Rory rights the ship on second nine
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

For the second week in a row, Rory McIlroy got off to another rough start in the first round at the Cadillac Championship. McIlroy, who started on no. 10, made a couple of mistakes that led to a four-over 40 on his first nine. However, he was able to turn it around during a stretch on the second nine to keep the damage under control and post a one-over 73, which wasn’t too terrible on a difficult, windy day at Trump National Doral.

Similar to last week at the Honda Classic, where he missed the cut, McIlroy didn’t feel like himself on the first nine. Things weren’t going his way, so he figured he could start playing more aggressively since he didn’t have anything to lose.

“Just another day where I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts,” said the world no. 1. “Just couldn’t really get anything going again. Still felt a little bit tentative out there on the front nine, and then being 4-over after the turn, I was sort of like, there’s not much else to lose, go ahead and try and be aggressive. Hit some better shots on the way in, and it looks like something around even par isn’t going to be that bad today.

“Yeah, it was important to make some birdies on the way in and obviously that eagle helped, as well. I’ll do a little bit of work this evening on the swing and then get at it tomorrow and hopefully get off to a better start.”

Again, much like last week at PGA National, Rory hasn’t managed to translate his fine work on the range and in practice into competition. While he seemed dejected after the opening round, he also appeared a little annoyed with the results.

“It is very good on the range and it is very good in normal play when I’m not playing a tournament,” said McIlroy. “Then I’ve got a card in my hand the last couple weeks and it just hasn’t quite been there.

“Like I said, it’s nice you can get four rounds this week and sort of try to play your way into some sort of rhythm. I don’t feel like it’s that far away. That’s the frustrating thing. I feel like there’s stretches of holes like on that front nine where three birdies and an eagle in the space of five holes; I know that it’s in there.”

McIlroy, who hit 11 of 18 greens in regulation, couldn’t seem to convert to save par when he missed the putting surface.

“I was a little wasteful around the greens,” said Rory. “Seemed like every green I missed today, I wasn’t able to get up-and-down and that’s not going to help either.”

On the tough par-4 18th, McIlroy’s approach shot found the water guarding the left side of the green.

“I was sort of caught in between shots,” he said. “I had a 7-iron and I felt like the wind was into off the right. I had a 7-iron and I felt like the wind was into off the right. I was trying to sort of hold it up against the wind but I felt like the wind was quite strong, and if I didn’t get enough on it, it could come up short. So sort of trapped it a little bit than I wanted to, squared up the club face and it went left”

With the exception of a bogey on the last hole, McIlroy was pleased he was able to turn it around and shoot a three-under 33 on the front nine.

“To be 4-over through nine, 4-over through 12, actually, and get back to have a chance to shoot something around even par, bogeyed the last, but felt like a good bogey in the end,” he said. So make a bit of a comeback like that was nice.

Despite his rough start, McIlroy continued to insist that he’s close to putting all parts of his game together to score and post a solid round. It’s not his confidence, per se, either.

“It’s tentativeness,” he explained. “I mean, four rounds ago, I was winning a golf tournament. It shouldn’t be confidence. I’ve played well already this year.

“But I guess just finding my own little groove to try and get back in, that’s something that I was  only played two rounds last week. As I said, I’ve got four this week but feel like it’s very close. It’s close to where I could go out tomorrow and shoot a low number and get myself back in the tournament.”

McIlroy made his 2015 debut on the European Tour’s Middle East swing. In his first start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he placed second, and then the following week at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, he snagged a victory. After that successful stretch, he took a three-week break from competitive golf and has struggled to get his groove back.

While Rory understands the high standards expected from him as the no. 1 player in the world, he also demands a lot from himself. He emphasized that everyone, including himself, should keep calm, though — no need to fire up a flare for help.

“It’s obviously not what I wanted,” he said. “But no reason to panic and no reason to be alarmed. Just go out tomorrow and put some red numbers on the board and try and get myself back in it.”

However, McIlroy has quite a bit of work ahead of him in the next three rounds if he’s going to catch the first-round leader J.B. Holmes, who (somehow) fired a 10-under 62 in tough conditions. The rumblings around Doral echoed what many of us were thinking: Which golf course was he playing? The Red Course? I don’t think anyone saw that score out there as the Blue Monster certainly showed her teeth on Thursday.

“Apparently the same one I guess,” said Holmes when asked which course he was playing in jest. “I hit a lot of good shots today, and pretty much on every hole I put the ball below the hole where I had a chance to make a putt.

“Even out here, it’s tough to make some putts, and if you can get below the hole, you have a better chance. Even if it’s 25 feet, you have a better chance of making that than a 10- or 15-footer downhill. Was able to hit the shots where I envisioned and hit good shots, and today the putter was on. Made a lot of putts. Put that combination together, you do everything pretty good, you’re going to shoot a good score.”

Holmes, who tied the lowest score ever posted in an opening round at a PGA Tour event at Doral, acknowledged the tough test that the “new and improved” Blue Monster track presents.

“I played great today but it is a very difficult golf course, and today a lot of tees were up,” he said. “They could definitely put the tees back and make it play a lot harder, and it’s already playing hard. The best players in the world are here, and the average is over par today, already tells you how hard the golf course is, and they had a lot of tees up.”

While Holmes was pleased with his play, he’s not expecting to post an even lower score tomorrow — but he certainly has a tough act to follow in the second round.

“I thought 10-under was out there but I just don’t think 11 is,” said Holmes, laughing. “It’s too difficult. It’s just a tough golf course, so if I go out and shoot even or 1-under tomorrow, that would be a good round. It’s tough. It’s hard to back these days up. So I’ll just try to go out there with no expectations tomorrow and play.

“Expectations usually kill, so if I think I’m going to go out and shoot ten tomorrow; could happen, but the percentages are extremely low. So just go out there and try to do what I did today, try to have a good time and if it bounces my way, it does.”

Meanwhile, Adam Scott, who put a conventional-length putter into play for the first time since 2011, had a solid day in his first competitive round of 2015. Scott posted a two-under 70 and looked confident on the greens.

“It was good,” said Scott, referring to going back to the short putter. “Look, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m pleased with how I putted and I said yesterday that it really isn’t that big a deal. It just takes a little while to adjust and change a couple muscle memory things that happened in different styles of putting.

“Yeah, a couple of the longer ones today weren’t quite perfect. But there was nothing bad at all in there. It was good and I made a lot of putts, to be fair.”

Scott did indeed putt well — he’s ranked 4th in the strokes gained putting stat. He compared the switch to his previous change from the conventional-length putter to the long putter.

“Felt a little like when I switched to the longer putter, it was a really different, fresh feel and so is this,” he said. “I’m not doing things exactly the same as I did them before. It’s been feeling really good I’m trying not to clutter my head with too much thought.”