Rory McIlroy closes in on the lead after opening round 66 at the Tour Championship
Rory McIlroy is confident he will be right in the mix come the final day of the PGA Tour season on Sunday after an opening round 66 at the Tour Championship.
Under the controversial new handicapping system for the FedEx Cup's final event of the season, McIlroy started five shots behind FedEx Cup leader Justin Thomas, who began the tournament at ten under par.
However, after only one round, the world number three is within one shot of the lead as Thomas saw his two-stroke lead wiped out.
While Thomas struggled to a level-par 70, getting back to 10 under with a birdie at the last, Xander Schauffele, who started six shots back, and ominously current world number one Brooks Koepka, who began with a three-shot deficit, were in much better form with rounds of 64 and 67 respectively.
Rory McIlroy would have joined the three-way tie at the top had he not raced his eight-foot birdie attempt a similar distance past the hole on the last but he signed for a four-under 66 to move to nine under.
Three birdies in his final six holes, having had one bogey sandwiched by two birdies on the front nine, left the Holywood satisfied.
"I got off to a decent start. It is so tough to shoot a score around here if you don't hit it in the fairway," he told Sky Sports.
"To play the back nine in three under and get in with a decent score is very nice. I would have liked to have birdied the last but I'm right there with three rounds to go. If I can replicate this round of golf three more times I think I'll have a good chance."
Koepka, the reigning US PGA champion, also fancies his chances of winning the USD 15million (£12.3m) first prize.
Bogeys either side of the turn appeared to have halted his momentum after picking up two strokes in his opening five holes but three birdies in his last four saw him catch Thomas.
"Tied for the lead is nice. There is opportunity," the American said.
One behind McIlroy is Matt Kuchar, who also shot 66, and Patrick Cantlay, who began the tournament at -8 and could only card a level par 70.
Belfast Telegraph Digital