McIlroy hopes late birdie is turning point at US PGA

By Sports Desk May 16, 2019

Former world number one Rory McIlroy is hoping his final-hole birdie can kick-start his US PGA Championship bid following a difficult round.

McIlroy found the going tough at Bethpage Black, where the four-time major champion carded a two-over-par 72 in the opening round in Farmingdale, New York on Thursday.

A two-time winner of the US PGA – with his last triumph coming in 2014 – McIlroy did not birdie a hole until the last as the Northern Irishman ended the opening round nine shots adrift of leader Brooks Koepka.

"It was either wrong speed at some times or sometimes just a little bit of line, either way, you know, high or low," McIlroy said as he discussed his performance. "And just keep it hitting good putts. That's all you can do.

"I guess it's early in the tournament. Keep hitting good shots. Don't let it frustrate you. Keep hitting good putts. Eventually things will turn.

"Hopefully that birdie on the last was the turning point, finish on a positive note and come back tomorrow and hopefully get into red figures for the tournament."

While McIlroy struggled, reigning champion Koepka managed to shoot a 63 as Danny Lee signed off with a six-under-par 64 on day one.

"There's a couple of loose scores. If you can put the ball in play and give yourself chances, I felt like I gave myself enough chances today to shoot something sort of in the mid-60s," McIlroy said. "But, yeah it gives me hope. It gives me hope I can go out tomorrow and shoot a low one."

"There's definitely a lot of difference between a 75 and a 63," the 30-year-old continued. "But around this golf course, the margins are fine. And if you miss the fairway by a yard or two, it can make the difference between hitting a shot into 10 feet and having a birdie chance or having to get up-and-down from 100 yards for par.

"But I did that well tonight. Hit enough fairways, felt like I hit enough greens, and, you know, hit good putts, and some days they just find a way to not go in."

McIlroy – who has not won a major since 2014 – added: "The birdie at the last was great. I'm happy to get that birdie. And as I said, hopefully it's the turning point in not the way I've played, but just in my scoring and taking advantage of the shots I've been hitting."

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    Reasons he'll win: There has been a vociferous backing for Irishman Lowry this week at Portrush and it is an energy he has fed off to the greatest effect. He is also a dab hand on the links and has looked utterly unflappable this week.

    Reasons he won't win: There is a target on Lowry's back and the last time he was in a scenario like this at the 2016 U.S. Open he did not exactly enjoy the pressure. Leading by four heading into the final round at Oakmont, he limped to a six-over-par 76 and finished three off winner Dustin Johnson.

    TOMMY FLEETWOOD:

    Age: 28

    Best major finish: 2nd at 2018 U.S. Open

    Current ranking/highest ranking: 20/9

    European/PGA Tour wins: 4

    Reasons he'll win: Growing up in Southport, close to Royal Birkdale, Fleetwood just loves these type of golf courses and the adverse weather forecast for Sunday is unlikely to cause him too much concern. Seeing his good pal Francesco Molinari win this same tournament a year ago will also act as motivation to reel in Lowry.

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    Reasons he'll win: If either of the two men above him flounder, Holmes has shown throughout the weekend he can really play around Portrush. Three years ago at Troon he was the best of the rest as Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson played out one of the greatest final days in major history.

    Reasons he won't win: On a day where scoring was favourable, Holmes could only muster a two-under 69. If the bad weather arrives on Sunday, which it is fully expected to, chances to go low will be scarce.


    Brooks Koepka:

    Reasons he'll win: Because that is what Brooks Koepka likes to do in majors. He has four of them since 2017. The world number one's record this year reads 2-1-2 and if he can get his putter firing hot then who knows?

    Reasons he won't win: Koepka has been giving himself chances to shoot a really low score all week but has been blowing cold with the flatstick. It could ultimately prove his downfall here.


    Justin Rose:

    Reasons he'll win: You don't become a major champion and a world number one for nothing. It's undoubtedly a tall order but having come so close at Carnoustie a year ago, Rose will be focused on producing the round of his dreams.

    Reasons he won't win: Just the sheer volume of variables he will need. Lowry and Fleetwood will have to drop back, the weather will have to not be quite as bad as expected, and even if those things happen he will have to outplay Koepka.

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