Patient world number one Rory McIlroy is just happy to play it cool
Rory McIlroy adopted a conservative approach for the opening round of the The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and duly earned a fair reward for his labours.
A round of 69, three-under par, could have been much better if a couple of birdie putts had not tracked just wide of the hole on his closing stretch, but the world No 1 was not complaining.
He decided beforehand that patience was the key on a tricky course which takes the driver out of McIlroy's hand a little too often for his liking.
Instead of allowing frustration to creep in to his mentality, the newly-crowned WGC-Cadillac Match Play champion adapted to the conditions and the requirements on the opening day.
These are lessons the 26-year-old four-time Major winner has learned the hard way at Sawgrass, after three missed cuts on his first three visits, followed by a tied 8th in 2013 and sixth place last year.
"You have to be very, very patient. Look at my card and you see I've a lot of pars," he said.
"You need a lot of patience and pick up birdies where you can.
"The first time I got here I felt like it's a course where if you play well you should shoot 67, 68 every time, but it's not like that.
"It can jump up and bite you very quickly. You've got to know that sometimes par is a good score and you move on," said McIlroy.
The highlight of his day was an eagle three on the par-five 16th, his seventh hole.
At 523 yards, this hole offers an opportunity for birdie or better, although it features a large water hazard and a two-tiered green. No bother to McIlroy - he made it look easy.
"It was playing downwind and I only had an eight-iron in from 205 yards.
"Par-fives are much easier when you can hit short irons in like that. It was nice to hit one in close there and take advantage of it and make three," he said.
On the previous hole, the 15th, McIlroy claimed his first birdie of the round.
He only made one blemish, a bogey on the first hole, his 10th, and he kept a steady hand on the tiller through to the famous par-3 17th, where he holed from 14 feet for a two.
McIlroy created another birdie chance on the long 18th but the ball edged narrowly past the cup.
The plan post-round was to do some light practice and rest up after a round lasting almost five hours in the heat and the bright Florida sunshine.
"Starting with last week (WGC Match Play), it's a five-week stretch I'm on through to the Irish Open.
"It's all about conserving energy because it's a long stretch. I want to make sure I'm 100 per cent focused when I go out there, so not much off course activity in terms of practice," he said.
By contrast, the world No 2 Jordan Spieth, who played alongside McIlroy with Australia's Jason Day, never sparkled and closed six shots adrift of McIlroy with a three-over-par 75.
Day pitched and putted his way to three-under par to match McIlroy's opening 69.
Pádraig Harrington had six birdies on his round, but a few blemishes took the shine off his best play, and he signed for 71.
Graeme McDowell, who played in Harrington's group with Ryan Palmer, and Shane Lowry both filed one-over-par rounds of 73.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke injured his wrist in practice before teeing off and withdrew after 11 holes.
He was already ten-over par at that stage