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Tour Championship: Rory McIlroy looks in great shape to earn fistful of dollars

By Robert Jones

Rory McIlroy's bid to secure a payday of 11.5million US dollars remains on course after an impressive first round in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

With only the top five at East Lake in full control of their own destiny, sixth-placed McIlroy knew he had to win the final event of the PGA Tour season and see other results go his way to claim the overall FedEx Cup title and $10million bonus.

McIlroy, who is the only member of Europe's Ryder Cup team competing in the 30-man event, got off to a bumpy start, but he regained his composure and shot a two under par round, leaving him within striking distance of pacesetters Kevin Chappell, Hideki Matsuyama and FedEx Cup leader Dustin Johnson.

Chappell, Matsuyama and Johnson are on four under par after shooting 66.

It was a rollercoaster opening round for the Holywood ace and he had to recover from a nightmare start.

After recovering from three-putting the first hole with three birdies in succession from the third, the four-time major winner then double-bogeyed the seventh and eighth to fall down the leaderboard.

McIlroy hit a poor chip to the seventh and compounded the mistake with another three-putt, before finding water with his approach to the next.

A two-over-par front nine of 37 left the 27-year-old six shots off the early lead being shared by Kevin Kisner and Chappell, but also five behind FedEx Cup leader Johnson.

Even if Johnson were to finish second outright, it would be enough to end McIlroy's FedEx Cup chances.

The US Open champion, who won the BMW Championship a fortnight ago, is looking good on four under par. McIlroy's adventures continued on the back nine as he carded four birdies in a row from the 12th. At two under par he closed in on the leaders who will now be nervously looking over their shoulders.

Another Ulsterman, Michael Hoey, was also in superb form yesterday.

Hoey boosted his hopes of mounting a late bid to hold on to his European Tour card as an opening four-under-par 67 left him four off the pace at the European Open.

Five-time European Tour winner Hoey is 183rd in the Race to Dubai, over €156,000 outside the 110th spot which will secure a card for 2017.

A top-two finish in Germany would secure Hoey's 2017 tour card, but he is four behind leader Bernd Wiesberger who shot a superb 63. Padraig Harrington carded a level-par 71 while Ruaidhri McGee, on a rare European Tour start, was two under after nine, with Paul Dunne, currently 107th in the order of merit, one under after six.

Hoey has missed 16 cuts in 23 European Tour events this year with his only top-10 finish coming when he reached the last 16 at the Paul Lawrie Match Play event in Scotland.

Starting on the back nine he carded birdies on 10, 16 and 17 before making an eagle on the first. He followed that up with his only bogey of the round on the second for a 67 to lie on four under.

After round one of the Irish PGA Championship at Moyvalley Hotel and Golf Resort, Simon Thornton is three shots clear of the field. The 39-year-old from Newcastle, struggling with a foot injury, limped around the Twin Oaks Championship Course yesterday but still managed to produce the best score of the day - a seven under par 65.

"In some ways it makes things easier. I can only swing the club one way at the moment so it takes away a lot of options," said Thornton, who collected seven birdies and an eagle in his round with two bogeys coming at the fourth and 11th.

"That was a good score today. I probably only hit two shots where I didn't want them to go.

"It suited me today. There was a bit of a breeze which I enjoy."

The reiging Order of Merit champion Eamonn Brady (Clontarf Golf Club) is in second place on four under par alongside Keith Shannon, who was left to rue a double-bogey at the 18th.

"I found the water twice. Even a bogey wouldn't have been so bad," said the 28-year-old from Forkhill in Co Armagh who started his round with a bogey but then added five birdies and eagle. He added: "I'm pretty happy, it's a good start."

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