Rory McIlroy was on Thursday in control of all facets of his game as he charged into the first-round lead with a six-under-par 65 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
McIlroy smashed his drives prodigious distances in the thin Mexico City air and complemented his long game with precise putting in earning a two-shot advantage over Americans Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
“I like this place, like the golf course and have always played well at altitude for whatever reason that is,” the world No. 1 said after capping off his day by sinking a 10-foot birdie.
McIlroy in November last year won the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and victory this week would see him complete the set of all four World Golf Championships.
The Northern Irishman has been in stellar form early in the new season, with a tie for fifth in Los Angeles on Sunday his worst result in four starts.
Accuracy from the tee is crucial at the tree-lined Club de Golf Chapultepec, but McIlroy did not hold back, hitting three drives of more than 365 yards.
However, it was his putting that pleased him most a week after an ill-fated experiment with a 35-inch model that was slightly longer than his usual putter.
“Once I got out there [last week], that inch difference with the putter moves your eyeline and you stop seeing your lines the way you usually do,” McIlroy said.
“I saw the tournament through with it. It didn’t work quite the way I wanted so ... happy to have old faithful back in the bag and it worked well today,” he said.
“It was definitely validation to going back to the putter I’d been using for the last 14 months. If I keep putting like that, I’ll be very happy,” he added.
Nipping at McIlroy’s heels, Thomas and Watson each mixed five birdies with one bogey in shooting 67 as they bounced back from missing the cut last week.
Two-time Masters champion Watson, who enjoyed a round with pop star Justin Bieber last weekend after missing the cut at the Genesis Invitational, had better luck on the greens on Thursday.
At the other end of the field, defending champion Dustin Johnson ran up four bogeys and a double-bogey in a 76 that left him equal 62nd in the 72-man field.
PUERTO RICO OPEN
Kyle Stanley, looking for his first PGA Tour title since 2017, on Thursday fired an eight-under-par 64 to take a two-shot first-round lead in the Puerto Rico Open.
Stanley posted a career-high nine birdies, hitting all 18 greens in regulation and dropping his only shot of the day at the eighth.
He birdied the first three holes — and four of the first five — on the par-72 Coco Beach Golf Course.
He added another four birdies in a row from the ninth through the 12th and picked up one last birdie at the 15th.
“Just kind of caught a hot putter,” Stanley said. “Ball-striking was pretty good and felt like I drove it well, too. Just a pretty solid round of golf.”
It was a welcome turnaround for Stanley, winner of the 2012 Phoenix Open and 2017 Quicken Loans National, who has made just four cuts in 11 starts in this season.
Six players shared second on 66: Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, Sweden’s Henrik Norlander, Australian Rhein Gibson, and Americans Josh Teater and Peter Uihlein.
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