Only four shots behind early leader Spencer Levin, he matched playing partner and world No 1 Luke Donald while Tiger Woods carded a two-under 70. Annoyed that he was poorly prepared for the BMW PGA at Wentworth last week and missed his second successive cut, the 23-year old not only showed he can grind out a score when things go wrong but proved that the hard work he has done on his game since then is starting to pay off.
“It wasn’t the start that I wanted to get off to, being four-over through three holes, especially after the last few weeks,” said McIlroy, who was delighted to take just 25 putts yesterday. “I was just like, here we go again. But I hung in there well and I’m proud of myself for the way I fought back.”
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy was forced to hole a 25-footer for a bogey at the par-five 11th but then made a seven at the 184-yard 12th, when he found sand behind the green, came out too strong into the water and then took four more to get down.
His response was impressive, however, as he played the next 15 holes in five under par, with the highlights a chip-in eagle three from 50 feet at his 12th.
Criticised at Wentworth for club-throwing, lack of effort and neglecting his game in favour of girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, he said: “If I’d missed two cuts in a row a couple years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid, but nowadays it’s a little different.”