McIlroy shows plenty of fight but Rahm has nightmare start

Rory McIlroy fights a mystery illness, his swing and a brutal course to stay in contention at US PGA Championship… but world No 1 Jon Rahm has a nightmare start as Bryson DeChambeau makes the early running

  • McIlroy struggled early on but recovered to card a a creditable one-over-par 71
  • He finished five shots behind early clubhouse leader Bryson DeChambeau 
  • Masters champion Rahm struggled in the first round and signed for a 76 

He is fighting his swing, a mystery illness and a golf course with no sympathy for those in need. In short, if Rory McIlroy is to get anything out of the season’s second major then it will have to be done the hard way.

That he opened the US PGA Championship with a creditable one-over-par 71 would at least suggest he is in the mood to grind his way to better places.

But that is the best we can say about a first round in which the world No 3 struggled with both his longest club and his shortest. Given his recent habit for changing equipment, the driver and putter might well find themselves in a cobwebbed corner of the garage before long.

For make no mistake, his final tally was considerably better than anything that seemed possible after nine holes, when he stood three over par and trending in all the wrong directions. As with so many of his days in the past 10 weeks, a span featuring missed cuts at the Players Championship and The Masters, he was again wrestling with that dreaded two-way miss off the tee and a succession of bad reads on the greens.

Neither of those components improved much on the inward nine – McIlroy ended up hitting only two out of 14 fairways – but he succeeded in pulling back two shots through pure grit, leaving him only five back of Bryson DeChambeau, the early clubhouse leader. A stroke further back was the unflappable Scottie Scheffler and Corey Conners, and way out at the other extreme were Jon Rahm, the Masters champion, and Matt Fitzpatrick, the world No 7, who were sinking fast at six over.

Rory McIlroy carded a a creditable one-over-par 71 in the first round at US PGA Championship

McIlroy finished five shots behind early clubhouse leader Bryson DeChambeau

In each respect, they served as perspective for McIlroy and proof that one over is far from a poor score at Oak Hill, where the rough is so dense and the fairways so narrow they can break just about any game. In that context, McIlroy knew his numbers looked far nicer than the way they were achieved, though his struggles were such that his mood remained subdued on Thursday night, just as it has been all week. He later disclosed that he has also been under the weather.

‘I’m fighting something,’ he said. ‘I thought I got a great night’s sleep last night, and I look at my Whip (a sleep monitoring device), and I was 22 percent recovery, and my skin temperature was 3.5 degrees higher than what it’s been. I’m fighting something. But I actually feel better today than I felt yesterday, so a bit of rest and I’ll be fine.’

Among the brief highlights of his round was a moment at the second, his 11th of the day, when he was starring at a potential double bogey but saved a par with a 36-foot putt from off the green. That proved to be a catalyst for an improvement of sorts.

McIlroy said: ‘I’m just not at my best. I’m just struggling with my swing, so yeah, it’s pretty messy out there. I’m just trying to make pars.

‘The second hole was massive for me. Depending on what happens over the next three days and what I go on to do, you know, I may look back at that shot as being the sort of turning point of the week.’

From there, McIlroy retreated to the driving range to fix the glaring shortcoming in his arsenal, thus extending what had already been a long day. He was due to tee off on the 10th at 8am locally but thick frost delayed play by almost two hours.

When he did get going, he was initially steady with five straight pars, but dropped three shots in four holes from the 15th. His slices to the right on 17 and 18 made for particularly grim viewing. 

The recovery started at two, where he had yanked his drive left, botched a pitch through the green with his third and then nailed a putt from an unpleasant place. 

Masters champion Jon Rahm struggled in the first round and signed for a six-over 76

He carded back-to-back birdies from the third – his first of the day – before giving a stroke back with a missed four-footer at five. He added gloss to the score with a third birdie at eight.

To contrast his struggles, look no further than Scheffler. He never looks so spectacular as McIlroy, but an absence of frills is matched by an absence of calamity. His three-under 70 was exceptional, not least it featured not a single bogey.

DeChambeau was even better, which is surprising given how poor his form has been on LIV. Having lost a drastic amount of weight in the past year, he is almost unrecognisable now, but his loop of 66 chimed back to a time when he was briefly threatening to take over the game with his huge hitting. Somehow that power has survived his scaling down process.

The frost meant a number of later starters, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, had little chance of finishing before sunset.

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