Impeccable McIlroy takes lead in US Open

Impeccable McIlroy takes lead in US Open
SunStar Golf

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Rory McIlroy sent his 20-foot birdie putt on its way at the 18th hole Thursday and started walking toward the cup when the ball was still some 6 feet away from falling. It looked like the walk of a four-time major champion in control of his game on a Pinehurst No. 2 course that demanded every bit of that in the U.S. Open.

Turns out that was about the only thing that didn’t go according to plan.

“I thought I’d left it short. That’s why I walked after it — full disclosure,” McIlroy said. “It looked good, though.”

He looked as good as ever, posting a bogey-free opening round in a major for the first time since last winning one 10 years ago in the British Open. His 5-under 65 gave him a share of the lead with nemesis Patrick Cantlay in a first round that had a little bit of everything.

Scottie Scheffler was over par in the opening round of a major for the first time in two years, Collin Morikawa had two double bogeys and still shot 70. Tyrrell Hatton dropped his club on impact at the par-3 17th hole, kicked his club, watched it land on the green and made birdie.

The final touch was McIlroy’s final birdie.

“A great way to finish,” he said. “The way I played today, the way I hit the ball, the way I managed myself, I felt like that score was pretty deserved.”

Cantlay played in the morning beneath a full sun, holing out from a bunker for birdie on his second hole and making a pair of birdie putts in the 20-foot range in an otherwise tidy round marred by only one bogey.

Pinehurst No. 2 was both playable and punishing, yielding 15 rounds under par, the same number as the last time on this Donald Ross gem in 2014.

Scheffler did not have one of them. The world’s No. 1 player, coming off his fifth win of the year at the Memorial, was a picture of frustration — clean-shaven and with a fresh haircut — as he didn’t have his usual control off the tee.

He still managed a 71 and was very much in the game.

Tiger Woods couldn’t say the same. After a good start, he had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch around the turn for a 74, his 12th consecutive round in the majors without breaking par.

McIlroy was in control from the start, hitting 6-iron to 7 feet at the 528-yard fourth hole — the toughest par 4 on the course — for birdie, and then chipping in from the front of the green on the next hole.

He has the advantage of towering iron shots that land softly, and they were usually pin-high and away from the domed edges of the Pinehurst greens that cause so much trouble.

McIlroy has won majors the last three times he has started with a bogey-free round — at Hoylake in the 2014 British Open, at Kiawah Island in the 2012 PGA Championship and at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open.

“Getting off to a good start is important to try to keep yourself up there, because you have to give yourself as big of a cushion as possible, knowing what is lurking around the corner,” McIlroy said. / ML


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