Four years. It’s the term of the American presidency, the typical length of time to earn a college undergraduate degree and the timespan since Rory McIlroy last won a major.
McIlroy, the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship winner, opened with a steady round of even-par 70 at Bellerive Country Club, leaving him five strokes off the pace set early by American Rickie Fowler.
“It wasn’t that easy out there,” said McIlroy, who is seeking his fifth major title. “The scores sort of reflect that. Obviously, Rickie is at five. A few guys are at three. I wish I could have taken advantage of the two par 5s. I gave myself a few chances. I finished the round off with nine pars, and it could have been a little better.”
Starting on No 10, McIlroy made a bogey, but bounced back with two birdies in the next three holes. He made a bogey at 18 and proceeded to par his way home. McIlroy wore two Stamina Pro anti-inflammatory patches on his right arm for the first time after feeling tightness in his forearm last weekend.
“I hit a lot of balls last week at Firestone working on a few things, and it’s just a little inflamed and a little tight, but it’s fine,” McIlroy said.
He said it doesn’t affect him on the full shots, but rather when he’s chipping, and cited the seventh hole as one instance when it bothered him.
Perhaps the most telling comment of just how McIlroy felt about his opening-round performance at the 100th PGA Championship was his response to being asked to name his best shot of the day.
“I don’t think I had one,” he said. “I don’t know. They were all OK.”
McIlroy finished shooting the same score as Tiger Woods, who took a more adventurous route to his round of 70.
Much like at the US Open in June, Woods started slowly, carding a bogey and a double bogey in his first two holes and still stood at three over before reeling off three birdies in his final 11 holes.
“I was able to grind out a score today,” Woods said.
It kept me in the golf tournament. I could have easily gone the other way, being three over through two. A lot of things could happen. Not a lot of them were positive, but I hung in there and turned it around.
In his best imitation of Superman, Woods stepped into a portable toilet rather than a telephone booth a la Clark Kent and changed his shirt on the 12th tee.
“Normally I change before the round,” Woods explained. “There wasn’t a place to change on the 10th tee. So I waited until we had a little port-a-John there.”
The best start for the Irishmen in the field was turned in by Shane Lowry, who was full of smiles after shooting one-under 69.
“Yeah, I’m happy,” Lowry said. “It felt really easy, but looking at the scoreboard now and again, guys are only two or three under par, and normally there should be guys, five or six under, but the pins are on a lot of knobs and slopes, and they were tricky.”
A week ago, Lowry hired his brother, Alan, to caddie for him as he tries to climb into the Top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list and qualify for the playoffs. Considering that this may be the only major with his brother on the bag, Lowry flew his father to the US to watch his boys do battle and his old man had to like what he saw.
Lowry hit 16 greens and carded three birdies on the round, none more gratifying than the nine-footer he made at the sixth hole.
“I had 221 and hit a hit cut four-iron straight down the flag. It was one of those ones you don’t have to talk to it,” he said. “So to hit the shot and then go up and knock it in was nice.”
Pádraig Harrington, on the other hand, had a frightful day on the putting green. He took 32 putts en route to shooting one-over 71.
“I must have missed half a dozen short putts; that’s a lot,” Harrington said.
Those greens are lovely for holing putts, the ball sticks to the grass nicely. I just hit a few bad putts and hit a few good ones that didn’t go in and you are in a lot of doubt. It is hard to get it in the hole at that stage.
Paul Dunne struggled with his tee to green game, hitting only nine greens. His putter saved him most of the round — he ranked second in ‘strokes gained putting’ — but bogeys on his final two holes added up to a three-over 73.
Harrington, who lost nearly three strokes to the field on the greens, blamed his problems on his inability to adjust to the change in pace from playing on slower greens in Europe for the last month, and said he was heading to practice his putting.
McIlroy chose to conserve his energy and rest his ailing forearm after another muggy, draining day. And what about Lowry, you ask?
“Are you mad?” he said, with a laugh. “No. I have had an early alarm call every day this week, so I am going to go back and relax.”