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Rory McIlroy rejects 'silly' calls to abandon Travelers Championship after carding seven under par opening round

 

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Rory McIlroy put on a stunning tee-to-green display at TPC River Highlands.

Rory McIlroy put on a stunning tee-to-green display at TPC River Highlands.

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Rory McIlroy put on a stunning tee-to-green display at TPC River Highlands.

Rory McIlroy says it would have been 'silly' to call off this week's Travelers Championship after shooting a seven under par opening round 63 to fire himself into contention.

The world number one backed the PGA Tour's decision to continue with the restarted season despite three positive Covid-19 tests ahead of this week's event, including Brooks Koepka's Portrush native caddie Rickie Elliott and Graeme McDowell's bagman Kenny Comboy.

There had also been five player withdrawals in the build-up to the tournament, while the USA registered 36,880 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a record high since the pandemic began.

However, McIlroy said the Tour's return was going 'really well', pointing to just seven positive tests across the opening three weeks on the main tour as well as the development Korn Ferry Tour.

"I saw a couple of calls to shut the tournament down, which is silly from my point of view," said McIlroy after he put on an exhibition in tee-to-green golf in his first round.

"There have been almost 3,000 tests administered. The percentage of positive tests is a quarter of a percent.

"I think as a whole, it's been going really well. There are a couple of loose ends that we needed to tidy up, and I think we've done that."

The world number one left the course tied with Mackenzie Hughes at the top of the leaderboard, although the Canadian would go on to take the solo lead after the morning starters with a stunning 10 under par 60.

For McIlroy, it could, and should, have been even better too.

Over the course of his round, the Holywood star missed just two greens in regulation.

From there, while he made enough putts to reach seven under, McIlroy also missed eight makeable putts within 16 feet, including two from seven feet.

"I have to keep reminding myself it's a 72-hole golf tournament and there are plenty of chances throughout the week to make birdies," he said. "Even after the first few holes where I had chances and the didn't quite convert, you just have to keep telling yourself there are so many more chances coming up."

McIlroy’s impressive record at hitting greens was even better than it seems as he also set up two eagle putts on his opening nine, having begun his round on the 10th.

One of those eagle attempts would drop, at the par five 13th, McIlroy’s fourth hole of the day, his stunning 216 yard approach over the pond rewarded by his second longest successful putt of the day at just under 11 feet.

It was to kick-start a fruitful run as McIlroy backed it up with back-to-back birdies, a neat 105 yard up and down at the 14th followed by an unleashed tee-shot onto the short 300 yard par four 15th, hit with a new three-wood only put into his bad the night before.

A missed green at the par three 16th resulted in a disappointing bogey four but after the turn, McIlroy would soon make amends with four shots picked up on a bogey-free back nine.

A stitched wedge approach at the second, Rory’s 11th, set up a kick-in birdie and when an impressive 15 footer dropped two holes later, he was tied at the top of the leaderboard.

A fine up-and-down from the front bunker at the par five sixth put McIlroy to six under for the day and it was matched at the last, when another clinical wedge set up a final birdie to see the world's top golfer finish seven under and well in contention.

There was also a low score for Open champion Shane Lowry, who carded a four under par 66. Playing in the group behind McIlroy, Lowry turned at two under after making the most of the reachable par five and driveable par four.

Impressive approach shots set up back-to-back birdies at the second and third before Lowry birdied the only other par five on the course before slipping back with a three-put bogey on his penultimate hole of the day.

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Phil Mickelson (right) leads at the Travelers Championship, but Rory McIlroy is in the hunt

Phil Mickelson (right) leads at the Travelers Championship, but Rory McIlroy is in the hunt

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Phil Mickelson (right) leads at the Travelers Championship, but Rory McIlroy is in the hunt

 

Playing alongside McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau finished five under par with five birdies in a blemish-free round and 50-year-old Phil Mickelson put himself right in contention with a six under 64.

“Phil has a deep appreciation for his place in the game and the game of golf itself,” added McIlroy. “Can I see myself out here at 50? It's 20 years down the line, but I'd like to think that I would still have the love for the game that Phil has at that age.”

Belfast Telegraph