Rory McIlroy enjoyed a long walk with his putter for the first time in months as he opened his quest for a third Race to Dubai crown in four years with a bogey free 67 in the Turkish Airlines Open.
The former world No 1 has struggled with the putter since returning from is ankle injury in August but after taking just 28 putts and draining a 25-footer at his 12th hole in a five-under-par first round, the Holywood star is right there he wants to be.
South Africa’s Jaco Van Zyl took advantage of placing, soft greens and windless conditions to post an 11 under par 61 for a three-shot lead over world No 46 Lee Westwood, whose 64 was his best round for 14 months.
Race to Dubai leader McIlroy is tied for fourth as playing partners Shane Lowry and Danny Willett, two of his immediate pursuers in the money title race, shot 68 and 69, respectively.
After chipping in for birdie at the par-five 11th, McIlroy had to play left handed out of the trees off a pulled drive at the par-five 18th and eventually holed a 10-footer for par there before picking up birdies at the par-five first, the third, the par-five fourth and the seventh on the way home.
“I thought it was good,” said McIlroy, who came home in four-under 31. “I felt like my game came together a lot more on our back nine, which is the front nine of this course.
“I was sort of trying to find my rhythm a little bit for the first few holes and then I actually made a good par save on 18 which gave me some momentum going into the front nine. I hit a lot of quality shots on the front nine and gave myself a lot of looks and held some putts. I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well in practise and I’ve been putting a bit better. Just a matter of trying to take what I’ve been seeing in practise out on to the course and for the most part today I did that. I said to (my caddie) JP after I holed the putt on three that it was probably the longest putt I’ve holed in about four months. So it was nice to see a few putts go in like that. Definitely gives me some confidence going into the next three days.”
Lowry, who is 550,000 points behind McIlroy at fifth in the Race to Dubai, laid the foundations of a low opening round when he got to six-under-par with three holes to go.
But while the Clara man finished bogey-bogey for a 68, three-putting the eighth (his 17th) before bunkering his approach to the ninth off a poor tee shot, he refused to get upset.
Looking at the four Final Series events as a 16-round tournament, Lowry said: “It was a disappointing finish but it’s grand. I’d have taken four-under at the start of the day. I’m sitting nicely.”
Graeme McDowell also bogeyed the ninth for a two-under 70 and a share of 28th while Michael Hoey is tied 53rd after a 72 and Darren Clarke 72nd after a 75.
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