McIlroy remains on an upward curve at storm-hit Doral
Rory McIlroy anxiously watches a tee shot in the opening round at Trump National Doral's Blue Monster. Picture Fran Caffrey /

Rory McIlroy anxiously watches a tee shot in the opening round at Trump National Doral's Blue Monster. Picture Fran Caffrey /

They began the season together in Abu Dhabi in January, bizarrely twirling putters over the heads and shuffling awkwardly alongside a traditional Emirati Al-Ayala dance troupe as they performed an appearance fee generating pre-tournament jig.

Fast forward a couple of months and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were at it again, this time dodging a weaving bad weather and the great Blue Monster that has been given a lot more bite thanks to the $250 million fortune that Donald Trump is pumping into Doral to restore it to its former glory (with a Trump twist of course).

Six hours after they started, they still hadn't finished because of a near two and a half hour weather delay and when darkness fell McIlroy was reasonably pleased with be 13th on one under with four to play and just two shots behind clubhouse leader Harris English (69) with Mickelson tied for 20th with the likes of Graeme McDowell (12 holes) on level par.

The exciting young Australian Jason Day was expected to join the two major winners in a gathering of the world numbers four, five and six. But as Day withdrew on the range, troubled by a left thumb injury that has been bothering him since he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, we were treated to a chance to compare and contrast the styles of two of golf’s most exiting players in a warm southwest wind that gusted to 25 mph and more.

Happiness is.... a long walk with a putter. Picture Fran Caffrey /

Happiness is.... a long walk with a putter. Picture Fran Caffrey /

That they only got nine holes in before inclement weather — heavy rain that accompanied a “tornado watch” forecast — brought play to a halt shortly after lunch said as much about the organisers’ emphasis on the TV market with all 68 players going out between 11 and one o’clock, as it did about the excruciatingly slow pace of play.

Stuck behind Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth, they were forced to wait on every hole on an overcast day with the air heavy with humidity and the promise of rain that eventually arrived in bucketfuls with Jason Dufner leading on five under par through 10 holes, one better than Honda Classic winner Russell Henley (10 holes) and two ahead of Luke Donald (11) and Patrick Reed (6).

It took a while for them to get going but there was plenty of evidence to support the theory of Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley that McIlroy will always be more like Mickelson that a Tiger Woods as he went through the turn in an adventurous one-under par to Mickelson’s level.

Their games could not be more different — Phil painting with wild and adventurous brushstrokes to Rory’s textbook straight lines. But it is precisely because they the golfing equivalent of a rollercoaster ride that they drew the biggest gallery of the day outside the trio of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.

Even given for the fact that Stenson had a stone cold shank from the middle of the fairway at the second and followed his opening birdie with a double bogey six, Mickelson and McIlroy made for fascinating viewing.

Graeme McDowell heads for his room during the weather delay. 

Graeme McDowell heads for his room during the weather delay. 

As Woods, showing no ill effects from the back injury that forced him to retire after 13 holes at the Honda Classic on Sunday, mixed five pars with a bogey four at the 196-yard fourth, McIlroy reeled off four effortless birdies and a bogey in his first six holes before dropping shots at the 17th and 18th.

Having hit a stellar second to the par-five 10th and two putted for birdie, McIlroy drove into the tree right of the 12th but found the front bunker in two and hold a five footer for another birdie.

A cut five iron to the 210 yard 13th game up short on the front of the green but the 24-year old rolled in the putt from just outside 50 feet for a two and then followed a sloppy bogey at the 14th with another two at the next, where he punched “a really nice little seven-iron” in to eight feet and rolled in the putted.

Playing lovely, controlled golf for most of the round, he hit a glorious drive down the 17th and ended up walking off with a bogey after his approach from 143 yards bored through the wind and finished 60 feet beyond the flag, from where he three-putted.

