Little in the way of fireworks at Firestone for Rory McIlroy
British Open champion not at his best but happy with solid display on return to action in Akron
Rory McIlroy hits off the 14th tee during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy hits from the 16th fairway during the first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club South Course in Akron, Ohio. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
The familiar spring was still in his step as he marched towards the scorers’ hut, with a one-under par round of 69 safely banked on his return to work by no means a bad day at the office. But there was still a slight sense of what might have been for British Open champion Rory McIlroy as he opened his account at the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
If McIlroy is to capture a first World Golf Championship on Sunday it won’t be the wire-to-wire success he enjoyed at Hoylake a fortnight ago, with Australian Marc Leishman setting the clubhouse target on six-under. Yet his mere presence on the leaderboard is certain to unnerve the first round pacesetters with McIlroy well capable of raising his game after a day he described as nothing more than “solid”.
A double-bogey on his penultimate hole would have left a sour taste at dinner last night were it not for his approach to the last, an eight iron stitched to three feet that got him back into red figures. And with no signs of any British Open hangover, no-one knows better than McIlroy himself that he is more than capable of raising his game over the next three days.
Three pars“I drove the ball for the most part well, I got myself into trouble a couple of times which led to a double bogey and a bogey on my back nine – which was the front nine – but apart from that I felt I played really solid golf without doing anything too special,” he said afterwards.
Starting from the 10th, McIlroy opened with three pars before splitting the fairway on the 13th with a drive of 318 yards and hitting his approach to 10 feet to set up his first birdie.
The 25-year-old, who could reclaim top spot in the world rankings from Adam Scott this week, then holed from twice the distance on the 17th to reach the turn in 33 and almost chipped in for another birdie on the first.
McIlroy reached three under par with a two-putt birdie on the par-five second, only to promptly give that shot back on the next after three-putting from long range. Worse was to follow on the eighth when he pushed a drive miles right into heavy rough, finding the greenside bunker with his second and not exactly covering himself in glory before walking off with a six.
But a 340-plus drive straight down the middle of the ninth led to that closing birdie and while there was plenty of room for improvement, McIlroy felt his goal of kicking on from his win at Liverpool was still very much on track.
“I didn’t want any let down,” he explained. “And not just these two weeks, basically for the rest of the season. I’ve got myself in a good position in the FedEx Cup, I can try and get to number one again in the world rankings and there’s a Major still left to play. There’s a lot of golf still left this year, it’s great to win another Major, the Open Championship but I just want to keep going forward.”
Top nineRyan Moore and Charl Schwartzel are both one behind the leader on five under. The American Ryder Cup hopeful, Moore, carded a flawless five-under-par 65 as he followed up a good finish at Royal Liverpool with another eye-catching performance.
Moore is currently 14th in the US Ryder Cup points standings, with the top nine after next week’s US PGA Championship sealing a place on Tom Watson’s team for Gleneagles in September.
And he was joined on five under by South African Charl Schwartzel, the former US Masters champion carding five birdies in his last eight holes, including four in a row from the fourth. Italian Francesco Molinari dropped his only shot of the day on the 17th to be round in 67, while Wales’s Jamie Donaldson was a shot behind on two under as he looked to cement his place on the Ryder Cup team.
Speaking about his run of birdies, Schwartzel said: “I think it’s the sort of golf course that maybe lends you to going on a run like that. The golf course is in such good shape, there are not many blades of grass out of place. This course can really frustrate you or you can be really happy with the way you played because there is no forgiveness.”
Tiger Woods was one under par after 14 holes of his opening round.