started to play Augusta, it feels like they have taken it to another level."
As for his golf, McIlroy holed 17 of 18 putts inside 10 feet in an impressive opening effort but Shane Lowry had a nightmare with the putter, three-putting four times and taking 35 putts in a three-over 74.
The Clara man three-putted the third from 52 feet, birdied the par-five seventh to get back to level but then had a torrid time with the blade on the back nine.
After three-putting the par-five 10th from 78 feet for par, he three-putted the 11th from 68 feet, dropped another shot at the 12th and three-putted the 13th to go three-over.
While he birdied the 325-yard 14th with a brilliant bunker shot to eight inches, he bogeyed the 18th and now has his work cut out now to avoid a fourth missed cut in the US this year.
McIlroy, on the other hand, is seeking his third win at Quail Hollow.
"I would have taken 68 before I went out there," said the world No 7., who birdied three of his first five holes.
While Seamus Power was among the late starters, Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods and Masters champion Patrick Reed chiseled out level par 71s as Justin Thomas, who needs to finish solo 12th or better to become world No 1, struggled to a 73.
On the Challenge Tour, Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin (25) fired seven birdies in a bogey-free 65 to lead the Challenge de España by two shots at Izki Golf in the Basque Country.
Michael Hoey is tied 24th after a 71 with Ruaidhri McGee (72) tied 43rd, Conor O'Rourke (73) tied 63rd, Jonny Caldwell (74) 83rd and John Ross Galbraith (76) joint 112th.
- Wells Fargo Championship, Live, Sky Sports, 12.0