Rory McIlroy proved that he knows how to dig deep after all when he bounced back brilliantly from an early quadruple bogey seven to open with a one under 71 in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
He finished the day five shots behind leader Scott Stallings (66) and matched playing partner and world No 1 Luke Donald as Tiger Woods carded a two under 70.
But more importantly following his missed cuts in his last two starts, he showed he can grind out a score when things go wrong and now has platform to build on.
McIlroy said: “It wasn’t the start that I wanted to get off to, being four‑over through three holes, especially after the last few weeks. I was just like, here we go again. But I hung in there well, and proud of myself for the way I just fought back. To finish the round under par I thought was a really good effort.”
He added: “I just tried to stay patient and not even think about the score, just think about what I’m working on in my swing and try and make good swings. That’s really all I could do out there. I saw enough good ones that there was a little bit of encouragement, and to string a few good holes together on the back nine was nice.”
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy was forced to hole a 25 footer for a bogey at the par-five 11th after finding the stream that meanders left of the green with his second.
But having escaped unscathed there he wasn’t so fortunate at the 184-yard 12th, racking up a quadruple bogey seven.
In the back bunker with his tee shot, he came out too strong into the water, bunkered his fourth from the drop zone and took three more from there to slip to four over par.
He explained: “It finished in the one spot it couldn’t, just on the downslope. I had no shot. I was trying to land it just out of the bunker in the rough and let it tumble onto the green. But I had such an awkward stance, it was just hard to execute the shot. I flew it maybe a few yards too far and it went in the water on the other side.”
The McIlroy we saw at Wentworth might have struggled to find some fight after such a disaster but he fought back brilliantly by playing the next 15 holes in five under par, coming home in 32 with a birdie at the ninth to finish.
Quite apart from rediscovering some positive sensations in his swing after some recent struggles, McIlroy was just as pleased about taking just 25 putts.
“That definitely saved me today, especially at the start,” he said of his flat stick. “I made a few good ones for pars, so I think I must have been the low 20s in putts out there, so that was good to see.”
Following a par save from eight feet at the 13th, he pitched dead from 100 yards at the 15th to get his first birdie of the day and chipped and putted for his birdie four at the next to get back to two over.
After another par save from just inside eight feet at the 16th, he found water short of the 17th but pitched to eight feet and holed the bogey putt before parring the 18th to turn in three over 39.
But the back nine was pure magic from start to finish, on the scorecard at least.
After pars at the first and second, he drained an 18 footer for birdie at the third and then chipped in from nearly 50 feet at the par-five fifth to get back to level par for the day.
“The birdie on three was nice,” McIlroy said. “The eagle on five got me back to even par, and that was a goal that I set myself after nine holes. I said, if I can get it back to even par here, that would be a good score, and to finish one better, then that is a bonus.
“I hit the same shot in the pro‑am yesterday. It wasn’t as good a lie in the pro‑am, so I said to myself, if I hit it in that left rough, the right bunker up there isn’t too bad, isn’t that tough a shot, so I’d rather get it up there close to the green, and it came out the way I wanted it to, and it was nice to chip it in.”
While he missed an 11-footer for birdie at the sixth and failed to get up and down from 75 yards for his birdie at the par-five seventh, he finished in style with a 160-yard approach to just seven feet at the ninth.
McIlroy has two weeks to get his swing back on track in time for the US Open at the Olympic Club but insists that he’s prepared to be patient.
He said: “To be honest, I’m just seeing how it goes and seeing where this work progresses me to. It would be nice if it was fast and it was quick, but if it takes a little bit longer, I don’t really mind.
“You know, it’s all about hitting the shots I want to hit, and if it takes two weeks, it takes two weeks. If it takes two months, and if it takes a couple days, then even better. I’m not really putting a time frame on it or anything.”
He’s also getting used to having his every move scrutinised to the nth degree and shrugged off the critiism he received following those back-to-back missed cuts.
“I think that is the way of life in anything,” he said. “If you’re in the spotlight, you’re in the public eye. If I’d missed two cuts in a row a couple years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid, but nowadays it’s a little different.”