It was nothing like the ‘crap’ he finished playing at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas last Sunday, but Rory McIlroy still needed a 30ft birdie putt for a one-over start to the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head today.
McIlroy signed for a 72, recovering from a poor opening nine with birdies on the par 5 fifth (his 14th), and his final hole (No 9). He hit 10 of 18 greens in regulation but finds himself eight shots back of his Ryder Cup compadre Ian Poulter, who leads the tournament at 7 under.
“I’m missing my three wood left and my driver right,” said a rueful McIlroy afterwards. “If you are in two minds off the tee here – if you get a little bit ‘guidey’ – it can bite you. I didn’t get it in play enough to be making birdies so it was a little bit of a struggle.
“I wasn’t particularly comfortable. I was here before in 2009 and remember not being that comfortable then in terms of trying to picking lines and commit to shots.” Sebastián Muñoz is in second place at 6 under; and Erik van Rooyen, Ernie Els, Mark Hubbard, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth, and Matthew Smith are tied for third at -5.
Shane Lowry begun his opening round from the 10th at just after 6pm Irish time.
The PGA Tour pros are slowly acclimatising to their second week of the new normal. Having called out some of his erstwhile colleagues on the European Tour for not sucking up the 14-day quarantine rule in order to rejoin the stateside tour, McIlroy said having no fans to root for the players isn’t all bad.
“It's quiet. (But) you can get from A to B and not get stopped 20 times. Look, we all miss the fans, and the fans make the atmosphere, but at the same time, it's sort of nice to be able to just go about your business and not have to worry about something that should take five minutes, having to give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to do just because of just getting from A to B. You know what it's like at tournaments and stuff.” He reckons that anyone who is serious about golfing should be willing to face the quarantine.
“Look, personally, if I were in their shoes and I was asked to come over to the States and shelter in place or quarantine for two weeks before these tournaments, I would have done that because we've got -- if you really care about your career and care about moving forward, you should be here, I think. Last week was 70 World Ranking points for the winner, this week 74.
“And I get there's different variables and families and stuff involved, but we all have the means to rent a very nice house in a gated community in Florida and -- you know, it's not a hardship for two weeks to come over and quarantine. My caddie Harry came over and did it. He stayed in our guest house. The two weeks flew by.” Of particular interest to players this week at the RBC Heritage, which is usually one of the circuit’s most laidback events, is the absence of families. Renting condos on the ocean and enjoying “family week” is one of the Heritage’s greatest draws.
“Not having family here and being able to watch. I mean, my wife is a very dedicated, loyal watcher of golf for me over the past few years,” Wesley Bryan said. “Not having her here is going to be a little bit odd.”