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The next chapter of Rory McIlroy's career is 'full of promise'

 

By William Callahan

Rory McIlroy admitted that playing a tournament round without long-serving caddie JP Fitzgerald on the bag felt "strange" after the nine years they spent working together.

The four-time Major champi­on and Fitzgerald ended their partnership last week when McIlroy told him in a telephone call that he wanted to make a change.

Thursday's opening round of the elite-field WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio marked the start of the post-JP era for McIlroy who had his friend Harry Diamond, a former Irish amateur international, on the bag.

As a debut venture it went well, as an opening three-un­der-par 67 left McIlroy just two shots behind leader Thomas Pieters of Belgium.

It should have been at least one better as McIlroy, who started on the 10th tee, bogeyed his last hole, the ninth, despite leaving himself just 120 yards from the flagstick after a mon­ster 377-yard drive.

The Ulsterman pulled his wedge shot and left himself 50 feet from the hole, and three-putted.

Scotland's Russell Knox had set the clubhouse mark at four-under before Pieters birdied the ninth, his 18th hole, to take a one-shot lead.

The Bridgestone Invitation­al is one of the big events on the PGA/European Tour calendar, but much of the build-up was overshadowed by the furore over McIlroy's split with his caddie.

"Yeah, it was strange for the first couple of holes," said McIlroy.

"You're hearing a different voice. If you've been with someone for a while and you change it up, it is a little dif­ferent but I stuck to it today. I played pretty well.

"It's the start of the next chapter in my career and we'll go from here."

McIlroy took responsibility for clubbing and identifying yardages, duties previously carried out by Fitzgerald.

"It's been a long time since I've been writing stuff in a yard­age book, but it's good," he said.

"I'm taking a little bit more responsibility on myself. There was a couple of times where I probably should have hit another club, but that's on me, that's not on anyone else.

"As I said yesterday, I'd much rather be frustrated at my own decision than maybe at someone else's.

"It was fine. It's great to have my best mate on the bag out there today and we're just having a good time."

McIlroy's driving was strong, and his putting was mostly on song, enabling him to make five birdies and a couple of crucial par saves.

"I'm struggling with my wedges a little bit so I'm going to work on them a little bit this afternoon before the storm comes," McIlroy said.

The threat of afternoon storms caused an earlier than scheduled start, and will do so again today.

Open champion Jordan Spieth joined McIlroy in a group on three under - Bubba Watson, John Rahm, Kevin Kisner and Ross Fisher are the others - with world No 1 Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, at two-under par.

Johnson is joined on two under by Adam Scott, Andres Romero, Charley Hoffman, Jimmy Walker and Adam Hadwin.

Spieth has not had much time to celebrate his Claret Jug victory but that can wait.

"Winning an Open, and wanting to take the time to celebrate winning the Open, that's the only downside, but I'm happy to be back in form," he said.

"There's plenty of time to celebrate in the off season. Good start today."

Last year's Masters champion Danny Willett endured a day of struggle, shooting a six-over par 76.

That left the Englishman in joint last place.

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