Rory McIlroy storms to the top of the leaderboard in Mexico with opening 65

World No 1 two shots clear of Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson

Rory McIlroy  putts on the 13th green during the first round of the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec  in Mexico City. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy putts on the 13th green during the first round of the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

 

The day after making an emphatic statement off the course, Rory McIlroy did precisely the same when back on it. Evidence of an excellent start to 2020 is provided by a McIlroy scoring average of 68.5 from nine rounds, two of which were 73s.

McIlroy, recently returned as the world No 1, marched to the top of the leaderboard at the WGC Mexico Championship with a 65. Whereas on Wednesday, McIlroy created shockwaves by vehemently dismissing plans for a breakaway tour, Thursday he successfully returned to his natural domain.

McIlroy made a birdie at the ninth, his 18th, from nine feet to take a two-stroke lead over Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas. His highlight of a six-under-par round had come much earlier: at the 11th, his second, he played a glorious four-iron from 274 yards to within 15ft. A converted eagle putt followed. It remains early in the year – and the event – but the indications are McIlroy is back to his best.

“I like this place, like the golf course, and have always played well at altitude for whatever reason that is.

“I putted a little better today than at Riviera last week and took advantage of how I drove the ball,

“I’m confident because I am playing well. Regardless whether I have a one or a two or a 10 beside my name in the world rankings, I’m comfortable with my game, I’m comfortable with what I’m doing and that’s the most important thing.”

McIlroy switched putter, back to the one he used in 2019, following last week’s Genesis Invitational. So far, so good on that front.

McIlroy admitted he had received “nice messages” over his Premier League stance. “I wasn’t hoping for anything,” he said. “I was just sort of providing my point of view and getting it off my chest. That’s what I felt. I wasn’t trying to do anything or prove a point or try to get any sort of praise. I’ve sort of been sick of talking about it for the last few months and I’m happy that everyone knows where I stand on that. I’m happy that I know where I stand, certainly, on it.”

Tyrrell Hatton, in his first start of the year, signed for a 69. The Englishman has been battling a wrist injury since completing his European Tour season in Dubai last November. “It’s still not 100 per cent to be perfectly honest,” he said. “I’ve still got a little twinge there but I’m hoping that now I’m back playing, it’ll ease up. It is just going to take time. The recovery was a bit longer than we thought it would be. This week is a good test for it, give myself four competitive rounds and see how I feel at the end of it.”

Paul Casey matched Hatton’s score, as did Lee Westwood. Tommy Fleetwood, playing in the company of McIlroy, recovered from a sluggish start to post 70.

British Open champion Shane Lowry carded a one-over 72 in his opening round, while Graeme McDowell opened with a five-over 76. - Guardian

LEADERBOARD
USA unless stated, par 71

65 Rory McIlroy (N Irl)

67 Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson

68 Bryson DeChambeau, Billy Horschel, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Corey Conners (Can)

69 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Paul Casey (Eng), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Sungjae Im (Kor), Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood (Eng)

70 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Gary Woodland, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

71 Zach Murray (Aus), Justin Harding (Rsa), Lucas Glover, Branden Grace (Rsa), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Chez Reavie, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Kevin Na, Sebastian Munoz (Col), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp)

72 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Xander Schauffele, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Lanto Griffin, Webb Simpson, Scott Hend (Aus), Brendon Todd, Jon Rahm (Esp), Shane Lowry (Irl), Collin Morikawa, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng)

73 Jason Kokrak, Zander Lombard (Rsa), Danny Willett (Eng), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Cameron Smith (Aus), Scottie Scheffler, Kevin Kisner, Benjamin Hebert (Fra)

74 Matt Wallace (Eng), Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Adam Scott (Aus), Marc Leishman (Aus), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Jordan Spieth

75 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Carlos Ortiz (Mex), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Shaun Norris (Rsa), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Matt Kuchar, Charles Howell III

76 Dustin Johnson, Kurt Kitayama, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Graeme McDowell (N Irl), Sung Kang (Kor), Robert Macintyre (Sco), Brandt Snedeker

77 Jorge Campillo (Esp)

80 Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Tae Hee Lee (Kor)

81 Victor Perez (Fra)

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