McIlroy grabs two-stroke lead in Mexico

By Sports Desk February 20, 2020

Rory McIlroy opened up a two-stroke lead at the WGC-Mexico Championship to continue his good form on Thursday.

The world number one, who has started 2020 with two top-five finishes, carded a six-under 65 in the opening round at Club de Golf Chapultepec.

Starting on the back nine, McIlroy made an eagle at the par-five 11th before holing five birdies, with his only blemish coming with a bogey at the fourth.

McIlroy, runner-up last year, is two shots clear of Americans Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas.

"It was good. All aspects of my game were working pretty well. I drove the ball well, and I took advantage of that," McIlroy said.

"I think the big thing was I putted well. I didn't putt so well at Riviera [at the Genesis Invitational] last week. I went back to my old putter, I was trying a new one last week.

"It didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to, but I was comfortable on the greens today and holed some nice ones coming in."

Watson is a three-time runner-up at the tournament and made five birdies and a bogey during his round, while Thomas finished second in 2018.

Louis Oosthuizen, Billy Horschel, Corey Conners and Bryson DeChambeau, who carded three-under 68s in their first rounds, are tied for fourth.

Three-time winner Dustin Johnson endured an awful start by opening with a five-over 76.

The defending champion made a double bogey and four bogeys to go with his birdie as he was left in a tie for 62nd.

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    Round two will have to be completed on Saturday after bad light caused a suspension of play a day after fog had impacted the opening round. 

    But Englishman Hatton was an impressive five under par for the 13 holes he was able to play, surging on to 12 under for the tournament. 

    That gave him a five-shot advantage over a group of four players, including McIlroy, at the Rolex Series event. 

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    "I'm obviously in a great position at the moment," said Hatton. "It was certainly tough out there, so I'm really happy to be five under [for the round]. 

    "I held some nice putts and there were a couple of par putts towards the end of my round - nice to hold them and keep a bit of momentum going. 

    "It [a long day on Saturday] will be fine. I'll just try and stay loose and see how we go."

    Hatton, with his short game thriving, eagled the second hole and then immediately gave one of those shots back at the third. 

    But four straight birdies between holes seven and 10 provided him with a commanding lead. 

    McIlroy had started the day with a one-shot advantage at eight under and quickly improved to 10 under through three holes. 

    However, the Northern Irishman fell apart from there with three bogeys and a double bogey in the 10 holes that followed before the suspension of play gave him some respite after 13. 

    Tommy Fleetwood was able to complete his round, an impressive five-under 67 moving him to within a shot of McIlroy as part of a five-man group sitting at six under. 

    World number three Justin Thomas, in the spotlight after a controversy over his use of a homophobic slur at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this month, fared better than he did on day one. 

    The American was two under through 14 holes when play was brought to an end, improving to one under for the week but still 11 shots adrift of Hatton. 

    Reigning champion Lee Westwood is three under in a tie for 24th position.

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    Rory McIlroy put his lowest-scoring round at the Abu Dhabi Championship down to precision putting as the four-time major winner shot a first-round 64.

    The Northern Irishman, paired with the under-fire Justin Thomas, had to be patient as play was delayed amid fog but he made up for lost time in eye-catching fashion.

    McIlroy closed day one on eight under, putting the 31-year-old a shot clear of Ryder Cup team-mate Tyrrell Hatton, with Fabrizio Zanotti a stroke further back.

    The delay meant not everyone managed to complete 18 holes, but McIlroy was pleased to be sitting pretty in the clubhouse. 

    "A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part. Distance control was really good," McIlroy said of a display which saw him sink four birdies apiece on the front and back nine.

    "I think I started off really well and hit a lot of nice iron shots, but honestly it was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career.

    "I've shot some really good scores here but I held some really good ones today.

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    After becoming embroiled in recent controversy for his use of a homophobic slur, McIlroy's playing partner Thomas found himself well off the pace on one over.

    The American was dropped by sponsor Ralph Lauren following the incident, in which the world number three was heard making an offensive comment by a television microphone when playing at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this month.

    Thomas subsequently apologised for his "inexcusable" use of the slur.

    Reigning champion Lee Westwood carded a 69, putting him in a big group on three under, with English compatriot Justin Rose for company, though the Olympic champion managed only 11 holes.

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