Rory McIlroy’s 67 was a fine first tournament round of 2017, but all everyone was talking about at the BWM 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 actually 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. “I mean 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 the coach Phil Kenyon] to today it’s come on leaps and bounds and I hope it can only improve.”
Tournament host Ernie Els carded a two-over 74, while six-time major winner, Sir Nick Faldo, produced a two-under 70.
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Thirteen years ago, on a gloriously sunny morning in February 2004, I hired a car at Los Angeles airport and drove west for 130 miles to the Shadow Ridge Golf Resort in Palm Springs. I was there to spend time with Nick Faldo, Europe's most successful golfer, and make plans for a series of his columns that would appear in The Sunday Times.