Rory McIlroy has a running joke with his caddie. After six months “off” the season is only just beginning.
In the weather-delayed opening round of The Barclays, the first of the four FedEx Cup playoff events, he played like a man still bothered by early season rust - but there’s not much grease that needs to be applied before the machine starts humming again.
Three double bogeys would normally wreck a man’s card but in managing to shoot a level par 71 - thanks to an eagle three and four birdies - McIlroy looks close to launch speed.
A pulled drive at the ninth, his 18th, bounced off a cart path and over a fence, out of bounds, leading to a double bogey finish. But he was far from downcast.
“Colorful,” McIlroy told reporters as he ended his day seven shots behind clubhouse leader Kevin Stadler (65) at Liberty National. “I made a few silly mistakes out there.”
According to Brian Wacker at PGATour.com:
“The first of those mistakes came on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole of the day, where he pulled his tee shot left and into the tall grass and then missed the green left on his next. McIlroy pitched back across and off the green before eventually two-putting from 6 feet for his first double bogey.
“On the par-4 fifth he missed left again, this time yanking his approach shot from 162 yards into the water to set up the second double bogey.
“He rebounded quickly by reaching the 514-yard par-5 sixth in two and making a 13-footer for eagle before pouring in a 28-footer for birdie on the following hole.
But McIlroy missed a golden opportunity to keep the momentum going on the par-5 eighth, however, leaving his approach short of the green and then leaving himself 15 feet for birdie after at best a mediocre pitch.
“I felt like I played well,” he said. “Three 6s, which obviously doesn’t help. But the rest of it was actually pretty good.”
How soon McIlroy will begin firing on all cylinders is anyone’s guess. But it looks, as he would say himself, close.
Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, did not hit the ball well but came back from two over par after five to match McIlroy’s level par 71 thanks to some solid putting inside seven feet.
Stadler, meanwhile, leads by one from Ryan Palmer, the in-form Henrik Stenson and Camilo Villegas with Tiger Woods in a share of seventh following a bogey free, four under 67.