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Battling Rory McIlroy still has eye on FedEx Cup $10m bonus

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy is in the mix for a first FedEx Cup title – and with it a bonus of $10million – after last night's promising opening round in the TOUR Championship in Atlanta.

But McIlroy was quick to play down the significance of the huge prize pot.

"Regardless of the prize money, I want to finish my year off well, I am highly motivated," he said after last night's one under par 69.

"Although this wasn't my best of days I still shot under par and I am still right in the tournament," added the Ulsterman.

"It was a grind out there. I gave it 100 per cent but any time I made a step forward I seemed to give it back on the next hole.

"I got it up and down on the last and I am pleased with how I finished," said McIlroy, who birdied the 17th.

McIlroy is one of five players who know victory at East Lake would also see them secure the overall FedEx Cup title won by Sweden's Henrik Stenson last year, the others being Chris Kirk, Billy Horschel – joint leaders on four under – Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson , the latter one off the pace.

And the world number one was just two off the lead after playing his first nine holes in one under par as the 29-strong field found scoring conditions unexpectedly difficult.

McIlroy pushed his drive on the first and saw his attempted recovery shot clip a tree and travel 40 yards, but his third shot grazed the side of the hole as it rolled past and he holed from eight feet for par.

A superb approach to two feet set up McIlroy's first birdie of the day on the third, but he promptly gave that shot back after a poor drive on the fourth and hit an even worse drive on the next.

Fortunately for the four-time major winner, his ball bounced out of the trees and allowed him to find the green with his approach and make par, while he holed from six feet on the sixth to get back into red figures.

That did not last long after two visits to sand on the seventh cost him a bogey, but McIlroy again rebounded immediately with a birdie from eight feet on the eighth.

Another birdie chance went begging from 10 feet on the par-five ninth, but at one under McIlroy was just two behind American duo Ryan Palmer and Patrick Reed, with playing partner Watson, Kirk and Cameron Tringale all on two under.

McIlroy's long and straight driving has been his major weapon this season, helping him win the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA in consecutive appearances.

However, the Holywood ace was struggling to find the fairways at East Lake and another errant drive found a fairway bunker on the 10th, from where he had to settle for par.

McIlroy then bogeyed the 11th after duffing his second shot from the fringe and dropped back to level par, three behind Reed, former FedEx winner Bill Haas and Masters champion Watson, who had holed from eight feet on the 10th.

Ryan Palmer held the clubhouse lead on one under after a 69, while Justin Rose struggled to a two-over-par 72.

Tournament officials had already announced that today's tee times had been brought forward by three hours due to bad weather being forecast.

McIlroy was looking increasingly frustrated as he remained level par after 15 holes, although he was at least fortunate to still be within sight of the leaders ahead of that good finish.

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