Single life seems to be suiting Rory McIlroy just fine. After breaking up with fiancé Caroline Wozniacki last week, McIlroy expressed his desire to concentrate solely on his golf game once he stepped inside the ropes. His new-found focus led him to the winner’s circle of the BMW Championship, the flagship tournament on the European Tour, last week. Now Rory McIlroy has delivered a crushing performance in the first round of the Jack Nicklaus Memorial Tournament in Dublin, OH.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland had seven birdies and two eagles to sprint to a 3-shot lead at the Muirfield Village golf course on Thursday. McIlroy’s 9-under 63 was marred only by a double bogey on the par-4 14th hole. There was doubt, however, that he would even finish his round on Thursday. After hitting his second shot on the seventh hole, McIlroy reached down to massage his left knee. “It was painful right after I hit shots and then I sort of walked it off on the next one and then it would be painful again,” said the Ulsterman after his round, adding “I guess a little bit of ice and some treatments and hopefully it’ll be alright for tomorrow.” Perhaps he should tweak his knee more often. His first-round 63 was three shots better than any rounds he has played in a PGA tournament.
Three players are tied for second after opening-round scores of 66. Paul Casey, Bubba Watson and Chris Kirk were in that group, one shot ahead of Keegan Bradley, Michael Thompson and J.B. Holmes. Three more golfers came in at 4-under par; Hunter Mahan, Ryan Moore and Justin Leonard.
In a group at 3-under par, 6 strokes back, is emerging star Jordan Spieth, playing his fourth event in a row. “Starting today there was a little lack of focus…I think I just didn’t get myself psyched up the way I normally do for the round,” Spieth remarked, “then got a birdie to fall on two and really got into the groove there.” On the day the young Texas had five birdies and two bogeys and was happy with his round, “Finally I got a couple of long ones to fall for me toward the end of the round there so, yeah, three under is a good start.” World No. 1 Adam Scott also finished at 3-under 69. His round included a variety of scores, including six birdies, a bogey and a double bogey.
Phil Mickelson played alongside Spieth on Thursday, and seemed to run out of gas. Draining four birdies on the front nine, then another at No. 15, Mickelson found himself within striking distance of the lead at 5-under. He played the final four holes, however, at 5-over par and finished his first round at even par, and in a tie for 45th.
Defending champion in the Memorial, Matt Kuchar, did not fare any better. He is in a tie for 88th after a 2-over 74 on Thursday. Kuchar got as high as 4-over at one point, but had a string of three straight birdies and another bogey in his last five holes to finish strong.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky