McIlroy must up his game to mount a Major challenge
For a start that promised so much, Rory McIlroy faltered after the turn at Quail Hollow in the opening round of the US PGA Championship last night. This year's final Major was the one that was meant to be Rory's comeback, coming into the tournament off the back of two encouraging results at The Open and the WGC-Bridgestone.
That's not to mention his love for Quail Hollow either, a course where he has had success on two occasions at the Wells Fargo Championship, in 2010 and 2015.
And for a while it looked like all the pieces of the jigsaw were going to fall nicely into place: McIlroy - new caddie Harry Diamond again on the bag - turned in one-under par and promptly subtracted another shot from his score with a simple birdie on the par-five 10th.
At two-under, and seemingly on the charge, McIlroy was looking up at overnight leader Thorbjorn Olesen (-4) and licking his lips at hunting him down.
It was an aggressive opening 10 holes from the Ulsterman, who was putting on another driving masterclass, pummelling shots down the fairway with ease, regularly clearing the 300 yard mark.
The first birdie came at the third, an overhit approach shot a mistake, but his delightful bump-and-run chip from the back of the green a stroke of genius as it lipped into the hole.
The momentum then stalled. Bogeys followed at the fourth and the sixth, both par threes, but the seventh and eighth yielded back-to-back birdies to put McIlroy back in red figures.
By the time he tapped in for birdie at the 10th, it appeared that a low score was on the cards for the World No.4. And yet the desired chase never materialised.
His apparent Achilles heel of par threes came back to bite him again, the 13th claiming another shot back off him, before things really unravelled on the 14th.
On the scorecard it's a relatively simple par four: at 344 yards it's drivable for players such as McIlroy.
The Ulsterman tried to do just that, only to hook his drive into the water beside the green. His chip, after taking a drop, barely made the putting surface, and he proceeded to three putt from long distance for an ugly double-bogey six.
Birdie chances, although not great ones, passed him by at the 16th, 17th and 18th, leaving McIlroy having to sign for a frustrating one-over round of 72.
It was still enough to make him the leading Irishman, however, with the rest of his fellow countrymen not faring much better around the testing fairways of Quail Hollow.
Shane Lowry (+3) and Padraig Harrington (+8) both had difficult days, with Lowry increasingly frustrated when put on the clock by a rules official.
Instead, the day belonged to Dane Olesen, who produced a fine round of 67 to hold the solo lead overnight, dropping just two shots in his round of four-under.
The World No.78 has a one stroke lead over a large chasing pack, including the imposing figure of US Open champion Brooks Koepka.
Jordan Spieth, in his pursuit of that esteemed fourth Major, and therefore a career Grand Slam at the age of just 24, finished alongside McIlroy at one-over.
"Historically I'm pretty solid with the lead so that was kind of the goal," Spieth said. "It's much easier when you are on the front page of the leaderboard than it is coming from behind.
"Given it's the first round I know I'm still in it, but I know that tomorrow's round becomes that much more important to work my way and stay in it. I've got to make up ground.
"If I'm five back at the start of the day, I've got to be less than five back after Friday to really feel like I can play the way this golf course needs to be played and still be able to win."