Errant off the tee, Rory McIlroy opens in 2-over 73 at WM Phoenix Open

Errant off the tee, Rory McIlroy opens in 2-over 73 at WM Phoenix Open
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There was no skipping this week’s WM Phoenix Open, not for Rory McIlroy. Especially not after he used his one designated-event opt-out for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

McIlroy traditionally doesn’t play at TPC Scottsdale; this is only his second-career start. He usually skips the event, not because of the rowdy atmosphere but because of his schedule and, well, the fact that the layout doesn’t really suit his game.

“Yeah, look, I wouldn’t say that this is a golf course that sets up terribly well for me. I struggle off the tee here. I feel like all the fairway bunkers are right in my landing zones,” McIlroy said after Round 1. “But it’s a challenge, and again, I’m trying to embrace that challenge.”

Full-field scores from the WM Phoenix Open

Thursday was just that for McIlroy: a challenge. The start of play was delayed by nearly two hours because of frost and winds steadily blew 15-20 mph throughout the round.

McIlroy, who began his day on the par-4 10th, made four bogeys and two birdies for a 2-over 73 – his first opening round over par since the Masters. As he noted afterwards, driving was a struggle. He hit just four of 14 fairways, losing strokes to the field.

The current world No. 1, McIlroy has won each of his last two PGA Tour starts, dating back to the season-ending Tour Championship and October’s CJ Cup. After winning again in January in Dubai, on the DP World Tour, McIlroy went home to Florida to work on his game. Despite the victorious effort, he wasn’t pleased with his ball-striking.

The changes he made were put to the test on Thursday, and though McIlroy was over par, he wasn’t overly upset.

“I felt like I hit it OK. It was hard; I’ve been struggling with the left miss a little bit, so last week I was doing a lot of sort of trying to clear my body and almost trying to just hit like little fades, and there was a ton of left-to-right winds out there today, so it really felt like my ball (was) just going on those left-to-right winds pretty hard and just never really got a handle on it,” he said.

On one such occasion, McIlroy’s tee shot at the par-4 second, his 11th hole, went well right and nearly out of bounds. It settled next to a fence, with just enough room for McIlroy to hit a remarkable pitching-wedge recovery shot onto the green to save par.

“Actually, the way I was walking up to my ball, it looked like I didn’t have a backswing, but I didn’t realize the angle, like how far right the green actually was. So I got over it, I was like, ‘OK, I needed to take it a little bit more on the inside than I usually would and sort of just toe it in a little bit,’” he said. “But I sort of got lucky because the wind was hard off the left and I needed to hit that hard draw against the wind, and it was the only way to stop it on – that green I feel like is the firmest green on the course, so it was the only way to stop it.”

After finishing T-13 here in 2021, McIlroy will get another shot at TPC Scottsdale in Round 2. He currently sits seven strokes off the lead, which will present its own challenge on Friday and, hopefully for him, the weekend.

“Yeah, look, not an event I historically play, but I feel like I’m a good enough player to figure it out and contend and win on any golf course,” he said.

And as a bonus for showing up, “I get a chance to win $3.6 million.”

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