Rory McIlroy drives from the 11th tee at Firestone CC. Picture by Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieIt’s all but certain that Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will be living in the same state next year but they went in opposite directions on the opening day of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at a hot and sticky Firestone Country Club.

McDowell went out in three under 32 but fell foul to some bad luck and a balky driver as he limped back to the clubhouse in 39 blows, signing for a 71 that left him near the bottom of the leaderboard on one-over par.

For McIlroy, who insisted yesterday that he’s “95 percent” certain to rejoin the PGA Tour next year, the day went from bad to better as he equalled his best round at Firestone with a two under par 68.

The 22-year old world No 5 putted poorly early on and dropped shots back-to-back at his third and fourth holes, three putting from just 18 feet at the latter.

But he hit a purple patch around the turn that saw him birdie the 17th, eagle the second with a 234-yard five-wood to four feet and then spectacularly birdie the third with a wedge over trees to two feet to sign for a satisfying, two under par 68 that equalled his best ever round at Firestone.

“It’s a decent opening round but I’ve still got a little bit to work to do but 68 is not a bad start,” McIlroy said.

Graeme McDowell hit to the 10th. Picture by Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieHe dropped a bombshell on Wednesday when he announced that he had changed his mind about playing full time in America and would almost certainly play in the US next year after giving up his card last year.

Already looking at apartments in swanky West Palm Beach, he said: “It’s something I’ve thought about, especially after winning the US Open.

“I really enjoy it over here, and I’d like to give it another go. I’m seriously considering it.

“Ninety-five percent of me wants to come over here and I’m just making sure everything is in place by next year.”

McIlroy made no secret of the fact that his break-up with Holly Sweeney and new relationship with Danish tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki had been a factor.

Being constantly mobbed at home in Belfast has also made his consider the move but he insisted that he’s not turning his back on Europe completely.

McIlroy said: “I think it all comes into it, definitely. But the main reason is because I think it’ll be best for my career and for my golf.

“You know, there might be other things that have led to this decision, but ultimately it’s about the golf.

“Obviously I’m never going to leave Europe; I’m always going to play in Europe as much as I can.”

McDowell has found his midas touching sorely missing this season but this time it was his driving that let him down as he mixed five birdies with four bogeys and a double in a 71 alongside world No 2 Lee Westwood, who shot 67.

He birdied the 11th from 18 inches and the par-three 12th from just inside nine feet to shoot up the leaderboard before dropping a shot at the 14th, where he was bunkered off the tee

Birdies at the 17th and 18th left him tied for second place but his round slipped away over the next two hours as his driver put him in trouble and he dropped four shots in three holes from the second, his 11th, before finishing birdie-bogey.
“It’s always disappointing to bogey the last but it was more the middle of the round that killed me,” said McDowell, who was distracted by the group behind and thinned a lob wedge over the third green and made double bogey.

“I’m just not driving the ball well.  I went off my driver a bit last week and I’ve started flighting it with way too much left-to-right shape. I need to go and have a look at my driver and see what is going on.

“It was just one of those rounds where I need to hit a bit more fairways because my iron play is solid, and I rolled it well on the greens. But I just got nothing out of the round.”