Rory McIlroy leans on favoured driver to power his way into Canadian Open contention

Leona Maguire starts the US Women’s Open with a three-over par 73 to leave her four shots off the clubhouse lead

The kickstart, when it came, was courtesy of the favourite weapon. Rory McIlroy had patiently plotted a route with no reward through the front nine of his opening round of the RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton Country Club in Ontario – nine straight pars – when he arrived on the first tee and unleashed a drive of some 355 yards.

When he got to his ball, in the right rough, all he needed was a gap wedge for the 57 yards to the pin. His approach finished four feet from the flag, and McIlroy – a winner over the same course in 2019 – rolled in the birdie putt. He was off and running, ultimately firing a bogey-free four-under-par 66 that propelled the Northern Irishman into contention.

“I know it’s a weapon,” said McIlroy of his TaylorMade Qi10 driver, which already helped him to win the Zurich Classic (with Shane Lowry) and the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour so far this season. “But, at the same time, I have to use it intelligently. I can’t just go and wing driver everywhere, especially on a golf course like this where there’s quite a lot of trouble. When I am able to hit good tee shots, I know that gives me a big advantage.”

McIlroy, indeed, rode his luck to some extent on the front nine (notably when hitting a wild iron shot off the 12th into the trees, where he managed to avoid the water hazard down the right which he played blind), having only played a pre-tournament nine-hole pro-am.

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But, once he got that birdie on the first, his 10th hole of the round, McIlroy secured further birdies at the fifth, seventh and eighth holes to sign for that 66 which left him three shots behind early clubhouse leaders Sam Burns and Sean O’Hair who posted 63s.

McIlroy, who has opted for a heavier playing schedule this season which has brought its benefits of late, and with his quest for a career third win in the Canadian Open starting a four week stretch that also takes in the Memorial, the US Open and the Travelers, added: “I’ve played a lot, but it’s been good. It’s been, I’ve started to play my way into form and I’ve played well the last few weeks and hopefully I can just keep that going.”

Séamus Power, who is also kicking off that same four-week stretch on the road, opened with a two-over-par 72 (three bogeys, one birdie) with some ground to make up if he is to survive to midway cut.

In the Women’s US Open at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania, world number one Nelly Korda – seemingly invincible of late after a run on the LPGA Tour that saw her win six of her last seven starts – endured a nightmare 10 on the par three 12th, only her third hole of the round, in signing for an opening 80.

Korda’s tee shot to the difficult short hole finished in a bunker before hitting her next shot into the water, the first of three dunked balls, as he ran up her septuple bogey: “I didn’t play well. I didn’t hit it good. Making a 10 on a par three will definitely not do you any good at a US Open . . .  just a bad day at the office.”

Korda’s group had waited some 30 minutes on the tee box as groups in front also struggled on the hole and was undecided on the club to play when it came her time. “Sometimes it’s not really good seeing the girls play in front of you. I kind of teed it up behind the tee box a little one club length back. I hit a six-iron and it just kind of penetrated through the wind and it went into the back bunker. I kind of had a leaf under my ball, so when I hit it kind of rocketed through. I couldn’t really do anything about that. Yeah, just hit some really bad chips over and over again,” explained Korda.

In difficult scoring conditions, the early clubhouse lead one under par 69 was set by French amateur Adela Cernouseka with a group which included Germany’s Alex Forsterling (a two-time winner on the LET this season), Sei Young Kim and amateur Megan Schofill a shot further back on 70s.

Leona Maguire opened a three-over-par 73 while Lahinch amateur Áine Donegan signed for a first round 76.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times