McIlroy: "The Open and the US Open were the biggest tournaments in the world"

McIlroy: "The Open and the US Open were the biggest tournaments in the world"
 Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy threw more fuel on the fire when he reiterated his belief that the US Open and The Open are now playing second fiddle to the Masters.

The Co Down man surprised some traditionalists on the eve of the Wells Fargo Championship when he said, “the Masters has now become THE biggest golf tournament in the world.” 

He casually added: “I don't care about the US Open or the Open Championship. It is the biggest golf tournament in the world; the most amount of eyeballs; the most amount of hype; the most everything is at Augusta."

But when asked to clarify his “don’t care” remark at Quail Hollow last night, where he opened with a three-under 68 to move into contention, he did little to win more friends at the USGA or the R&A, even if he did explain that his “don’t care” comment was “taken out of context a little bit” and not meant literally.

“When I said ‘I don’t care', of course I care," protested McIlroy, who finished the day tied for seventh, three strokes behind John Peterson, who eagled his 16th and 17th holes (the seventh and eighth) for a six-under 65 and a two-shot lead over Peter Malnati, Tyrrell Hatton, Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell and Kyle Stanley.

"I am a very proud winner of both those tournaments. I just think The Open and the US Open were the biggest tournaments in the world."

Trying to explain why he thinks the Masters Tournament is now a bigger event that the game's two oldest major championships, he said: "I have always felt there is just a different feeling there. 

"I might be to do with the fact that we go back to the same place every year; they keep making improvements every year...

"There is a lot of hype around it. There is a lot going on. It is the most anticipated of the year, and that's what I was trying to say. 

"It's nothing to do with 'I don't care'. Of course, I care. I would take one of those tournaments right now if you gave them to me. 

"I was just trying to say, from where those two tournaments stood, maybe 50 years ago, the Masters [first played in 1934] wasn't quite at that point. 

"But I think over the last five or ten years, ever since I started to play Augusta, it feels like they have taken it to another level."

McIlroy holed 17 of 18 putts inside 10 feet in an impressive opening effort, but Shane Lowry had a hard time getting the ball close and as a result, he had a nightmare with the putter, three-putting four times and taking 35 putts in a three-over 74.

The Clara man (31) three-putted the third from 52 feet, birdied par-five seventh to get back to level but then had a torrid time with the blade on the back nine.

After three-putting the par-five 10th from 78 feet for par, he three-putted the 11th from 68 feet, dropped another shot at the 12th and three-putted the 13th to go three-over.

While he birdied the 325-yard 14th with a brilliant bunker shot to eight inches, he bogeyed the 18th and now has his work cut out now to avoid a fourth missed cut in the US this year.

McIlroy, on the other hand, is seeking his third win a Quail Hollow since 2010 and he looks determined to pull it off.

"I would have taken 68 before I went out there," said the world No 7, who birdied three of his first five holes and saved par with seven-footers on the other two greens.

Even when he drove into the creek and bogeyed the 18th, his ninth, he immediately birdied the first from 10 feet, got up and down from 81 yards for par at the third and followed a bogey at the sixth with a brilliant pitch and putt birdie at the seventh.

"I felt really good with the putter the last few weeks, at Bay Hill and even through Augusta even though I struggled a little bit on the last day, I think I was still top 10 in the putting stats at Augusta and into here," he said.

"I have just freed myself up a little bit and it has really helped. I am seeing the lines and putting some decent strokes on it and at least giving the ball a decent chance to go in the hole."

Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods and Masters champion Patrick Reed chiselled out level par 71s as Justin Thomas, who needs to finish solo 12th or better to become world No 1, struggled to a 73.

West Waterford's Seamus Power finished the day tied for 97th with Lowry as he made three bogeys and 15 pars in a three-over 74.