ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After blasting a chip shot out of the rough and over the No. 2 green at Oak Hill Country Club on Thursday, Rory McIlroy was still about 37 feet from the hole and in danger of slipping to 4-over in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
Instead of chipping up the tight apron of the green, McIlroy pulled out his putter. His ball rolled up the green and fell in the hole for a par save.
“It was massive,” McIlroy said. “I was staring, sort of just hoping to get down in two and make bogey, and go to the third hole at 4-over par.”
McIlroy, the third-ranked player in the world, carded birdies on each of the next two holes. On the par-3, 209-yard third hole, McIlroy hit his tee shot to about 2 feet and made an easy birdie. On the par-5, 617-yard fourth, he knocked his second shot from 259 yards onto the green and two-putted for another birdie.
“When you walk off the green 3-over and then you hit a tee shot like that on [No. 3], and all of a sudden the pendulum swings or momentum goes the other way, and all of a sudden you make a couple of birdies in a row, and you feel like you’re sort of right back in the tournament,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy posted a 1-over 71 and was 5 strokes behind the leaders when he finished his round. After carding bogeys on three of the last four holes on the back nine — his first nine holes — he had just one bogey with three birdies on the front.
“I feel a bit better than if I got off to a good start and made a couple of bogeys on the way in,” McIlroy said. “I guess, if anything, I started to see a couple of better golf shots coming down the last few holes. Hit that good 6-iron into the third hole and two great shots into 4. Good iron shot into 6. Nice wedge shot into 8. There [were] a couple of glimmers of hope in there coming in.”
With the way McIlroy hit the ball in his first 18 holes, he knows his score could have been much worse. He continued to struggle with his accuracy off the tee, hitting only 2 of 14 fairways.
McIlroy acknowledged earlier this week that he had received tips from Tiger Woods on how to fix a dreaded “two-way miss” off the tee, which is one of the reasons he missed the cut at the Masters in April. McIlroy hit six tee shots into the rough on the left side and six more on the right on Thursday.
“I’m getting pretty good at getting out of the rough,” McIlroy said. “Getting pretty used to it. I’ve always been pretty good out of the rough. I’ve always been able to get steep on it and have a bit of speed and maybe hit a couple extra clubs out of lies that maybe some guys can’t, so that’s a little bit of an advantage to me this week. Yeah, you are in for a tough day when you keep hitting it out of the rough like I was today.”
McIlroy also lost nearly a stroke-and-a-half to the field in strokes gained: putting. He needed 30 putts in the round.
McIlroy said he has been dealing with an illness all week and that he felt better on Thursday than he did the day before.
“I’m fighting something,” he said.
This story originally appeared on ESPN