Rory McIlroy’s comfort zone should be on the golf course; yet, even after making a pact with Justin Rose not to discuss any of the seismic issues of recent days and the PGA Tour’s surprise merger into a commercial entity with the Saudi Arabia-funded PIF, the Northern Irishman discovered the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto to be anything but plain sailing.
Indeed, a topsy-turvy first round of one-under-par 71 by McIlroy – five birdies and four bogeys – pretty much reflected how he played to sit well off the pace set by a quartet headed by local favourite Corey Conners, who contended so strongly at last month’s US PGA, Americans Chesson Hadley and Justin Lower and England’s Aaron Rui who claimed a share of the clubhouse lead with first round 66s.
McIlroy, seeking a third straight win in the tournament, but at a new venue having previously won at Hamilton (2019) and St George’s (2022), got his defence off to a timid enough start in a round where he found just six of 15 fairways and hit just 11 of 18 greens in regulation. Of the seven greens he missed, his scrambling failed him as he managed to make just three par saves.
“The course is good, but it’s penal. If you miss fairways the rough is very, very thick. I certainly hit a few loose shots and got myself out of position and the golf course does get quite tricky from there. So I need to do a better job of just putting my ball in play off the tee. Then, from there, the golf course is still quite scorable,” said McIlroy, who admitted that it was nice to just get time thinking about golf shots and actually playing rather than talking about the situation vis-a-vis the PGA Tour and the PIF developments.
As he put it, “My job is playing golf at the end of the day. So, the more I can focus on that and focus on birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that’s happened in the board room, I’ll be much happier.”
McIlroy needed to sink an eight-footer for birdie on the ninth, his closing hole, to dip back under par for the tournament but has some work to do if he is to entertain any hopes of a three-peat in the tournament (it didn’t take place in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid) in what is also his final tournament before next week’s US Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
The up-and-down nature of McIlroy’s round was showcased by an outward run of three birdies (on the 10th, 16th and 18th holes) to go with a bogey on the 12th, and then an inward run that featured two birdies (on the fifth and ninth) to go with bogeys at the first, fourth and seventh. McIlroy hoped to sort out some of the issues post-round on the range.