‘Okay’ 71 leaves Rory McIlroy five shots off the Paris lead

Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard holds the first round lead at the 100th French Open

 Rory McIlroy reacts on the 12th hole during the first round of the 100th Open de France at Le Golf National. Photograph: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy reacts on the 12th hole during the first round of the 100th Open de France at Le Golf National. Photograph: Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy’s bid to bounce back from missing the cut in the US Open got off to an eventful start in the first round of the 100th French Open. McIlroy carded a level-par 71 at Le Golf National to lie five shots off the lead held by Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard as he continued to work on eradicating the bad habits which had crept into his game.

“It was okay,” McIlroy said after a round containing four birdies, four bogeys and two trips to the water at the 2018 Ryder Cup venue. “Conditions were pretty tricky with the wind up and there were a couple of mistakes and loose shots in there. I’ve got about four or five swing thoughts out there at the minute, so that’s why I’m sort of happy with 71 with how much I’m focusing on my golf swing and my technique.”

Asked what areas he was working on, McIlroy joked: “Have you got 10 minutes? My left-hand grip is too strong. Takeaway was going on the inside. Wasn’t holding my right elbow properly at the top of my swing. Wasn’t getting my right knee out of the way on the downswing . . . I’ve been working on a few things.

“I’ve got another hopefully three competitive rounds here. I’ve got all next week and then obviously a few days leading up to the Thursday of The Open. So hopefully by then, it will be all bedded in. I think the hardest thing is that I haven’t focused on my grip since I changed it when I was maybe 12 years old. Progressively the left hand got a bit stronger and stronger and that clubface is coming in closed at impact.

“Gripping the club feels quite strange at the minute but I just need to stay with it. Bigger picture, it’s the right thing to do.”

It was a disappointing day for the Irish contingent in the field, with Graeme McDowell faring particularly poorly on the Le Golf National layout. With double Ryder Cup points on offer, McDowell is unlikely to make it to the weekend after he opened with a nine over par round of 80. Paul Dunne and Michael Hoey struggled as well, finishing on six over, while it was far from plain sailing for Darren Clarke (three over) and Padraig Harrington.

Meanwhile, Bjerregaard’s 66 contained a hole-in-one on the second hole from 202 yards and five birdies, despite playing with a new set of clubs after his own had been lost in transit. “It was a great way to start my round,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s my first ever hole-in-one, so that was pretty sweet. It was a perfect number for a seven iron downwind. I hit a great shot straight at it but we couldn’t really see it.

“It looked like it went in, but about five guys were at the back of the green and nobody clapped or reacted in any way and then Matteo (Manassero) said he thought he could see it right behind the pin. I grabbed my putter out and we started walking and when we got a little closer we could see no ball on the green.

“My clubs got lost on the way down here so Nike made me a new set yesterday. Maybe I should just keep these now and let the airline company keep my old ones.”

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