GOLF: McIlroy takes three-stroke lead over Masters rival Schwartzel to pace U.S. Open

 

Rory McIlroy sure knows how to get the job done early in major
championships.
If he can figure out how to close, then McIlroy could hoist a
major championship trophy just two months after his collapse on the
back nine at Augusta National cost him the Masters.
By Jonathan Heeter – McClatchy Newspapers

BETHESDA, Md. – Rory McIlroy sure knows how to get the job done early in major championships.

If he can figure out how to close, then McIlroy could hoist a major championship trophy just two months after his collapse on the back nine at Augusta National cost him the Masters.

McIlroy shot a 6-under-par 65 on Thursday in the opening round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

He leads former Charl Schwartzel, the man who benefited from McIlroy’s struggles to win the Masters, and former PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang by three shots. Six others, including current British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, are four shots back at 2 under.

McIlroy has led both majors this year after the first round.

“I don’t know if it says that I’ve just got a very short memory,” said McIlroy, who shot an 80 in the final round at Masters and finished tied for 15th after leading through 63 holes. “I just took the experience from Augusta, and I learned a lot from it. I feel like these good starts in majors are very much down to my preparation and how I prepare for them.”

McIlroy started on the treacherous back nine Thursday afternoon at Congressional.

The 22-year-old made birdies at Nos. 12, 17 and 18, and he continued his roll with three birdies in a span of four holes on his second nine. His iron play was the key, as only one of those six birdie putts came from longer than 20 feet. He didn’t make a bogey.

“It was a good round of golf,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t really put a foot wrong.”

McIlroy has now led a major championship after the first round three times in his young career. The Northern Irishman carded a 9-under-par 63 at last year’s British Open to hold the lead. He shot an 80 in terribly windy conditions, but he later rebounded and finished tied for third place.

He then shot a 7-under-par 65 in April to lead the Masters after one round. His back nine on Sunday included a triple-bogey and a four-putt double-bogey.

“You can’t be thinking about what’s happened before,” McIlroy said. “You’ve got to just be thinking about this week and how best you can prepare and how you can get yourself around the golf course.”

Aside from his own personal struggles, McIlroy has history working against him.

No one has won the U.S. Open after leading the first round since Tiger Woods won at Bethpage in 2002. The feat occurred regularly back then. Retief Goosen and Woods won the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2000, respectively, after holding first-round leads.

McIlroy’s low score could also draw the ire of the USGA.

The USGA sets up the course in hopes that even-par wins the tournament. The USGA could make the course much more difficult going forward to bring the scores back some.

Mike Weir was the last player to post a first-round score of 6 under when he shot a 64 at Bethpage in 2009. Lucas Glover eventually won the tournament at 4 under. Goosen shot a 66 in 2001 at Southern Hills to finish the first round at 4 under. He eventually won the tournament in a playoff, but he finished 72 holes at 4 under.

“This golf course is only going to get firmer, and it’s going to get harder,” McIlroy said. “I still think something around 2, 3, 4-under par, something like that is going to have a good chance. … It’s a U.S. Open; they know how to make the golf course a lot more difficult than it was (Thursday).”

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