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Rory McIlroy happy with his game after getting into the mix in the FedEx Cup play-offs

 

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy carded a six-under-par 65 in the opening round of The Northern Trust as Tiger Woods struggled to a 75 in the first FedEx Cup play-off event.

McIlroy recovered from a bogey on the 10th, his first hole of the day, to record an eagle and five birdies at Liberty National and lie three shots off the clubhouse lead held by American Troy Merritt.

Merritt's flawless 62 gave him a one-shot lead over former World No.1 Dustin Johnson, who also kept a bogey off his card in his 63, with Kevin Kisner and Spain's Jon Rahm a stroke further back on seven under.

"I played well," Ulsterman McIlroy said. "It was a little bit of a scrappy finish, I had to get up and down twice (for par on the eighth and ninth), but I played better.

"I hit some better iron shots today than I saw all week in Memphis, hit some nice little left-to-right shots that I didn't have a couple of weeks ago and I drove it well, so if I continue to drive it well around here hopefully I'll give myself plenty of chances to make birdies."

McIlroy began the week second in the FedEx Cup standings and played the opening round alongside leader Brooks Koepka and third-placed Matt Kuchar.

The 30-year-old won the overall FedEx Cup title and $10m bonus in 2016 and would love to repeat the feat this season, especially with the first prize increased to a staggering $15m.

"I really like the play-offs," McIlroy added. "Brooks and Kuch and I were playing together today and that could be the same thing next week depending where we end up in the standings after this week.

"I like that you have that intensity from the start.

"It was cool to play with those guys and I have another day with them tomorrow, sort of keep an eye on what they're doing and try to play another good round."

The top 70 players in the FedEx Cup after this week advance to the BMW Championship and the top 30 after Medinah qualify for the Tour Championship, but Woods is projected to fall from 28th to 35th in the standings after his error-strewn 75.

The Masters champion carded three birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey, but at least did not look to be struggling with the stiff back which forced him to play a limited role in Wednesday's pre-tournament Pro-Am.

It is nearly four months since Woods won The Masters to record his 15th Major title, 11 years after his previous victory.

But in an interview with CBS on the eve of the tournament, he opened up on what it meant to have his children, daughter Sam (12) and 10-year-old son Charlie there waiting for him as he came off the 18th green at Augusta.

"I just wanted them to understand what daddy does, that he is not that YouTube golfer," said Woods. "They see highlights of that guy, but I'm not that guy. I can still do it. For them to see it, feel it and feel the electricity of the crowd was awesome.

"To see Charlie first, then my mum and to hug Sam, it gives me chills just thinking about it."

Meanwhile, Holland's Anne van Dam made the ideal start to her bid to seal a Solheim Cup debut with a brilliant opening round in the ASI Ladies Scottish Open.

Van Dam carded two eagles and seven birdies in an eight-under-par 63 at The Renaissance Club to share the lead with American Jane Park and Korea's Lee Mi-hyang, the 2017 champion.

The eight qualifiers for Europe's Solheim Cup team will be decided on Sunday, five from the world rankings and three from points earned during the qualifying period.

Van Dam began the week in the last of those three places and under threat from up to a dozen players but was determined to make a statement with her opening round in an event co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and LPGA Tour.

"Yeah, I think I did that," the 23-year-old said. "It's a big week, final week of the points, but I've got bigger things than that. For me it's important to keep playing well on the LPGA.

"I kind of need my points there and I'm just looking forward to playing a solid week."

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