The red carpet treatment stops on the first tee of the Blue Monster, even if JB Holmes sought to disprove the theory that this course has sharpened teeth.
While world number one Rory McIlroy was among those to experience a roller-coaster ride in the first round of the €8 million WGC-Cadillac Championship, Holmes – seemingly oblivious to its fearsome reputation – opened with a remarkable 62, 10-under-par.
For McIlroy, an outward 40 signalled bad intent. But, after an adventurous run home, which featured an eagle, three birdies and two bogeys in his closing six holes, McIlroy was content to arrive safely with no further collateral damage.
An opening 73 may not have been what he wanted, but it could have been worse. It wasn’t the end of the world, by any means. The chase is on.
So too for
, as the Offaly man – competing in his elite strokeplay for the first time in his career – benefited from additional bunker work he had put in late on Wednesday evening with coach Neil Manchip and highlighted his opening 71, one under, with a superb eagle three on the Par 5eighth where he hit a five-wood approach from 233 yards to 10 feet and sank the putt.
On a day when the wind reached 30 miles an hour on this flat course with water hazards that weren't averse to gobbling up errantly struck golf balls, the challenge was tough. Thomas Bjorn withdrew after eight holes.
As Patrick Reed, the defending champion, observed of how the 18th, in particular, claimed one victim after another, "the fairway is five yards wide and it's blowing 30 miles an hour into the wind. It's almost like a Par 5, and if you happen to make four, then good for you!"
And, yet, players rolled up their sleeves and got the job done. Some better than others, admittedly, with Holmes – who has enjoyed a strong start to the season, featuring a play-off loss to Brandt Snedeker in last month'sPhoenix Open – dying conditions better than anyone. Holmes claimed the first round lead with four strokes to spare over nearest pursuer Ryan Moore.
“You’re joking,” quipped Lowry on hearing of Holmes’ 10-under, adding: “He must have finished on the 15th, or hit his tee shot into nine and just walked across on water. That’s the best score I’veever seen. But, listen, I am happy with that.”
Lowry stuck doggedly to his task, making a number of sandsaves – “I think I was in more bunkers that ever, I was in the desert today but it was better than being in the water” – and, after turning one over, getting back to level with a birdie on the first hole, his 10th of the round.
A week on from missing the cut at the Honda Classic, McIlroy was sent off the first tee here on the Blue Monster to loud applause but spent the front nine of his first round plashing out of sand traps and into water hazards.
McIlroy found bunkers on each of his opening three holes – failing to birdie the Par 5 10th and 12th and bogeying the 11th – for a nervy start. He added a further bogey on the 17th,before reaching the infamous 18th, a Par 4 of 476 yards that traditionally has proven to be one of the toughest holes on tour.
The 18th hole claimed McIlroy as another of its victims, as the Northern Irishman ran up a double-bogey six after pulling his approach into the lake and, after a penalty drop followed by a heavy handed pitch which ran through the green, he two-putted from the fringes to turn in four-over par 40.
If that opening nine acted as a euphemistic kick in the backside to McIlroy, just as he had observed to his reaction to a missed cut in the Honda, the back nine at least saw him respond to salvage something from his round.
The high point came on the Par 5 eighth where he rolled in a 20 footer from the fringe of the green for an eagle.
Of the importance of that stretch on the back nine that saw him claim three birdies and an eagle in the space of five holes, McIlroy described it as “really important.” He added: “It was just another day where I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, just couldn’t get anything going . I felt tentative (on the front nine) and, then being four-over after the turn, I(felt) like, ‘there’s not much else to lose, go ahead and be aggressive’.”
So it was that McIlroy hit better shots on the way in, even if there was the need to head to the range post round to conduct remedial work on the swing. In truth, McIlroy looked disappointed with his round. In practice, he is playing well. On the range, he is executing the shots. Once on the course, though, he has struggled for two weeks running, in the Honda and now here.
“I’ve had a card in my hand the last couple of weeks and it just hasn’t quite been there . . . . it’s nice to get four rounds this week and sort of play your way into some sort of rhythm. I don’t feel like it’s that far away. That’s the frustrating thing. I know that it’s in there.”