BROOKLINE, Mass. — It might seem like a coincidence that Rory McIlroy is once again playing some of the best golf of his career at a time when the new LIV Golf Invitational Series threatens the PGA Tour.
However, McIlroy, a vocal critic of the new circuit led by two-time Open winner Greg Norman and funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, insists that is not the case.
After taking a share of the first-round lead at the 122nd US Open after the morning surge at the Country Club on Thursday, McIlroy insists he’s motivated by something else.
“It’s been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to do one again,” McIlroy said.
With a 3-under 67 first round, McIlroy put himself in a great position to do just that. In each of his four previous major victories – at the 2011 US Open, the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships and the 2014 Open Championship – he started the tournaments with a round of 67 or better.
“You feel like you’ve been right in the tournament since the start of the week, which is good,” McIlroy said. “I go in [Friday] with the mindset to continue, rather than where the cut line is or whatever. If you don’t start off on the right foot, those thoughts start creeping in. It’s definitely a different mindset when you start off on the right foot, and yeah, I just have to keep going.”
It was an eventful opening round for McIlroy on the golf course outside of Boston. He started on the back nine and hit a bogey-free, 2-under 33. Then on the par-4 fifth hole, he drove his tee shot right. His ball ended up in very thick rough above a bunker.
“You’re going to encounter things at a US Open, whether it’s lies or things like that, that you won’t really encounter another week,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard not to get frustrated because I’m walking up there, just coming back into the bunker. The thickest rough on the course is around the edges of the bunkers. So I cursed the USGA every time I was going to the ball.”
Worse still, McIlroy’s feet were well below the ball. He managed to hit his second shot from just around 10 yards out – into another fairway bunker. He slammed his club twice wildly into the sand. Remarkably, McIlroy was able to get up and down from the sand to save par.
“I gave the sand a few shots because I already messed it up, so it wasn’t like it was much more work for [caddie] Harry [Diamond]”, McIlroy said. “And then I just reset and played a decent bunker shot and then it was really nice to drill that putt. But, yeah, you’re going to run into things this week that you don’t usually run into other weeks of the year, and you just have to try to embrace them as best you can.”
After birdying the numbers 7 and 8 to go 4 under, McIlroy lost his temper again on the ninth par 4, his last hole. He pushed his approach shot to the right of the green and threw his club in frustration. He ended up making a bogey.
McIlroy said his reactions in the fifth hole bunker and the ninth fairway were “almost reminding you sometimes how much that means to you”.
“Again, some of these reactions that you may have seen today, whether it’s hitting the sand on the 5th or throwing the club on the 9th, you just have to be so precise and so exact at this golf tournament, maybe compared to others,” McIlroy said. “If one little thing goes quite wrong, you kind of get behind the eight ball. The margins are so good in this tournament, and I think you can kind of see that with some of the reactions.”
While McIlroy won’t say the emergence of LIV Golf and the defection of many of the PGA Tour’s top players — including Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed — inspired him to play better golf, that’s exactly what what he has done in the past. a few weeks.
He won the RBC Canadian Open in Ontario last week. It was the 21st win of his career, which put him past Norman in career wins. McIlroy was the last player to win a major a week after winning a PGA Tour event, and now he’s trying to become the first player to do so at the US Open.
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, has also become the strongest voice of support for the PGA Tour, which badly needs it right now.
“I’m just me. I live my life,” McIlroy said. “I do what I think is right and try to play the best golf I can. I wasn’t asked to be put here. I wasn’t trying to be in this position. I’m just me. “
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