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Sports Rory McIlroy storms out to lead in PGA Championship English Headline

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TULSA, Okla. — Is it possible that Rory McIlroy has rediscovered his major championship mojo, figured out how to purge his greatest weakness of the past seven-plus years?

McIlroy, whose last major championship victory came in 2014 and who has been dragged down since by dreadful opening rounds in the sport’s most important tournaments, was the rabbit in Thursday’s PGA Championship first round at Southern Hills, shooting a 5-under 65.

The 33-year-old Northern Irishman has a one-shot lead over Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge. Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer are two shots back.

Tiger Woods, who’s grouped with McIlroy and Jordan Spieth (2-over) for the first two rounds, struggled to a 4-over 74.

The story of the day was unquestionably McIlroy playing a sharp opening round, which has curiously been missing during his major-championship drought.

Since his last win in a major, the 2014 PGA Championship, this was McIlroy in the first round entering this week: 35-over par with an average score of 72.33 and 18.5 percent of his rounds in the 60s.

Rory McIlroy
AP

Meanwhile, in Rounds 2-4, his numbers are: 68-under par with an average score of 70.09 and 42 percent of his rounds in the 60s.

These early struggles have left him chasing and too far back to catch the leaders.

Incredibly, until Thursday McIlroy had not led or co-led a single round in a major since that 2014 PGA victory.

When his morning round was finished, McIlroy was clearly pleased with his performance, but he also tried to downplay his desperation to get off to a good start.

“Look, it was a great start to the tournament,’’ McIlroy said. “I’ve been playing well coming in here. I’ve been carrying some good form. Obviously, [I] took a lot from that last round at Augusta [when he shot a Sunday 64], played well up in D.C. at the Wells Fargo and played good in the practice rounds earlier this week.

“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. It was nice to get off to that good start and sort of keep it going.’’

Tiger Woods talks with Rory McIlroy during the first round of the PGA Championship.
Tiger Woods talks with Rory McIlroy during the first round of the PGA Championship.
AP

McIlroy, who began his round on the back nine, jump-started his day with birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 15 to take the outright lead at 4-under at the time.

The last time McIlroy carded four consecutive birdies in the opening round of a major? You guessed it: 2014.

McIlroy’s last six opening-round scores in majors: 73-70-70-75-76-75.

Suffice to say, this was a much different opening-round experience than he’s had in a while. McIlroy’s distinct edge was the way he was bombing it off the tee, giving himself great looks at the tricky greens with false fronts and slippery runoffs.

“I feel like 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,’’ he said.

Asked what made him most “happy’’ about his round, McIlroy said, “Just happy with when you get off to a good start like that, 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. I stayed aggressive.’’

Of interesting note, in the previous seven major championships held at Southern Hills, five have been won by the player who had either the lead or a share of the lead after 18 holes and all seven have been won by the player who led after 36 holes.

So, Friday would seem to be a massive day.

“I don’t think a major champion here has ever been double digits under par, so you know the scores aren’t going to go much further, and certainly the weather is going to have a lot of impact on that [it’s forecast to get windy and cold],’’ Hoge said. “It’s a grind out here.’’

The players at the top of the board are obviously embracing the grind.

“It’s super-fun whenever you have days like that,’’ Zalatoris said. “I think I made four or five 25-footers. It was kind of a bizarre day. I didn’t drive it great early and then drove it nicely at the end, but I think all six of my birdies came from the rough today, which is just very bizarre.

“I’m very pleased with today, obviously. Anytime you can put up a 66 in a major, you’re obviously happy.’’



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