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Battling Rory McIlroy ready to mount FedEx challenge

 

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy has not given up hope of another late FedExCup title challenge as he searches for a return to the winner’s circle at the Dell Technologies Championship.

The world No 4 is without a worldwide victory during his injury-affected year and hasn’t won since snatching Tour Championship victory and the $10m FedExCup jackpot last September.

McIlroy returned to TPC Boston as defending champion after his two-shot victory over Paul Casey last year, with the four-time major champion coming into the week 43rd in the FedExCup standings.

Five days after winning his fourth tournament of the season, Dustin Johnson carried on where he left off with an opening 66.

Johnson overturned a five-shot deficit in the final round before beating Open champion Jordan Spieth in a play-off in the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, the first of four FedEx Cup play-off events.

And the 33-year-old again looked the man to beat at TPC Boston after carding five birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to set the early clubhouse target on five under par.

Starting on the back nine, Johnson holed from 35 feet for birdie on the 10th and just four feet on the 13th, before a careless three-putt from 30 feet on the next.

The former US Open champion bounced back with a birdie on the 15th and hit the pin with his tee shot on the 16th, although he was unable to convert from seven feet for birdie.

A stunning seven-iron approach from 220 yards to four feet set up an eagle on the par-five ninth, although a wayward iron off the tee on the first bounced off a cart path and into a hazard, leading to a second bogey of the day.

Undeterred, Johnson promptly birdied the second and fourth and parred his remaining five holes to finish a shot ahead of Marc Leishman, Kyle Stanley, Sergio Garcia and Brendan Steele.

Spieth joins McIlroy on one over par while Justin Thomas is a shot better off.

Spieth was three over par for his first seven holes before playing the front nine in two under, while US PGA champion Thomas had 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey in an uneventful round.

Johnson’s first three victories this season came in successive events before he suffered a back injury which forced him to withdraw from the Masters.

And the world number one has refused to rule out another winning streak in the FedEx Cup play-offs.

“You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one, right?’’ Johnson joked in his pre-tournament press conference.

“It’s definitely possible. Is it going to happen? I have no idea. I would love to say ‘Yeah I’m going to win all four’ but the odds are not in my favour. Winning last week is big because I think I am probably guaranteed to be in the top five (in the FedEx Cup standings) going into the Tour Championship in Atlanta, which is where you want to be because then if you win the tournament, you win the FedEx Cup.”

Meanwhile, England’s Lee Slattery defied miserable conditions to card a superb 65 and post the clubhouse target at seven under par before play was abandoned for the day in the D+D REAL Czech Masters.

Slattery birdied six of his first eight holes at Albatross Golf Resort and added two more on his inward nine, with his only bogey of the day coming on the eighth, his penultimate hole.

Rain had been falling heavily throughout the morning and eventually made the course unplayable, with play suspended at 2.20pm local time.

South African Dylan Frittelli was one under after four holes to sit a shot off the lead, with England’s Chris Hanson and Swede Pontus Widegren on five under after completing one hole.

Overnight leader Callum Shinkwin is four under.

Belfast Telegraph

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