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pga championship rory mcilroy

Scrappy but happy! Rory McIlroy rallies up PGA Championship leaderboard

Rory McIlroy was the first to admit he didn’t bring his A game to Valhalla on Thursday, but nothing could matter less as he started his week strongly…

 

If scrappy for Rory McIlroy is five-under, he’ll take it. He’s watched major dreams die playing far better.

This wasn’t vintage by any means on the PGA Championship’s opening day. He didn’t drive the ball particularly well and, for a couple of holes in and around the turn, it looked like it might unravel. A familiar story was waiting to be told.

But that the 2014 champ at Valhalla was able to fashion a score at the same venue, one that has put him right in the picture and four shots behind leader Xander Schauffele, can only be a massive positive as he bids to break that often-talked-about 10-year major drought.

“I felt like it was pretty scrappy for the most part. I don’t really feel like I left many out there,” he said, reflecting on that opening 66. “I thought I got a lot out of my game today. Some good up-and-downs, the chip-in on 6. I had a little bit of a scrappy part around the turn there. Not really happy with how I played but at least happy with the score.”

Starting on the back nine, McIlroy was two-under early but then bogeyed 17 and found the water off the tee at 18. He made par and conceded it was a huge moment. He struck the flag with his approach on the 1st, made birdie, and then picked up three more shots – including chipping in, as he said, from the back of the 6th – on the way home.

pga championship rory mcilroy

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Rory McIlroy: First round was scrappy but victory is still in sight

“I could have easily bogeyed 18 and been back to even par, and then again, that ball on 1 could have hit the flagstick and went anywhere,” he said.

“I could have made bogey from that. Potentially being 1-over par through 10, I’m 2-under. So it’s a three-shot difference. It’s a big swing.”

Particularly key for McIlroy was a razor-sharp wedge game – a feature that’s often been described as a weakness in recent years. He’s currently 53rd strokes gained approaching the green, and 76th around the green, on this year’s PGA Tour stats board.

But the 35-year-old has been working with Butch Harmon, who once dialled in Dustin Johnson with the shorter clubs as he became a two-time major winner and World No.1.

Asked if there was anything he was going to that was helping him, McIlroy said: “I think just the same feelings I’ve been having with my golf swing, feeling strength in the club face on the way back, and then trying to keep that strength so that it forces me to really get out of the way on the downswing. That’s the thought with the wedges and with the irons.”

Three back of the surging Schauffele after the first round last week at Wells Fargo, McIlroy has another shot to find this time. But we all know what happened in Charlotte. And in a major career that’s seen fires extinguished far too early, it feels – on the scoreboard at least – he’s right where he wants to be.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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