Rory McIlroy produced a sparkling finish to end the opening day just three strokes behind Kevin Tway at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui.
The 29-year old birdied the 15th, 16th and 18th for a four-under 69 that leaves him tied for sixth in the 33-man field following the withdrawal before the start of Kevin Na with a fractured bone in his right pinkie finger.
Making his debut at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, McIlroy missed just one green in regulation and hit 66% of the generous fairways at the Maui venue to end the day tied with Jason Day, Andrew Landry, Bryson DeChambeau, Andrew Putnam, Patton Kizzire.
“Good start,” said McIlroy, who birdied the 203-yard, par-three second with a stunning tee shot to 10 feet and then followed his lone bogey at the par-three eighth (where he came up short in a deep bunker) with four birdies in his last 10 holes.
“I gave myself a lot of chances and I played well. I hit good drives and kept my ball under control in this wind. And it was nice to finish the way I did with three birdies in the last four.”
Asked by Golf Channel why he’d decided to play in Hawaii for the first time, he said: “I’ve done the same thing for 11 years. For 11 straight years I’ve started in the desert and then come Stateside and I just wanted to do something different.
“A lot of told me how beautiful it is here and what a great tournament it is and with the win at Arnold Palmer last year, I punched my ticket here and the first thing I said was I want to go to Kapalua next year.
“So I am glad I’m here. Not everyone on the PGA Tour gets to come here every year and it’s nice to get off to a good start and get myself into the tournament.”
Asked about his focus and determination for 2019, he said: “I think every year you start off with that focus and determination, not just for the year ahead. You have to look at the big picture as well. I have been trying to plan the next five to 10 years ahead and what I want my life to look like and what I want my career to look like.
“I’ve had a lot of thinking to do and I’ve come to the realisation that for me, to base myself in the United States and play a little more over here, it’s going to be the best for me, my game and my career and that’s the decision I have made.”
Wins are key but they are not the be all and end all for McIlroy.
“There are a lot of things I can be proud of on and off the golf course. My career as a golfer, yes wins and trying to improve and becoming a better player, that’s really all that matters on the golf course. But off the golf course, there are things that would make me successful as well and fulfil me as a person. But as a golfer and in my career, wins are the only things that matter really.“
His putting was not quite as sharp as he’d have liked and while he made four putts of between six and 11 feet in a 34-putt round, he was 12th for strokes gained putting on a windy day that saw players play with the modernised Rules of Golf for the first time.
Bryson DeChambeau matched McIlroy’s four-under 69 as he made six birdies and kept his promise to putt with the flag still in the hole on the green.
“I feel like I maximized my potential on that,” DeChambeau said. “Especially on 16 today, where it’s kind of blowing downwind, five percent slope, straight downhill, you want that pin in to help. So that’s what I kind of did and utilized it to my advantage. So I felt like for the most part I needed the pin to be in and it went in and it was a very nice help.”
He was playing with Dustin Johnson, who shot a six-under 67 to share second place with Gary Woodland and Justin Thomas, one shot better than Marc Leishman, who is solo fifth after a five-under 68.
“It’s definitely weird. Well, not weird, it’s just different watching someone putt with the flag in,” Johnson said. “It actually worked out where it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t slow us down or anything.”
Tway, who withdrew during the pro-am complaining of dizziness caused by an ear and a sinus infection, fired a bogey-free, seven-under 66 to lead the winners only field.
"I was just trying to drink a lot of water. But I didn't think I was going to play that good, to be honest," he said. "I hit the ball well, kept the ball in play, made a few putts, controlled my ball in the wind.
"It's windy where I'm from in Oklahoma so it's kind of like I was at home. Each shot's difficult so you're just focused on the trajectory and where I need to land it and where I need to miss it."
World number one Brooks Koepka, who needs to finish no worse than a two-way tie for eighth to deny absentee Justin Rose the top spot, was propping up the field with Satoshi Kodaira on four-over after a 77