Playing his fourth role in four weeks, McIlroy has always battled fatigue. He also has a cold and said he didn’t feel comfortable in his woods. However, after the opening round 62, he was still at it on Friday, 5 under 11 holes and in the lead at 13 under.
Then things went wrong.
McIlroy pinned his tee off the left boundary at No. 12. After a penalty kick and three hits from the tee, he blasted his next attempt at the right wheel, advanced his fourth shot into the green bunker, barely managed to get his ball out of a sandbox, and took three to get off There for 8.
It was the sixth place in McIlroy’s career, and the first since the 2021 PLAYERS Championship.
He said, “You know, when you shoot on a tee like 12, first, second is really hard, and you’re protecting from the left and I missed it right.”
He used fairway lumber again on the 271-yard 15th hole, and that also led to problems. His loaded shot was on the ice-covered hillside to the right of the green, and while he seemed to avoid disaster when his second shot stopped a short distance from the green, he threw his third onto the green and into the water. He took a drop, cut, and made 11 feet to save a double.
It was an odd sequence for one of the world’s best players, but McIlroy chose to focus on the positives: seven birds, his hot start on the Tour, and 36 holes remaining in the championship.
“For whatever reason I haven’t felt comfortable with the Fairway Forest for the past few weeks,” he said. “You know, I only hit three there, two on 12, then one on 15. That was really it. I played really well the rest of the way. That’s obviously a great start.
“I thought I was back well,” he added. “I did a good 6 on 15 and then chased 16. Yeah, I should be closer to the lead. I feel like I’ve let a lot of guys into golf because of that. But, you know, it’s still only two rounds. Two rounds left. And a lot of golf courses.”
“Beer enthusiast. Subtly charming alcohol junkie. Wannabe internet buff. Typical pop culture lover.”