Rory McIlroy took up out west where he left off in the Middle East when he scrambled his way to an opening four-under-par 68 in AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Spyglass Hill.
Despite hitting just ten greens in regulation, the four-time major winner showed plenty of grit in his quest for early season confidence by producing an impressive short game performance,.
He ended the day tied for 16th with Shane Lowry, who started his back nine with a spectacular eagle two from 130 yards, then signed off with a birdie two at the ninth for a bogey-free, four-under 67 at Monterey Peninsula's Shore Course.
Playing alongside Phil Mickelson, who came home in 31 for a 69, McIlroy mixed six birdies with two bogeys to finish three shots behind leaders Kevin Streelman and Beau Hossler, scrambling for par six times out of eight.
The Ulsterman also got up and down from sand for a birdie at the first, then followed a bogey at the sixth with back-to-back birdies, chipping in at the seventh before slotting home a 20 footer at the eighth.
The birdie at the seventh was a real bonus, all things considered.
“We played early in the morning so there's a few shadows out there, and I was about to take my driver away on the 7th hole and I saw his shadow move,” McIlroy said of his father Gerry.
“So I backed off it. I said fine, standstill. Blocked it way right and hit my second in the water. So I'm like, hard to say anything, chipped in for birdie. So I was like, you're forgiven.
“But no, he was good out there and like Jimmy [Dunne] and him have a blast. They're both members at Seminole and see each other all the time. And I've developed a really good relationship with Phil over the past couple years and it was a really nice group. “
He then birdied the par-five 11th and 14th to move to four-under-par and while he bogeyed the 16th he birdied the 18th and could take satisfaction for scrambling for pars at the second, seventh, 10th, 13th, 15th and 17th.
Pleased to break 80 in every round bar one this year - the other was a 70 - McIlroy believes his game, both physically and mentally, is in good shape.
“I'm healthy and I'm able to practice, I'm able to do everything I want to do, so I feel good. I'm in a really good frame of mind and that helps too,” he said.
He added: “Everything's pretty good. I scrambled, I'm scrambling well when I need to. I feel like I've made good strides with my putting over the off season. Driving the ball good. Everything -- from when I spoke to you guys last until now, everything, I feel, has gotten better, which is a good thing. So, no, I feel really comfortable with it all.”
Graeme McDowell looked like getting off to a hot start at the venue where he won the 2010 US Open as Hossler shot a 65 that was matched by Streelman at Spyglass Hill.
But after birdies at the fourth, sixth and 14th at Pebble Beach, the Portrush man found sand at the iconic, 189-yard 17th, got caught in the collar of rough around the green and eventually two-putted for a double bogey before parring the 18th for an opening 71.
“I feel a bit bitten," McDowell told Sky Sports. "I hit a seven-iron at 17 all over the flag. It pitched 195 yards and did exactly what you are not supposed to do at Pebble Beach and hit it over the green. From there I compounded the error, unfortunately.
“It was a beautiful ball-striking day, hit a lot of putts that didn’t go in and to finish five-five, is a bit disappointing. It’s tough to spoil the mood out here. It is such a beautiful place to come and play golf and a real pleasure to be here this week.”
Still hoping to come back from a slump in form to make the Ryder Cup team, McDowell said: “I think September/October last year a lightbulb went on technically.
“I really feel I am moving in a good direction. I am quietly very happy with what I am seeing in practice, and it is just a case of getting some confidence under my belt.
“You go out there and finish five-five, and it’s amazing how this game can kick you when you are down a bit. But I have to keep doing what I am doing. I really like the way I am trending, and hopefully, there are things like Ryder Cup and lots of big things to play for this year.
“So I still believe I can do it. I have got to get my confidence back on the golf course and make some birdies.”
Lowry made solitary birdie four at the 12th to go out in one under at Monterey Peninsula before he sparked into life, holing his second for an eagle two at the 495-yard first before making another two at the ninth en route to a bogey-free 67
World number 80 Paul Dunne, who is hoping to make the jump into the top 50 by the end of March to secure a Masters invitation, was one-over with five to play at Spyglass Hill.
But he birdied the fifth and seventh to card a one-under 71 that leaves him tied for 71st with McDowell, a shot outside top 60 and ties who will make the cut after tomorrrow’s third round.
Seamus Power had two birdies and three bogeys in a 72 at Monterey Peninsula where Pádraig Harrington recovered from a nightmare quadruple-bogey eight on his fourth hole to battle his way to a four-over-par 75.
The veteran (46) bogeyed the first two holes before reloading twice at the 426-yard fourth.
But after going out in 41 after another penalty led to a bogey at the short seventh, he made four birdies in three-under par back nine to salvage something from his round.
O'Briain lurking in South Africa
Play was suspended in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship on the Sunshine Tour with Old Conna's Neil O'Briain two under with four to play and just six shots behind leaders Chris Lloyd and Combrinck Smit
Moynihan nine back in Perth
On the European Tour, The Island's Gavin Moynihan went into this morning's second round of the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth tied for 88th after a one-over 73, nine shots behind defending champion Brett Rumford, whose 64 at Lake Karrinyup gave him a two-shot lead over Lee Westwood and fellow Australian James Nitties.
O'Donovan shines in PGA Tour China Q-School
At the PGA TOUR China International Qualifying Tournament No. 2 at Mission Hills' Haikou course, Cork-born teaching professional Brian O'Donovan took advantage of his local knowledge to open with a four-under 68 and share third place in the 72-hole race for 15 full cards on the 14-event Chinese circuit.