McIlroy and McDowell four shots off lead after opening round at Medinah

Shane Lowry cards level-par 72 as Justin Thomas and Jason Kokrak lead way

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the applause from the crowd  on the 18th green during the first round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club  in Illinois. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy acknowledges the applause from the crowd on the 18th green during the first round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club in Illinois. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

 

A return to Medinah – where he first met his wife-to-be at the 2012 Ryder Cup – didn’t quite bring immediate rewards for Rory McIlroy, although an opening round 69, three under, in the BMW Championship enabled the Northern Irishman to keep his eyes very much on the $15 million payday that ultimately will go to the FedEx Cup championship.

In what is the penultimate tournament of the PGA Tour season, with only the top-30 players on the FedEx Cup standings then progressing on to the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta next week, McIlroy’s round of four birdies and a bogey had him trailing clubhouse leaders Justin Thomas and Jason Kokrak by four strokes.

McIlroy’s round featured an opening birdie from 10 feet on the first hole and further birdies at the fifth (where he reached the Par-5 green in two and two-putted), a tap-in on the 11th and a 10-footer on the 15th. His sole bogey came on the fourth, where he three-putted.

An indication of his good play off the tee is that McIlroy found 12 of 14 fairways, including a massive drive of some 326 yards on the ninth which he nevertheless failed to birdie after a poor wedge approach to 30 feet.

Graeme McDowell, who started the $9.25 million tournament ranked 64th in the FedEx Cup standings, also shot an opening round 69 but has a lot of work to do over the next three rounds if he is to gatecrash his way into the season finale.

And British Open champion Shane Lowry, 25th going into the BMW, opened with a level-par 72 – three birdies, three bogeys – and, on projected standings, slipped outside the top 30 players who make it to Atlanta as these playoff events have weighted points. A saving grace for the Offalyman is that there is no cut in the 69-man field, so he has three rounds to navigate a way back into those headed to the finale.

Thomas shot a course record 65 to take the clubhouse lead and he was joined later on by fellow American Kokrak, who eagled the Par 5 10th hole and also recorded six birdies.

There’s a five-way tie for second spot, including veteran Jim Furyk and Joel Dahmen, who is enjoying his best ever season on tour. Lucas Glover, Brandt Snedeker and Patrick Cantley made up the strong American challenge on six under.

Thomas, though, went into the round with little expectations. “I would probably say that I had the worst warm-up I’ve ever had in my life,” confessed Thomas, who somehow found a way to score on the tough layout which, despite playing soft, has thick round and the first round featured a strong wind that caught out many players on club selection.

Without a win since last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Thomas claimed: “It’s been an odd season just because I’ve missed three tournaments [with injury earlier in the season]. But the difference with this season and any other season is I’d won.”

A win in Chicago would have the effect of leapfrogging Thomas into pole position as number one in the FedEx Cup heading to Atlanta.

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