Rare display of frustration precedes fireworks for McIlroy

He’s adopted something out of Tiger Woods’s playbook in how to play the course at Bay Hill

Rory McIlroy during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Getty Images

For all of the wonderful golf which Rory McIlroy exhibited in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on an old stomping ground at Bay Hill in Orlando, where a sequence of five successive birdies showcased his brilliance in an opening round six-under-par 66, it was his reaction to a poor chip mid-round which encapsulated his expectations of himself.

On the 18th, his ninth hole, McIlroy’s approach overshot the green and his pitch back to the pin was heavy-handed. His reaction? To frustratingly dig his lob wedge into the turf in a rare display of frustration. He failed to convert the 12-footer par save, and his only bogey of the round saw him turn in 35, one-under, with no hint of the fireworks ahead.

But McIlroy, the world number eight and seeking a first win since the HSBC Champions at the tailend of 2019, used his putter to light the fuse over the following few holes. The catalyst for his display of fireworks was a 55 footer on the second, and there followed successful conversions of birdie putts on the third (from 22 feet), fourth (two feet), fifth (four feet) and sixth (three feet) as the putter turned hot. In all, McIlroy’s putting statistics saw him convert no fewer than 146-footage of putts.

“It (66) is a great way to start the tournament but the first few holes were a little slow going . . . I played well after that and hit some really good shots, some good drives. I saw a lot of really positive signs, which was really encouraging,” said McIlroy, who has adopted a hectic playing schedule - this is his sixth tournament of the year - with a view to playing his way into form for next month’s US Masters.


McIlroy, who suffered a rare missed cut at the Genesis Invitational and bounced back with a tied-sixth finish in the WGC-Workday Championship last week, won the API in 2018 and has adopted something out of Tiger Woods’s playbook in his methodology in how to play the course as his 66 gave him a share of the lead with Canada’s Corey Connors and a one stroke advantage over US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

As McIlroy put it, “I’ve watched Tiger enough here over the years and the way he played this course was, he played it very conservatively, he took care of the Par 5s and that was usually good enough to get the job done. So, (I’ve) sort of taken a little bit of a leaf out of his book.”

McIlroy added: “I’ve always felt comfortable here. I think I saw a stat the other day that this course more than any other one on the PGA Tour the correlation between strokes gained off the tee and performance at this course is higher than anywhere else and obviously myself and Bryson, number one and two in strokes grained off the tee for the season, and we both shot two good scores.”

Pádraig Harrington revealed ahead of the tournament that he had been hospitalised for kidney stones in the days leading up but was allowed to play, and the Dubliner - playing on a sponsor’s exemption as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain - showed no discomfort in reaching the turn in two-under par on his opening round.

On the LPGA Tour, Leona Maguire continued her strong start to the season and a birdie-birdie finish enabled the 26-year-old Co Cavan golfer to card a three-under-par opening round 69 in the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala resort in Florida, two shots behind clubhouse leaders Nelly Korda, Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst.

Maguire - who had a top-20 finish in the Gainbridge Championship last week - recovered from a bogey on the third to get moving with a birdie on the Par 5 fifth and then had back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth holes and turned in 34. A bogey on the Par 3 11th failed to halt her run and five successive pars were followed by two finishing birdies on the 17th and 18th for her 69.

Nelly Korda, the world number three but the in-form player having finished third and first in the two opening tournaments of the year, continued her rich form in a bogey-free round with five birdies.

Arnold Palmer Invitational first round scores; Par 72 (US unless stated, Irish in bold)

66 Corey Conners (Can), Rory McIlroy (NIrl)

67 Bryson DeChambeau

68 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Jason Kokrak, Sebastian Munoz (Col)

69 Keegan Bradley, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Lanto Griffin, Viktor Hovland (Nor), Sung Jae Im (Kor), Martin Laird (Sco), Victor Perez (Fra), Lee Westwood (Eng)

70 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Paul Casey (Eng), Jason Day (Aus), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Padraig Harrington (Irl), Max Homa, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Ian Poulter (Eng), Andrew Putnam, Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Jordan Spieth, Cameron Tringale, Matt Wallace (Eng)

71 Doug Ghim, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Charley Hoffman, Mark Hubbard, Chris Kirk, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor), Luke List, Robert MacIntyre (Sco), Maverick McNealy, Kevin Na, Henrik Norlander (Swe), Justin Rose (Eng), Brendan Steele, Richy Werenski

72 Tyler Duncan, Lucas Glover, Will Gordon, Sung-Hoon Kang (Kor), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Denny McCarthy, Matthew NeSmith, Alexander Noren (Swe), Cameron Percy (Aus), Steve Stricker, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Harold Varner III, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

73 Harris English, Talor Gooch, Paul Goydos, Tim Herron, Kevin Kisner, Danny Lee (Nzl), Keith Mitchell, Doc Redman, Patrick Reed, Patrick Rodgers, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Sepp Straka (Aut), Nick Taylor (Can), Danny Willett (Eng), Will Zalatoris, Wyndham Clark

74 Joel Dahmen, Jason Dufner, Bo Hoag, Tom Hoge, Billy Horschel, Charles Howell III, John Huh, Zach Johnson, Russell Knox (Sco), Marc Leishman (Aus), Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Chez Reavie, Brian Stuard, Brendon Todd, Branden Grace (Rsa)

75 Austin Cook, Jim Herman, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Shane Lowry (Irl), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Brandt Snedeker, Kristoffer Ventura (Nor), Aaron Wise, Pat Perez

76 Cameron Davis (Aus), Matthew Every, Rickie Fowler, Kramer Hickok, Matt Jones (Aus), Patton Kizzire, J. T. Poston, Matthias Schmid (Ger), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Robby Shelton, Kyle Stanley

77 Sam Burns, Cameron Champ, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng)

78 Brian Gay, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Rod Perry, Robert Streb, Hudson Swafford

79 Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Robert Gamez, Adam Hadwin (Can), Tyler McCumber, Graeme McDowell (NIrl)

81 Camilo Villegas (Col)

83 John Augenstein

84 Kamaiu Johnson

LPGA Drive On Championship leading scores; Par 72 (US unless stated, Irish in bold)

67 - Nelly Korda, Jennifer Kupcho, Austin Ernst

68 - Jing Yan (Ch), Jaye Marie Green

69 - Leona Maguire, Katherine Kirk (Aus), Dani Holmqvist (Swe)

70 - Albane Valenzuela (Swit), Caroline Masson (Ger), Bronte Law (Eng), Yu Liu (Ch), In Gee Chun (S Kor), Jane Park, Jenny Coleman, Jennifer Song

71 - Ryann O’Toole, Stacy Lewis, Madeline Sagstrom (Swe), Annie Park

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times