Bumpy ride but Rory McIlroy eyes front
Open champion Rory McIlroy had to settle for an opening 69 on his return to action in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.
Playing his first event since claiming his third Major at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy played his opening 11 holes in three under par at Firestone Country Club.
However, the 25-year-old then three-putted the third hole – his 12th – and ran up a double-bogey six on the eighth after finding a greenside bunker with his approach and taking four more shots to get down.
But McIlroy finished in style with a brilliant approach to the ninth to set up a birdie from just two feet to finish one under par, four shots off the clubhouse lead shared by American Ryan Moore and South African Charl Schwartzel.
"I felt like I played really solid," McIlroy said after his round. "I drove the ball for the most part well. I got myself into trouble a couple of times which led to a bogey and a double bogey on my back nine but apart from that I felt I played really solid golf without really doing anything."
McIlroy has taken the Claret Jug to Akron after enjoying a couple of days celebrating with it following his Open triumph, but was quick to get back to work with plenty still to play for this season.
"I didn't want any sort of let- down and not just these two weeks, but basically the rest of the season because I've got myself now in a good position in the FedEx Cup, a good position in the world rankings, we've got a Major left this year, there's a lot of golf still left to play," added McIlroy, who could reclaim the world number one spot from Adam Scott with his first World Golf Championship victory on Sunday.
"It's great to win a Major, great to win the Open Championship but I just want to keep going forward and I'll have plenty of time in December and January to reflect on it and enjoy what I've achieved this year. For now I want to keep going and try to have some more success on the course."
Earlier, Moore had carded a flawless 65 to improve his chances of securing a Ryder Cup berth, the 31-year-old currently lying 14th, with the top nine after next week's US PGA, sealing a place on Tom Watson's team for Gleneagles.
Compatriot Patrick Reed is in 10th but also boosted his hopes with an opening 67 marred by two bogeys in the last six holes.
Former Masters champion Schwartzel joined Moore in the clubhouse lead thanks to five birdies in his last eight holes, including four in a row from the fourth.
Former world number one Tiger Woods was among the later starters and the defending champion was one over par after four adventurous opening holes in an event he has won eight times.
Woods three-putted the first from just eight feet and then snap-hooked his drive on the second so far left that it found the semi-rough to the right of the third hole.
However, the 14-time major winner then hit a fairway wood onto the green and two-putted from 50 feet for birdie, only to drop a shot on the fourth after missing the green with his approach.
Meanwhile, European captain Paul McGinley has effectively ended speculation that he might consider handing 56-year-old Bernhard Langer one of his three wild cards for September's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
"It's very difficult for me to see where Bernhard is so as a result it's unlikely I should go down there because I'm really spoilt for choice in terms of quality players who are chomping at the bit to get in the team," said McGinley.
"He needs to be playing more with the top players in the world if he's really going to be considered."