At the Blue Monster 18th, he hit what looked like a low bullet down the right side but it drew slightly, pitched in the middle of the fairway and trickled slowly towards the  lake, clipping a red stake before sliding into the deep.

“It was a tough day,” McIlroy said.  “I mean, it was windy out there with a couple of tricky pin positions but I got off to a really good start, three-under through four holes, and then bogeyed the last couple of holes play that I had, 17 and 18.

Graeme McDowell drives in testing conditions at he Blue Monster Picture Fran Caffrey /

Graeme McDowell drives in testing conditions at he Blue Monster Picture Fran Caffrey /

“I hit a really good drive off of 18 and it pitched on the fairway but Phil got unlucky, too, because he actually pitched his second shot on the green and it went in the water. So it just  you know, it's just such a tough hole.  You get it slightly wrong, and you're in the water.

“Of course I wanted to get a fast start. I’m playing well and I'm comfortable with my game. I wasn't going to let one bad day last week sort of derail the good path that I'm on.”

When he resumed, McIlroy got up and down from left of the green to birdie the par-five first from nine feet to share third place on two under.

He lipped out from seven feet for another birdie at the second but then bogeyed the 196-yard fourth when he bunkered his tee shot and came up well short with his recovery.

After a par at the fifth, the hooter sounded as he fired a fairway wood down the sixth, leaving him tied for 13th place as English shot 69 to lead in the clubhouse with Jason Dufner (16 holes), Hunter Mahan (14), Francesco Molinari (13) and Patrick Reed (11) also on three under.

Only the first two group, six players, had managed to complete their rounds when darkness fell and the hooter sounded at 5.57 pm with the Miami area still under a tornado watch.

"It was ok," said McIlroy at the finish after slipping from three under to just one under in tough conditions. "I played pretty good. It was tough out there though with the wind and the firm greens with the moisture on top.

"It was really skidding. So it was hard when we got back out to control the distance so you had to guess a little how much the ball would skip forward.

"I’ll get back out in the morning (at 8.45 am) and play the last three and a half holes without as much wind and with better conditions.

"I said I’d be happy with anything under par from this round and I’m still on course for that. I’m happy with the way I played and I’d like to get something in the 60s and I’d be happy with that."

McDowell was one over par through seven holes as he started with a bogey six at the first, where he pushed his approach into the lake right of the green.

He then holed a bunker shot for a birdie at the next, bogeyed the third after finding sand twice and followed a fine birdie from seven feet at the fifth with a bogey at the seventh, where he again found water right of the green with his approach.

After the restart he hit his approach into the water left of the par-five eighth to run up another six but got that shot back with a fine pitch and putt birdie from 125 yards at the 10th to get back to one over.

Another birdie at the par-five 12th, where he it a 136-yard approach to eight feet and holed the putt, left the Rathmore man well positioned on level par.

As for English, he ended a long day in style by holing a 46 footer for a two at the ninth to get in on 69.

"Did I cuss the golf course today?  There was a couple times I would say," he said.  "Especially with the wind today, it's very, very hard to hit it in the fairway. You can hit decent drives and I feel like if you miss it at all, you're going to be in a bunker and it makes it very difficult from there.

"I think they did a really good job redesigning the golf course, although I've never played it before.  It's a tough golf course.  I know Mr. Trump wanted a very tough test on the Blue Monster and I think that's what he's got."

Woods managed just 10 holes in two over par, overshooting the par three fourth before ending his day with a bogey six at the 10th, where he drove through the fairway on a left to right wind into a fairway trap and three-putted a par five for the second time having three-jabbed at the eighth from 32 feet.

"Felt a lot better today," Woods said of the back trouble that forced him to withdraw after 13 holes at the Honda Classic last Sunday.

"Hopefully tomorrow I can get back out there in the morning, play well and work back to even par by the end of the first round. Then shoot a low one in the afternoon.

"No, warmup was good and I felt good all day even through the delay. I'm ready to go back out tomorrow and play well."