Rory McIlroy has contended in his first appearance every year dating back to 2014, and he seems primed for another strong performance based on the evidence of his first round at the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday.
Using a new driver that he put into play overnight after hitting some poor shots during Wednesday's pro-am, McIlroy smoked his first drive down the fairway and did not miss a beat in shooting a five-under-par 67 on the North Course at Torrey Pines.
Caught numerous birdies
Averaging his usual 300-plus yards with his longest club, he hit 11 of 14 fairways and set himself up with numerous birdie chances, seven of which he converted. He was more than satisfied in his first competitive hitout after a two-month break.
"I think for first-round back of the new year, it went pretty well," said the 30-year-old Northern Irishman. "Drove the ball particularly well today. Hit some decent iron shots. I hit some good putts that didn't go in, but overall it was a nice start."
McIlroy, who trailed leaders Keegan Bradley and Sebastian Cappelen by one stroke, explained why he had changed drivers so close to the starting gun. "That driver went in my bag at about 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon," he said. "I didn't drive the ball particularly well in the pro-am, so I worked with the TaylorMade guys yesterday on the range and we figured a couple of things out."
One victory away from dethroning Brooks Koepka
McIlroy can overtake Brooks Koepka for the world number one ranking with a victory this week. He has finished no worse than fourth in his yearly debut stretching back to 2014, albeit without lifting the trophy.
"You hope to see some good stuff in practice and then hopefully those good things you see translate onto the golf course and into some decent scores," he said. "I guess it was nice today that it did translate. The stuff that I have been seeing at home and in practice, I was able to continue that out onto the golf course."