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McIlroy gets long-sought hot major start with 65 at PGA

The Holywood man produced four successive birdies at Southern Hills,

Image: Matt York

Updated May 19th 2022, 9:24 PM

RORY MCILROY FINALLY delivered the sizzling major start he has waited years to unleash, firing a five-under par 65 to grab the lead Thursday at the PGA Championship.

The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland made four birdies in a row, his longest career major birdie run, and fired his best major first round since a 65 at the 2011 US Open, where he won his first major title.

“Just happy with when you get off to a good start like that,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes you can maybe start to be a little careful or start to give yourself a little more margin for error, but I stuck to my game plan.”

McIlroy lies one shot ahead of Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge, the American pair both in second on four-under. The morning starters occupy most of the leading positions with Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer in a tie for fourth on three-under.

The group on two-under includes Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith and Justin Thomas.

It’s the first time McIlroy cracked 70 in a major opening round since the 2020 US Open, where he followed a 67 with a 76 to stumble back.

His best-ever major start was a 63 at St. Andrews in the 2010 British Open when he shared third.

The past three times McIlroy has opened a major with a 66 or lower, he has won the title. If it holds true again, he will claim his first major victory since the 2014 PGA.

McIlroy, ranked seventh, matched the lowest final-round score in Masters history last month with a 64 to finish second in his latest bid to complete a career Grand Slam.

“I’ve been playing well coming in here,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been carrying some good form. Obviously that took a lot from that last round at Augusta.”

For McIlroy, that meant shutting out the distractions that come with playing alongside Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth and the huge crowd watching their every move.

“I think when your game is feeling like that, it’s just a matter of going out there and really sticking to your game plan, executing as well as you possibly can, and just sort of staying in your own little world.

“I did that really well today,” McIlroy said.

“This course, it lets you be pretty aggressive off the tee if you want to be, so I hit quite a lot of drivers out there and took advantage of my length and finished that off with some nice iron play and some nice putting.”

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McIlroy began on the back nine and birdied the 12th through 15th holes and added two more at the second and par-five fifth before taking bogeys at the par-3 sixth and eighth holes. He rolled in a closing birdie from just inside 19 feet.

“It’s very easy to make bogeys out here,” McIlroy said. “You get yourself just a little bit out of position, you catch a little bit of grain around the green, it’s tricky.”

McIlroy, 33, was able to handle windy afternoon conditions off the tee.

“Some of those right-to-left winds off the tee it was nice because I could just aim the driver up the middle of the fairway, hit like a nice hold against the wind,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy said he didn’t feel thrown off by the huge galleries in part because of the open space Southern Hills offers.

“It’s big, wide corridors. I feel like there’s a lot of room,” McIlroy said. “So it doesn’t feel as oppressive as some other venues.”

– © AFP 2022

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