Having endured plenty of wayward shots this season, the 24-year-old was feeling more positive about his game after opening with 1-under-par 69 on Thursday at Oak Hill in the final major of the year.
He probably hasn’t felt this good since last year’s PGA blowout at Kiawah Island, where he was on top of the golf world after a record eight-stroke victory.
Sure, it’s a different course. But McIlroy will take any little edge he can get.
“To come back here, it gives me some confidence,” he said.
Taking advantage of a venerable course softened by overnight showers, McIlroy played especially well on the front nine other than knocking his ball in the water at No. 5, leading to bogey. Four birdies put him on the leaderboard at the turn with 3-under 32.
Alas, he couldn’t keep it going. The back side started with back-to-back bogeys before play was halted because of approaching thunderstorms.
Still, it had to be encouraging to McIlroy that he pulled himself together during the 71-minute break. He birdied the 12th, shook off a bogey at the 17th and scrambled for par at the final hole after an errant tee shot.
Asked if he considered the round a success or just plain frustrating, McIlroy left no doubt where he stood.
“Today was definitely positive,” he said. “I felt like I played really, really well.”
Certainly good compared to the way it’s gone most of the year. After changing equipment, McIlroy has been trying desperately to recapture the form that carried him to dominant victories in both of his major championships.
McIlroy wasn’t much of a factor at either the Masters Tournament or the U.S. Open, and was downright lost at the British Open three weeks ago.
He opened with 8-over 79, pretty much assuring he wouldn’t make it to the weekend before he even got to Friday, the most embarrassing moment coming when he putted his ball into a bunker.
This seemed to be a step in the right direction.
Now, he’s got to do it again.
The goal is “consistency day to day or hole to hole, focus on each and every shot and try not to think ahead too much or think about anything else and really just focus on my shot,” McIlroy said. “That is what I’m trying to do.”
He is four strokes behind co-leaders Jim Furyk and Adam Scott.
“You get off to a good start tomorrow,” McIlroy said, sounding much more hopeful, “you are right there.”