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'It was a good battle back': Rory McIlroy endures nightmare start but finishes under par in first round of Phoenix Open


Battling back: Rory McIlroy tees off on his way to a birdie at the 13th at TPC Scottsdale

Battling back: Rory McIlroy tees off on his way to a birdie at the 13th at TPC Scottsdale

Battling back: Rory McIlroy tees off on his way to a birdie at the 13th at TPC Scottsdale

Rory McIlroy bounced back from a nightmare start but failed to break 70 on his debut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The world number six bombed a 340-yard drive into the desert and started with a double-bogey six after finding a bunker with his third and then thinning his recovery into more sand.

It came just 24 hours after he declared that efforts by the R&A and USGA to curb driving-distance gains were “a huge waste of time and money”.

McIlroy dropped another shot at the 11th, where his 310-yard drive finished up behind a tree. However, he birdied the 13th, 15th and the iconic 16th (where he chipped in), then made further birdies at the second and third before dropping a shot at the eighth en route to a one-under 70.

“It was a good battle back,” said McIlroy, who added that the ambition of the USGA’s Mike Davis to protect the game for the next 100 years “reeks of self-importance”.

“I was really surprised how far my tee shot went on 10 to get into the desert there. It was like a 340 run-out. I had no idea I could hit 340 in that temperature.

“Being three-over through two isn’t ideal, especially on this course where you need to make birdies. But I fought back well. I wish I didn’t drop that shot coming in on the eighth hole, but shooting under par after the start wasn’t bad.”

He was seven behind Matthew NeSmith and Mark Hubbard, who shot eight-under 63 to lead by a shot in the clubhouse from Nate Lashley and Sam Burns, with Pádraig Harrington a late starter.

McIlroy’s comments on the distance debate reached the R&A, who said in a statement they “welcome the contributions from players and others involved in the sport and will take them into consideration as we move forward on this important subject”.

Meanwhile, on the European Tour, Graeme McDowell opened the defence of his Saudi International crown with a level-par 70 in King Abdullah Economic City.

The Rathmore man carded four birdies, and at one point was at two-under, but a late double bogey and a further bogey left him needing a birdie on his final hole to finish even for the day in the tough afternoon conditions in Saudi Arabia.

McDowell, who held off World No.1 Dustin Johnson to win this event last year, is nine shots off England's David Horsey, who holds a one-stroke lead after taking advantage of the easier morning weather to shoot a nine-under 61.

McDowell fell foul of the windy conditions which didn't plague the early starters and, after picking up a birdie at the fourth, he dropped a shot at the ninth to turn in level-par.

Back-to-back birdies followed at the 10th and 12th, but he double bogeyed the 13th and then dropped another shot at the 15th to fall one-over, but he rescued his round with a birdie on 18.

Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin, playing his first tournament of the year, needed two late birdies to also start the event with a level-par 70 in Saudi Arabia in an up-and-down round.

Open champion Shane Lowry is at level-par alongside the Northern Irish pair after a fairly uneventful first round, mixing just one birdie at the 15th with one bogey at the second, while Paul Dunne had a quadruple bogey on his way to a three-over 73.

Meanwhile, Horsey leads the way after shooting seven birdies on his back nine to flirt with a 59 but, needing an eagle down the last to break 60, he settled for a par to sign for a nine-under 61 to lead by one from Scotland's Stephen Gallacher.

Austria's Bernd Wiesberger is at six-under and a five-strong group which includes big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau is a shot further back at five-under.

Johnson opened with a three-under 67, as did England's Tyrrell Hatton and Lee Westwood and France's Victor Perez, with Patrick Reed - who won last week's Farmers Insurance Open - at one-under.

A host of talented players are at two-under-par, including Phil Mickelson, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau and Tommy Fleetwood, while Paul Casey, who won last week in Dubai, is at level-par.

Belfast Telegraph

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